Crawl swimming style – general information

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Style Crawl

Crawl swimming style is also known as freestyle. The crawl was first introduced in Europe by native South Americans at a swimming competition in London in 1844. The Native South Americans easily beat the British swimmers; however, the Brits arrogantly ignored the high speed of the crawl swimming technique and continued using the breaststroke. Years later the Englishman John Arthur Trudgen started swimming in the crawl style, taking his inspiration from the native South Americans. However, Trudgen borrowed the more widely spread scissors kick from the breaststroke to replace the kick originally used by the native South Americans. This mixed style was named Trudgen and quickly gained popularity for its speed.


Later on, in the early 1900-s, the Cavill brothers from Australia improved the Trudgen style, influenced by the young Solomon Islander Alick Wickham. This improved Trudgen style became known as Australian crawl. In 1950 the full name was shortened to simply crawl. With minor alterations thrughout the years this style is the one still practiced today, and has grown extremely popular thanks to its high speed and easy technique with the arms and legs moving consecutively in the opposite directions. For more information see the swimming technique below.

Crawl is the style practiced in free-style swimming competitions.

Types of people practicing crawl: typically crawl is practiced by men and people striving for maintaining physically attractive looks. Life-guards prefer it for its high speed in water.

Crawl Swimming Technique

Crawl leg movements:

In this swimming style the movement is initiated in the pelvis. Knees straight, pointed toes (the top of the foot is positioned as an extension to the shin).

Crawl leg movements resemble these of a ballerina tip-toeing in small steps.

Crawl arm movements:

  1. Stretch forward – stretch forward, elbow bent. Position the hand as an extension to the forearm. Fingers straight gathered together, resembling a boat oar. The hand is bent slightly at a 45-degree angle, with the thumb closer to the water.
  2. Hold – when the thumb enters water, straighten the hand with the palm facing the water so the fingers glide on the water surface. The hand is parallel to the pool floor. Stretch the arm forward as much as possible.
  3. Prepare to stroke – flex the elbow, with the fingers slightly bent down to point the pool floor. Keep the oar shape of the hand. Keep the hand straight as an extension to the forearm.
  4. Stroke – push the water backwards using your hand. This is the most powerful part of the arm movement. When the elbow reaches a position next to the body, fix the elbow, straighten the arm with forearm and hand close to the body, with the palm facing the ceiling (or the sky).
  5. Take the arm above the water – turn the palm to face the tight, take out the pinkie first, hand keeping an oar shape.
  6. Relax after the stroke – once it is above water, relax the arm, and flex the elbow. The forearm and the hand lie in the same plane and look like a helicopter aimed sharply forward.

Crawl head movements and breathing:

For a beginning swimmer it’s recommended to choose a side to inhale when swimming crawl – left side or right side.

It’s a good idea to master breathing to the other (“uncomfortable”) side afterwards. The beauty of swimming may also be in symmetry.

Dip the head and watch the pool floor. When the stroking arm passes in sight, turn the head until the nose and the mouth go above water. The pool surface should be “to the side”, i.e. the head has to be horizontally in the water, in the most aerodynamic position. When the eyes, nose and mouth are above water, open the mouth and breathe in. Shut the mouth and turn the head. Dip the face back to see the pool floor. Simultaneously, start lowering the arm which is above water and stretch forward.

When swimming crawl, follow the principle: “When the head goes down, the arm goes down as well; when the head turns up, the arm turns up as well.”


Measuring crawl breathing:

Normally beginning swimmers breathe in after two arm strokes (one left stroke and one right stroke):

Right arm stroke – breathe in (1),
Left arm stroke – breathe out (2)

Then repeat.

Usually this is how right-handed people swim, since they generally have their right side more developed.

Left-handed people would be reversed:

Left arm stroke – breathe in (1),
Right arm stroke – breathe out (2).


Advanced crawl swimmers breathe in after 3 strokes:

Right stroke – breathe in (1)
Left stroke – breathe out (2)
Right stroke – keep breathing out (3),
Left stroke – breathe in (1),
Right stroke – breathe out (2),
Left stroke – keep breathing out (3).

It resembles waltz timing in music:
1- breathe in; 2, 3 – breathe out.

3-stroke breathing leads to alternating breathing sides and the body developing symmetrically.


Professional swimmers normally breathe in after 3 strokes, or after 4 if they consider they still have breath:

1 – breathe in; 2, 3, 4 – breathe out


1 – breathe in; 2, 3, 4, 5 – breathe out.



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