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Front Crawl

The easiest of strokes?

Front crawl, the most ergonomic of the four traditional strokes, has many advantages and despite common misconceptions, it is not difficult to learn. The frontal position allows the arms a full range of movement. Coordinating the arms and legs is relatively straightforward. The overarm recovery reduces drag, in contrast to the underwater recovery of breaststroke.

As with the other strokes, front crawl can do more harm than good without body awareness and good technique. It is not the stroke you swim, but the way that you swim it that counts.

Shaw Method Key Features

Alignment The body roll in front crawl is vital, with hips and shoulders rotating around a central axis. The eyes look slightly ahead when the face is immersed, and in the transition between water and air, the head is directed forward while turning to breathe. Arm action Efficient crawlers spear the arm down into the water, with the elbow and forearm following the hand, which minimizes resistance and maximises stroke length. A bent elbow directs forward prior to the propulsive movement, with the emphasis on holding the water, not on pulling back. The arm recovery is long and light, allowing the elbow to bend as a result of gravity.

Leg action The pace of the leg action is steady and even, with the emphasis on letting go before driving the leg forward, keeping the ankles mobile throughout.

Timing The extended arm remains straight until your recovering arm begins to enter the water. There are two leg beats to every arm cycle unless you are sprinting.


Front crawl has many health benefits. It strengthens the back, tones the arms and legs, increases the mobility of the shoulders and hips as well as improving cardiovascular fitness. There is evidence that the alternating action of the left and right side of the body balances the opposite hemispheres of the brain. cycle unless you are sprinting.

Risks and common errors


  1. Swimming the crawl with the head held high and lifting it to breathe increases drag and strains the neck and back.

  2. The traditional high elbow recovery in crawl puts undue tension on the shoulders, which can lead to a form of tendonitis

  3. Commonly most swim the crawl too flat without much rotation this creates too much resistance, makes it harder to move the arm and gives less space and time to breathe.


  1. Most people automatically pull their extended arm back whilst the recovering arm moves through the air (windmilling). This does not produce an effective hold on the water.

  2. Many waste a great deal of energy by moving the legs too quickly. A slower, steadier rhythm is more appropriate if you wish to swim for more than a couple of lengths.


  1. Many people pull their arms straight back in the water, rather than bending the elbow and flexing the wrist to achieve a more effective anchor before applying propulsive force.

  2. The common practice of actively kicking the legs out of the water, employed by many swimmers, can strain and injure the lower back.



A birds-eye view of the Shaw Method front crawl, disregarding the movement of the limbs, reveals that the torso rotates rhythmically from the centre to the side and back again. These changes in body position enable a swimmer to combine the benefits of an effective purchase on the water with streamlining in a way that promotes freedom of movement in the joints.

The objective of this lesson is to feel at ease in the various positions and then to manoeuvre comfortably between them. Here you will learn to employ the leg action and hip roll to balance and achieve these transitions smoothly. Throughout the horizontal practices in this lesson, including those where the body rotates, the head remains still with the face immersed.

Throughout the world, floats are commonly used for practising the leg action. They are not, however, used in the Shaw Method as they compromise alignment and can put pressure on the neck and back. They also create an artificial body position, which is very different from that of the full stroke. It is preferable to direct the arms down into the water and work with your own buoyancy.



The overarm actions in the back and the front crawl share many characteristics, the arms and upper body generating most of the propulsion. In Shaw Method front crawl, the lead arm maintains its length until the recovering arm begins to enter the water. This aids stability and improves purchase. The emphasis is on using the arms to hold the water, as if you were pulling yourself along an imaginary rope rather than trying to pull back. The torso effectively passes the anchored arm. Do not be surprised if at first you find this new sequence challenging, as it goes against a natural inclination to swing both arms at the same time. Spend time establishing this new movement pattern on dry land before taking it into the water, because when you swim the stimulus to revert to habit is invariably stronger. The arm action has five phases: extension, anchor, propulsive, salute and handshake. This lesson teaches the phases separately and then you link them together in a flowing way. It is important not to think of the arms working in isolation. In this lesson, you will explore how head position, the movement of the torso and the leg action all have a major impact on the quality of the arm action. Similarly, the way you hold your hands also has a significant impact. Many people are accustomed to swimming the crawl with tense hands: they often falsely believe that by stiffening them they will get more purchase on the water. Experience shows that supple and open hands are always more effective. When learning to coordinate arm movements with the rest of the body, it is vital that the head remains centred. Exhale gently whenever the face is submerged; the more you exhale, the lower your body tends to sink and the more effort is required to propel yourself forward. Having a reserve of air in your lungs not only helps you to remain relaxed and focused but also increases your buoyancy. The distinctive Shaw Method front crawl arm recovery resembles the wings of an eagle, as opposed to the traditional high elbow recovery commonly known as ‘chicken wings’. Our eagle-like arm action is streamlined and powerful. Because it does not involve hunching, it minimizes strain on the shoulder joint.”



In front crawl, inhalations are made through the mouth by turning the head to the side. Many people find it hard to understand why, when they were younger, they were able to swim length after length of front crawl, but in later life, after a short distance, they gasp for air. In most cases this has more to do with incorrect positioning and a lack of flexibility than fitness and stamina. An effective breathing pattern results from having understood and absorbed the essentials of the crawl covered in the previous lessons –if these are not firmly in place, breathing will invariably break down. By building on this foundation, in this lesson you can see how body rotation and a swift turn of the head combine to establish an effective breathing pattern. The rotation provides more room, making the transition between water and air easier.

For efficient breathing to take place in the Shaw Front Crawl four actions are required

  1. The directional arms needs to be rotated and directed down

  2. The crown of the head needs to be directed forward as the body rotates

  3. The propulsive needs to follow through and rose to the apex of the eagle

  4. The face moves back into the water as the lead arm descends connected to the chest and lead arm softens



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