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The Swim Smooth Stroke Correction Hierarchy

coaches - you see all the things a swimmer's doing wrong, but in what order do you fix them?

The SS Stroke Hierarchy tells you in what priority to correct a swimmer's stroke.

This article is for coaches and technically minded swimmers who want a deeper insight into developing the freestyle stroke. It assumes you have an understanding of the technical side of swimming and its associated terminology.

Swim Smooth has an open and free-thinking philosophy to swim coaching - that's why we're happy to present this knowledge here. We encourage you to discuss and interact with us to improve the standards of coaching for non-elite swimmers around the world. Find out more about doing this.


Any coach can look at a swimmer's stroke and spot things that are wrong; things that once corrected would help the swimmer become faster or make them more comfortable and relaxed. But what do you fix in what order? Where do you start and what should you leave for now? The Swim Smooth Stroke Correction Hierarchy (no it doesn't spell anything rude this time ;) ) is designed to answer these questions and help coaches crystallize their thoughts and coaching methods.

The Hierarchy covers stroke faults for all levels of swimmer from complete beginner up to elite swimmers and triathletes. It applies to the freestyle stroke only.

We have developed the hierarchy from our experience of coaching thousands of swimmers. It's not fixed and it's not gospel - it's something we're continually developing as our knowledge and experience continues to expand.

We believe it's a very solid basis for coaching most swimmers and triathletes but you will find occasional exceptions to it along the way. There's some discussion around these issues below the hierarchy.

Why a Hierarchy?

There are two reasons why it's possible and necessary to have such a hierarchy in mind when you coach:

1) Trying to develop higher level stroke issues won't be very effective until the lower levels are in place. For instance, there is no point trying to develop a swimmers body roll (level 3) until they are relaxed in the water (level 1).

2) Lower level issues can cure problems higher up without specific work. For instance working on exhalation (level 1) can improve body position (level 2) and curing cross-overs (level 3) improves the catch (levels 4 and 5).

The Hierarchy

When developing a swimmer's stroke, fix the lower levels of the hierarchy before moving upwards:

Level 5
expand level

fftw2Propulsive Power

over glidingKick Timing

Level 4
expand level

fftw1 Catch Setup

over glidingOptimise SR vs. SL

Level 3
expand level

3/4 c-upFront Quadrant Timing


hand entryHand Entry & Shoulder Injury

hand entryBody Roll

Level 2
expand level

body positionBody Position
Kick Effectiveness / Core Awareness / Head Position

Level 1
expand level

exhalationBreathing Exhalation & Relaxation

low srOverly Slow SR


Very roughly the Hierarchy is:

Level 1: relaxation

Level 2-3½: drag reduction

Level 3½-5: propulsion.

Don't Peg Swimmers At A Single Level

It's important not to peg swimmers at a "level x" in your mind. For instance it's normal to have a swimmer with good roll, alignment and hand entry - Level 3 attributes - and the temptation is to label them a Level 3 swimmer. However they will commonly have a Level 1 or 2 issue (e.g. exhalation technique) that is holding them back from progressing.

Another classic example of this is water polo players - they tend to have good propulsive power and kick timing (Level 5 attributes) but poor body position (Level 3). Obviously they'll benefit most from working on that body position.

So, if you're looking at the hierarchy in relation to a swimmer, evaluate strengths and weaknesses at the different levels and start working on the lower levels first.

Have you heard of BLABT?
It stands for:
Body Position
Leg Action
Arm Action
BLABT is the traditional order to teach the freestyle stroke and it dates from way back in swimming history. You'll still find it used in some parts of the swimming world today.
We developed our Stroke Correction Hierarchy as a deeper more insightful way of developing swimmer's strokes than BLABT.
The most apparent difference is the higher priority given to breathing - we believe it to be the most important thing in the stroke.

Don't think of the Levels as Directly relating to speed

It's tempting to think of Level 1 as slower swimmers and Level 5 as the top lane. Whilst there is a trend in that direction, there are many exceptions. It's common to have swimmers with everything right up to Level 3 who are still slow and fast swimmers with Level 1 and 2 issues.

Remember, the hierarchy doesn't do anything other than tell you what to work on in what order. But that's one of the keys to great swim coaching.


There are occasionally exceptions to the hierarchy. The most common we see is that some female swimmers with Level 1 and 2 issues are so gentle with the water that they need a little propulsive power work (Level 5) to develop an appreciation of it - everyone needs some propulsion to move even if the hierarchy says reduce drag at Level 2 first.

Swim Smooth is not a constraining philosophv so if the hierarchy isn't best for a swimmer then disregard it in that instance. It's designed to assist not constrain your approach.


As you can read about here, Swim Smooth is all about raising the standards of coaching for swimmers worldwide. To that end we encourage contact and interaction between coaches. So why not get involved, tell us what you think about the hierarchy and join the discussion on our forum? The forum is completely open, our only requirement is that users are polite and respectful.

Within the public area of the forum we also operate a private coaches area which is more technical and in depth. If you're a coach or swimming enthusiast with a technical approach, why not apply to join the area. It's totally free but we like to know who's who to keep it as a bit of a 'think tank'.

Coach Smooth!

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