swim smooth!swim smooth!
perth squads

Rotation and Body Roll In Freestyle Swimming

body roll is important in a great freestyle swimming technique

What is Body Roll / Rotation?

In swimming jargon we call body roll your rotation around your 'long axis' during the stroke. This is the rotation of your shoulders, torso and hips. The terms 'body roll' and 'rotation' mean the same thing, we use them interchangeably.

Body roll from front.

Mr Smooth demonstrates good body roll - shoulders and hips rotating nearly as one.

For good efficient swimming technique, the shoulders, torso and hips should all roll together as one. For your kick, this means you kick on the side slightly as you rotate.

In the freestyle stroke it is quite rare to see someone with too much body roll but it is very common to see too little. It is also common to see swimmers rolling well to one side but not to the other in their stroke technique.

Important: The head should remain stationary and not roll with the body unless you are breathing. You can find some tips on controlling your head position on our freestyle breathing technique page.

Why Is It So Important?

Body roll is a very important part of your stroke technique, so much so that we call it a fundamental of freestyle swimming. There are many small technical reasons why body roll is important but here are three main ones:

1. Easier Arm Recovery and Injury Prevention.

Arm recovery with poor rotation

Lie in a flat position on your front and try recovering your arms over the ground like you are swimming.

Even if you are very flexible in the shoulder it's very hard to do this. You're going to struggle to clear the water's surface when you're swimming.

This awkward action puts stress on your rotator cuff muscles as you perform it.

Arm recovery with poor rotation

Also notice how the hand has to lead the elbow to get round - this swinging path has momentum and when you enter the water at the front of the stroke your hand will want to cross the centre line.

Cross-overs put even greater stress on your shoulder and are a leading cause of shoulder injury. For more information see our technique article on swimmers shoulder and how to fix it.

Try now lying perfectly on your side with the bottom hand out in front of you.

Arm recovery with good rotation

See how it is now easy to recover the arm high over the water. The shoulder is much more relaxed or 'neutral' with this technique.

This high arm movement is purely 'up and over' - there is no swing to the side. This removes the tendency to cross the centre line at the front of the stroke because there is no sideways momentum during hand entry.

Practise leading with the elbow until your arm passes your shoulder.

2. Using Your Larger Muscles and Core For Power

Your lats, core and back muscles are very powerful, good rotation lets you use them to drive the stroke.

When you roll from one side to the other you transfer the power from the rotation to the propulsive arm in the water. By rotating with this action you are using your lats, pecs and core muscles to power the stroke. This is a good technique because these muscles are very strong and powerful.

Conversely, when you swim with a flat body position you are only using your shoulder muscles to power the stroke. These are a lot weaker than your chest and back muscles. Using these small muscles as the main source of propulsion puts a lot of stress on them.

Bill has a nice long stroke with lot of body roll. Sweet.

3. A Longer Stroke

When you rotate well you are able to reach further forward. As you catch the water at the front of the stroke you are able to do this earlier and more effectively.

This means you will travel further with each stroke - taking less strokes to cover a length of the pool, up to a point this is considered good swimming technique.

What's the right amount of body roll?

You want as much roll as you can whilst still keeping a nice rhythm to your stroke without dead spots or pauses. One of the best ways to develop this in your own stroke technique is to practise kicking on your side using drills such as 6-1-6 and 6-3-6 in our DVD Boxset and Learn To Swim program.

If you are struggling to develop enough roll then also consider your "Swimming Posture". Think about pushing your chest forward and drawing your shoulders back as if you were standing smartly to attention. When you swim, do the same thing, push your chest out and think about drawing your shoulders back. This will link your stroke to your core much better and help you drive rotation - great technique.

If you're looking for a gadget to help you develop your body roll, you can't overlook the Finis Tech Toc. We use Tech Tocs every day with the swimmers we're coaching. Find out more here.

The Swim Smooth DVD has a large section on developing good body roll and plenty of drills to assist in developing it.

How Do I Know When I Get It Right?

Several things will happen when you develop a good body roll technique:

- Breathing becomes easier. You barely have to turn your head at all to breathe.

- Your stroke length increases - you take less strokes per length.

- Your arm recovery over the water feels much easier with good clearance over the surface.

- When you enter the water at the front of the stroke you feel you are entering forwards and arrowing straight down the pool.

Classic Body Roll Problems and How to Fix Them

Problem: Body roll feels strange.

Solution: Kick on your side drill.

Kicking drills on your side are excellent for developing body rotation. Perform them in your drill work or as part of your warm-up. More in our Swim Smooth DVD Boxset!

Many swimmers find good body roll feels strange. In decades past many swimmers were told to swim flat - some coaches believed it made for a better stroke. Many swimmers have been swimming flat for years and it feels normal and right.

To learn how to rotate, practise kicking on your side with a pair of fins (flippers) and one arm out in front. Try and get yourself completely on your side, shoulders and hips should be vertical. Unless you are turning your head to take breath, look down at the bottom of the pool.

Keep the lead arm out there for support, with the palm facing downwards. As you do this drill, half way down the length perform one stroke to rotate you onto the other side. Keep inserting this drill into your technique swims until you are getting used to being on your side.

Problem: Single sided breathing causes poor rotation to non-breathing side.

Solution: Bilateral breathing technique.

Body roll from front.

Bilateral breathing straightens you out so you swim faster.

Nearly all swimmers who breathe to one side only have poor body rotation to the other side. The solution to this is to learn to breathe to both sides (bilateral breathing). Without consciously focusing on your rotation, this will improve your body roll all by itself. It will make your stroke more symmetrical and have you swimming much straighter.

At Swim Smooth we're dead-keen on bilateral breathing, not because of any academic ideal but because it helps swimmers swim quicker. Check out our key article on bilateral breathing technique.

Problem: Trying to swim too fast.

If you fight the water, don't try so hard and slow things down. Give yourself time to rotate. A Wetronome would be perfect to help you co-ordinate this.

Solution: Slow down to give yourself time to develop better rotation.

If you feel like you fight the water when you swim you probably have a short, slightly scrappy stroke with poor rotation. To develop your body roll you need to give yourself more time on each stroke to lengthen out. To do this, consciously try and swim slower and rotate from the hip as you reach forwards on every stroke. Imagine you have all day to get to the other end of the pool.

Since you have slowed down your stroke rate (strokes per minute) you probably won't go any quicker at first even as you lengthen your stroke. When you have developed a longer stroke technique you can speed things up again and break into new speed territory.

If you have a Wetronome you have the perfect tool to help you do this - use it to slow your stroke rate down by 5 SPM and rotate on every stroke.

All of Swim Smooth's DVD products contain extensive on developing your body roll so you can swim faster and more efficiently.


Back to the Intermediate Swimmer's Homepage for more swimming tips and advice.

Swim Smooth Terms and Conditions

Swim Smooth Links

think about reaching over a barrel to improve your catch and pull.
lots of beginner swimming tips, start here.
fancy becoming a swim coach? You need to read this.
don't miss mr smooth, an amazing swimming movie from Swim Smooth.
a guide to training and improving advanced freestyle methods.
the total guide to stroke length in swimming.
the classic triathlon DVD to improve your race swimming.
a unique guide to front crawl rhythm and timing.
our classic swim clinics will do wonders for your stroke.
do you have a slow stroke rate? speed it up in a controlled way.
find out more about freestyle kick kicking on this page.
we're experts in freestyle swimming and improving yours.