Frontcrawl ~Timing of Arms and Legs

To have a swimmer with slightly ‘off’ timing’ on their Frontcrawl is a common error.  I believe there are two main areas of concern when I look at a swimmers timing.

Timing concerns;

  • how the arms & legs work together 
  • how the arms manipulate their position, which in turn moves your body through the water, known as the ‘pull’.  

Both issues require the timing to be correct to have the most efficient stroke.

Firstly the issue of arms & legs timing in this blog and then the pull in the next blog.  Correct timing is important because when the arms and legs are in sync then the backward propulsion increases almost logarithmically.  The power of the arms plus the legs together launches a swimmer forwards on each arm cycle and with a smooth stroke this makes for a brilliant combination.  If you watch a swimmer underwater, in slow motion, you will see that the downward leg kick and the finish of the arm ‘push’ phase are timed together.  It is easiest to see this in a swimmer who uses a two beat kick.  Have a look at this quick 12 second clip of Laure Manaudou:

The timing of a two beat kick is easy to observe and it is actually an excellent drill to learn.  Obviously Manaudou does not need to move onto a six beat kick but I would be very interested to see what she could do with it!  I have had good success with a young swimmer who only did a two beat kick and once she learned a six beat kick she improved an incredible amount.  You will see from the drills below that the ‘Flee’ drill is part of the progression.  The swimmer Michael Klim used this drill at the end of his relay lead off in Sydney (2000 Olympics), in the infamous 4x100m free relay.  In his lead off he broke the long standing world record set by Alexander Popov.  I am sure it is no coincidence that Klim’s coach was Gennadi Touretski (Popov’s coach).  If you pick up Touretski’s video on Popov’s Freestyle you will see some of the drills I have used (below).

A six beat kick and a two beat kick are basically the same timing.  In the two beat kick (which I like to call ‘one’ beat kick because it is one kick per arm pull) you will notice that the right leg kicks downwards as the right arm finishes the push phase.  In the two beat kick there is a distinctive pause between kicks; (L)kick-pause-(R)kick-pause… and in the six beat kick instead of the pause a swimmer squeezes in two additional kicks; (L)kick-two quick kicks-(R)kick-two quick kicks…  Have a look at this quick 22 second clip of Stefan Nystrand:

It is really hard to see and count the six kicks because a full arm cycle (left hand entry to left hand entry) is less than one second on a sprinter, so each kick lasts less than 1/6 of a second.  However you can observe the timing if you focus on where the kick should be in relation to where is should be on the two-beat kick swimmer: right arm finishes push and right leg kicks down.  (or in slow motion) I selected Nystrand because he has perfect timing and because he can use a straight arm style.  This makes it easier to observe his timing.  He almost looks like he is doing a drill called ‘Flee’ drill (fly kick + free arms).  If you remember the swimmer Janet Evans you will have a very good idea of a swimmer who was able to switch between two beat kick and six beat kick.  She has perfect timing.

  • How to correct Arms & Legs timing:
  1. Start with the swimmer trying the Flee drill.  This is frontcrawl arms with dolphin kick.  Let them struggle with it a bit to see if anyone gets it without you explaining it too much.  The drill is very bouncy and basically the kick has to match up with the entry/exit of arms.  You will have to coach them through this but the timing of the dolphin kick needs to match up to the entry and then the push.  Repeat with fins.
  2. Once they have mastered Flee drill have them do a one legged flee drill.  So instead of emphasising both legs just emphasise the leg  of the arm that is doing the push.  Repeat with fins.
  3. Once they have mastered the one legged drill  have them do the ‘Popping Drill’.  This drill moves on nicely from the one legged drill as many swimmers do this naturally.  The popping drill has the leg that is not kicking down lift higher and when it does get brought into the kick it drops down and ‘pops’ the surface.  This basically is two beat kick frontcrawl with the legs coming out of the water on the upward part of the kick. The ‘pop’ helps to keep timing by feeling the kick.  Repeat with fins.
  4. After Popping Drill move to half and half.  This is where you have the swimmer do half a length on the drill plus half a length with a full kick.  You should try to observe the swimmer’s upper body stay pretty much the same and the kick moving into the full kick smoothly from the drill.  Repeat with fins.

With all changes in technique you will notice that a swimmer will struggle in the beginning.  This is normal.  Drills that have been done so many times that they no longer challenge the swimmer are no longer serving their purpose.  Once they understand the drill then they will move between getting it right and getting it close.  Notice I did not say getting it wrong.  Wrong is different than getting it close.  Wrong tends to mean not understanding the idea but getting it close means that they are trying but haven’t found the coordination yet.  Learning is 

pics for blog 003

taking place while a swimmer struggles with translating the words into action.  As long as they understand then more and more they will have more ‘right’ than ‘not right’. This note shows that this swimmer has the timing of the press/push phase correct.  I will blog on that aspect of timing in the next blog.  Thanks for reading and please comment or ‘like’ on FB.


About Coach Gary

I competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul representing Canada and coached in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics for Great Britain. I have a degree in History and a minor degree in Psychology from University of Calgary. I have travelled extensively and have been very lucky to see so much of the world while representing Canada and Great Britain at swimming competitions. I am very proud of the fact that I coached a swimmer to become number one in the world in the fastest swimming race in 2002. I pride myself in my ability to find new and interesting ways to teach swimming. I am an accomplished artist specialising in sculpture, I have another blog called 'swimmingart' where I publish some of my swimming drawings. I have three young children; all boys. I have recently taken up painting and yoga....but not at the same time. You can see my new paintings at:
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