Whether you're looking to compete in triathlons or to increase your fitness through recreational swimming you should master Front Crawl as your main stroke. For various reasons it's the most continuous, streamlined and fastest of all the strokes, so becoming proficient at it will mean you can swim further and faster than with any other stroke.
With front crawl you're on your front with your face in the water, so knowing you can easily turn to breathe is important in making your stroke relaxed and flowing. Novice and slower swimmers often fight to raise their heads out of the water, but this has the effect of making the legs drop, which in turn makes them less streamlined and efficient, which in turn slows them down.
Balance and rotation are the key to good breathing and staying streamlined in front crawl. Being able to rotate about your spine without moving your head keeps you stable, balanced and heading in the right direction.
The video on the right illustrates a key drill that will balance your body, help you breathe, remove unwanted head movement and keep you heading in a straight line.
So let's take a look at how good National and Masters swimmers time their strokes, a view from above will be useful before we take a look below the surface:.
With front crawl your arms need to be presenting as much of their area backwards in the water at any one time. That means the angle you hold your forearm and hand at, in relation to each other, is always changing. That's one reason that swimmers need to be fairly relaxed when they swim. Stiff arms - stiff shoulders and a rigid body restricts movement and limits your ability to the maximum propulsive surface area against the water, limiting your ability to swim fast.
So, after having good balance, developing a good catch is the key to effective freestyle. To do that it's best to concentrate on drills that isolate your stroke and therefore allow you to practice individual elements of the stroke, one at a time.
The video tot he left illustrates 5 drills guaranteed to improve your freestyle if you persevere and do them correctly.
As well as a good catch it helps to develop a 6 beat kick. That works as 3 kicks one side and 3 kicks the other - 6 beats every time you do a complete arm cycle. THe video below explains how you can practice that.