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Everything YOU need to know about Freestyle Rotation

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Alexandra Petala

The concept of rotating while swimming freestyle has been around for a long time now. A good body rotation is the key to an excellent freestyle swimming technique. This article will tell you what the freestyle rotation is all about, why it is so crucial to your freestyle technique, and how you can improve your rotation with just a few tips and drills.

What is freestyle rotation?

Freestyle rotation is the rotation of your hips, torso and shoulders along the long axis of your body during your freestyle stroke. For a proper and efficient freestyle technique, your hips, torso and shoulders should all rotate together in a single motion during each stroke you take.

  • As you rotate along your long axis, your legs will rotate with your hips, and therefore your kick will be on your side during this rotation phase.
  • During your rotation, your head stays stationary, pointed forward at a 45 degrees angle unless you take a breath.
  • If you are taking a breath, rotate your head along with your body, take a quick breath and rotate your head back with your body.
  • Always exhale while your head is underwater to enable you to take breaths quicker.

We recommend rotating without losing your rhythm while swimming. There should be no strokes you take that are followed with a pause or a dead spot because you are rotating too much. Check out this video below to understand how far you should rotate. 


Why is body rotation important for an effective freestyle stroke?

It is very rare to find swimmers with too much body rotation in freestyle. In most cases, swimmers don't rotate enough or have a bad rotation on one side. But body rotation is essential to a proper freestyle stroke technique. In fact, it is considered fundamental to proper freestyle swimming. The three main reasons why the freestyle rotation is so important are:

1. Injury prevention and an easier arm recovery

Lying in a flat position in the water and recovering your arms puts stress on your shoulder, especially your rotator cuff muscles. You can easily try this on land with a simple exercise.

  • Lay down flat on the floor and try to recover your arm as you would with a freestyle stroke – it’s not possible because of the restrictions of your rotator cuff muscle. A flat body position leads to an internally rotating shoulder and increases the risk of injury.
  • Now try to do the same movement while laying on your side on the floor. Now your elbow can lead your hand while your shoulder is basically operating in neutral without any restrictions. This relaxed state of your shoulder reduces the chance of injury and makes the recovery phase of your arm much easier.

2. Swim with a longer, more efficient stroke

With great rotation comes great reach. As you rotate from side to side, you can further extend your reach and also generate more power with every stroke you take. By beginning your catch phase earlier and with an extended arm, you will travel further with every stroke and require fewer strokes per lap.

3. Use your core and back muscles for power

As you rotate from one side to the other side while swimming freestyle, you are transferring power between your arms and shoulders through your core, back and chest muscles. Because these muscles are considered some of the strongest in the body, especially for swimmers, you can generate more power.

If you swim in a flat position, you generate the entire power for your stroke solely from your shoulders and arms. These muscles are a lot weaker than your core, back and chest muscles, and swimming longer distances puts much stress on them, which increases the chance of suffering from an injury.

How to improve your freestyle rotation?

Here are two of our personal favourite drills you can use to improve your freestyle rotation:

  1. Streamline kicking with one arm extended
  2. The full body rotation drill while kicking

Drill #1 – Streamline kicking with one arm extended

This is probably one of the best, if not the best drill for swimmers of all levels to improve their rotation and body position while swimming freestyle. With this drill, you learn how to rotate your body without compromising your form. Also, this drill helps you time your breathing while rotating and staying streamlined – which can be quite challenging.

  • To practice this drill, for beginners, we recommend adding fins and a small floatation device (kickboard or pull buoy) you hold with your extended arm while doing the drill.
  • The opposite arm (not extended) remains still by your side.
  • After you push off the wall, start with a constant kicking motion, roll your body to your side and take a breath.
  • Then roll your body back into a flat position. Maintain a constant kick during the whole process.
  • The most important part of this drill is to keep your body in a horizontal position when you are taking a breath.
  • As you rotate back to the mid-line after taking your breath, make sure your head turns back to the center pointed at a 45-degree angle.

Drill #2 – The Full body rotation drill while kicking

Similar to the first drill, the full-body rotation drill while kicking helps you develop a controlled rotation while also teaching you how to develop a proper breathing cycle on both sides of your body. However, this drill is definitely a bit more challenging and requires a strong kick since both momentum and stability come only from your legs.

  • To practice this drill, again, push off the wall with a constant kick and this time keep both arms by your side while keeping your body in a flat position.
  • To take a breath, slowly rotate your body to one side along the central axis, while maintaining a strong kick.
  • Breath in and then slowly roll back to your mid-line.
  • Exhale and repeat the same process with your other side.

If this drill is challenging for you, improve your body tension. Flex your abs and your buttocks while maintaining a great streamlined position at all times. Try not to lose the body tension when rotating to take a breath.


What's next?

Now it’s time for you to take the guesswork out of swimming freestyle faster! Start thinking about your freestyle rotation and ask a friend, or coach to take a closer look at how you are rotating in the water. The best way to practice a proper rotation while maintaining a good rhythm and an efficient breathing pattern is by doing the recommended drills.


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