Frontcrawl ~Timing corrections

This is about correcting timing on Frontcrawl swimming.  To have a swimmer with slightly incorrect 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.

For this blog I am showing how I identify and correct timing problems in the arm pull.  One of the important things I picked up from Ian Thorpe’s coach Doug Frost while he was coaching in Stirling was the importance of the words he used while speaking to his swimmers.  At one session he had his group doing a set of 8 x 100 and finding if the swimmers were able to improve the ‘mean’ swim time.  After he explained the set I asked him if he thought that sets that look for the best average time was a good training method and why.  He immediately corrected my question.  He said this is not a best average time but a set looking for the fastest time each swim.  He disliked the word ‘average‘ immensely.  He did not want this word included in any way with this set.

What does this have to do with correcting the arm pull?  If it isn’t obvious to you then you have been using this term for a long time.  What does ‘pull‘ mean to you?  If you were in a tug-o-war competition you would be pulling the rope.  This action of pulling is not what you do with your arms at all in the water.  In fact you do the opposite.  You press the water and then push the water.  If you begin to use the stronger muscles which we have a tendancy to use in the pulling action you lead with your elbow which then makes your paddle smaller.  If you walk alongside a swimmer right at their shoulder you can see if they have good timing on the switch from the press to the push phase.

Your paddle is your hand (obviously) but also it is your forearm.  The surface area of hand and forearm together is much bigger than your hand alone.  So this larger surface area must be used as much as possible.  If you move into a pulling action during your unfly press pushderwater stroke you will lead with your elbow, taking away your forearm as part of your paddle.  You can see in these notes that ‘dropping elbows’ is one of the errors.  This is caused by pulling and not pressing.  You will also note that the notes say: ‘moving into ‘push’ too soon.  The second half of the underwater stroke is divided into a press & a push.  The half way point is directly below the shoulders and if the push phase starts too soon then the pulling muscles have taken over the stroke and the timing is off.

How to correct Arm pull timing:


  1. Start with introducing the idea with sculling in the front of the stroke.  AKA ‘dog paddle’.   This should be done also with head down and in as much of a similiar way to the proper catch of the stroke as possible.  Repeat with fins.
  2. Once they have mastered  dog paddle sculling they should move to ‘big dog’ drill.  This is the same as dog paddle but the stroke follows through with the press & push.  The recovery is under water.  This drill can also be done under water and we call this spiderman frontcrawl.  Repeat with fins.
  3. Once they have mastered the big dog drill then you can move onto half/half lengths.  This is half big dog and half full stroke on each length.  Repeat with fins.  This half/half drill can also be used in conjunction with spiderman drill.Forearms


1. Count strokes per length and find the average stroke count.  4×25 @10s R should suffice.

2. Have swimmers hold balls in their hands and count strokes again.  Record difference between the normal stroke count and holding balls stroke count.

3. Talk to the swimmers about the importance of using their forearms as part of their paddles.  Explain that water is heavy.  Demonstrate how heavy water is by either; having them push a kickboard through the water, ask the strongest swimmer to lift a bucket of water out of the water, have a running race width-wise, or something else that is memorable.  You can use this drawing to show how the brain sets aside parts of their brain for some areas but not others.  HOLDING WATER GREMLINThis is a graphic demonstration that I use: it shows large eyes, ears,nose, mouth and hands.  The hands is the important bit because we tend to believe that our hands do all of the work of the paddle.  It doesn’t.  It just seems like it does.  The trick is to use your forearms.  Now that the swimmers understand that their forearms are the key they do another set of 4×25 and count strokes trying to reach the stroke count of their original stroke count.

5. Now take the balls away and do another round of stroke counting.  Emphasise the use of the forearms and then you can see a difference of up to 5 or 6 strokes per 25m!

If a swimmer already uses their forearms well they won’t see a big difference.  They did not do the set wrong, they were already doing it right.

The new improved stroke count can now be used in the upcoming aerobic set!  With something new it is important to use it.  So if you give the swimmers a longer set of something like 5x200m with the goal of trying to hit their new improved stroke count then they will certainly be challenged.

As I said before with the arms/legs timing, all changes in technique you will notice that a swimmer will struggle in the beginning. A new stroke count is also new but it gives the a swimmer something to focus on.  pics for blog 005So they start to coach themselves!  If you ask a swimmer before the aerobic set: “What if you get 15 strokes when your goal is to get 13?” The answer should be that they will try harder on the next length to get the 13.  Perfect.  Your job is now being done for you.  If you ask often enough “what is your stroke count” and you are getting an answer, then you know you have achieved: learning.  

 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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