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Mastering Freestyle Balance

When we talk about freestyle balance we are referring to body position relative to the surface. For both freestyle and backstroke, your body should be parallel to the surface during all phases of the stroke.

Why is it so hard?

It's a mind-body thing. Freestyle balance goes against your primitive survival instincts. You are a vertical, air-breathing, land-based animal, and you crave stability. But when swimming freestyle, you are horizontal in an unstable fluid with your face totally submersed. Your natural instinct is to panic - you want to get your face out of the water, get your body vertical, and get your feet onto something solid. This reaction is totally natural, so you will have to work deliberately to overcome it. Over time, you can learn to relax and swim with ease in the same balance position that causes panic in the untrained swimmer.

Balance parallel to the surface

Perfect front-to-back balance is the most important freestyle swimming skill to master. If you slant your body even slightly, you dramatically increase the body surface that you are exposing to drag, and dramatically increase the power requirements necessary to overcome that drag. Many swimmers get their balance by kicking their hips to the surface.

That's a waste of energy. Elite swimmers learn to balance their bodies at the surface without kicking or sculling, by mastering drillis like the I-Y-X series shown to the right. When you can balance your body at the surface, your "hull" is stable and efficient, and your arms and legs are free to provide propulsion.

Balance at the surface

Since you need to get your face to the air to breathe, it is best to be balanced right at the surface, with your body as high in the water as possible. That way, when you rotate your face to the air to breathe, you will disrupt your front-to-back balance as little as possible.

To the right is Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin. Check the video of any expert, and notice how much of their core, from shoulder to hip is right at the surface. Contrary to what television commentators like to say, swimmers do not plane at the surface - nobody can swim fast enough to do that. They balance their bodies at the surface.

How to learn balance

First learn to float passively at the surface: Front Float Drills

Then learn to maintain that balance while moving:

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