Jun 042014

Susie PowellPerhaps you’ve read or heard about different styles in freestyle. Terms most common are shoulder driven, hip driven, hybrid, and body driven freestyle. Then there is straight arm recovery vs. bent arm recovery. Definitely gets a bit confusing. I’ve done some research to get a better understanding of the different styles, why you might prefer one style over another, how they work, and how this applies to sprinters vs. distance swimmers and open water swimmers.

Let’s start with looking at a video on “Three Style Freestyle”, developed by Coach Mike Bottom. This gives you a brief glimpse of each style (hip driven, shoulder driven, body driven).  Right away you can see some of the essential differences. For a quickie definition, Hip Driven free is what we should be swimming the bulk of our practice time. It is long, smooth, relaxed and incredibly efficient. Shoulder Driven is used for sprint freestylers. It is less efficient than Hip Driven but incredibly powerful and works great for sprint races. Body Driven free is the least efficient and hardest to maintain. It is used at the end of our races and has a lot of power but is very hard to sustain for an entire race. Hybrid is a blend of Hip Driven and Shoulder Driven and looks lopsided. You might hear someone say, “He has a loping stroke”. Chances are that swimmer uses a Hybrid style. If you remember Jason Lezak’s freestyle, he would fall into the Hybrid classification.


Next, let me show you a video from another Olympian-turned-Coach, Gary Hall Sr, titled “Picking The Right Technique”. In this video, Gary shows three styles: Hip Driven, Shoulder Driven & Hybrid. This is a terrific video because not only does he tell you pros and cons of those styles, he also demonstrates how they look in the water from multiple angles.



To synopsize key points from the Gary Hall Sr. video.

Hip Driven Freestyle

  • Stroke rate is about 67-70 stroke cycles per minute
  • Involves pushing or gliding the hand forward in the initial catch.
  • Path of the hand is down, then back with a push
  • It has a slower stroke rate.
  • Requires driving with the legs. Kick enables more power at the end of the stroke.
  • Distance swimmers benefit most from this style.
  • It is not the best for sprints because it is harder to get the high tempo stroke rate needed.

 Shoulder Driven Freestyle

  • Stroke rate is in the range of 80-90 or even 90-100 strokes per minute
  • Hands catch early and quickly, elbows remain high. There is a quick catch to grab and pull the water back, and a quick release.
  • Not necessarily as dependent on a strong kick, although a strong kick is especially helpful at the end of the pull. (That being said, all of the elite sprint freestylers have phenomenal kicks.)
  • High stroke rate over the top
  • Sprinters benefit from this style. In fact, it is universal in elite freestyle sprinters
  • Hand path is wide – you need to avoid pulling under the body

Hybrid Driven Freestyle

  • Stroke rate is generally in the 75-80 strokes per minute range.
  • You see style this in the freestyle of Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Jason Lezak.
  • There is a loping effect or lopsided look to the stroke.
  • Basically it is a combination of Hip Driven and Shoulder Driven.
  • There is a quick catch on one side (shoulder driven) and on the breathing side more of a skate of the lead hand (hip driven) that holds out front longer than the opposite hand
  • There is more hip rotation to the breathing side, and not as much rotation to the non breathing side
  • Most suitable to middle distance swims (200-400 range)
  • Requires strong legs
  • Not as much power as shoulder driven, but still has a higher stroke rate than Hip Driven.
  • Not necessarily as dependent on a strong kick, although a strong kick is especially helpful at the end of the pull. (That being said, elite sprint freestylers who use the Hybrid style have phenomenal kicks.)


Mike Bottom’s team at University of Michigan, Club Wolverines, has some helpful videos on the three styles: Hip, Shoulder, Body Driven.

In these videos, Mike talks about Hip Driven free and shows some drills to help establish that style. First up, we have the “Connection Exercise”.

Next up, we have the Set Up & Drive, also for Hip Driven

Here are three videos showing how Club Wolverine gets their swimmers to understand and learn the Shoulder Driven technique. The first drill is Shoulder Driven with Style Sticks.

The second drill for Shoulder Driven is “Head Up Free”

The final drill for Shoulder Driven is “Kick & Dip”

To learn the Body Driven technique, Club Wolverine use the “Crock Kick” drill shown in the following video and then swim freestyle with a dolphin kick.

Straight Arm vs. Bent Arm Recovery

Gary Hall Sr. has also written a 3-part article on the biomechanics of freestyle recovery – straight arm vs. bent arm. It’s definitely worth a read.

Part 1: – My Take on Freestyle Recovery- Biomechanics

Part 2: – The Science behind Straight Arm vs. Bent Arm – Newtonian Mechanics

Part 3 – A list of Pros and Cons of Straight Arm Recovery vs. Bent Arm Recovery


  2 Responses to “Freestyle Style Options”

  1. Thanks for posting our videos and blog posts!

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