8 Different Swimming Styles and Strokes

No matter whether you want to learn how to swim for competition, exercise, or safety, it’s best to learn several different swimming strokes as each offers different advantages in different situations.

For competition, the versatility will allow swimmers to compete in multiple events. For exercise, different muscles are used for different strokes; learning all of the strokes provides a more comprehensive workout. For safety, different strokes can be used depending on the dangers of a particular situation.

Front Crawl/Freestyle

The front crawl is likely the first swimming stroke you think of when you picture swimming. It is commonly called the freestyle stroke as most swimmers choose to use this stroke in freestyle events as it is the fastest.

To execute the front crawl, you lie on your stomach and propel yourself forward with alternating arm movements in a sort of windmill motion that starts by pushing underwater and recovers above water. Your legs should propel you with a flutter kick, which is performed with pointed feet as your legs move up and down in alternation. You take breaths in time with the strokes.
 

Backstroke

The backstroke requires similar movements to the front crawl, but it is done, as the name suggests, on your back. Doctors often recommend this stroke to individuals with back problems as it provides a great back workout.

To perform the backstroke, while floating on your back, alternate your arms with a windmill-like motion to propel yourself backwards. Like the front crawl, your arms should start the circular motion by pushing underwater and recovering above water. Your legs should engage in a flutter kick. Your face should be above the surface as you look straight up.

Breaststroke

The breast stroke is the slowest competitive swimming stroke, and it is the most commonly learned stroke. It’s often taught to beginner swimmers because it does not require putting your head underwater. However, in competitive swimming, swimmers do submerge their head and breathe at designated points in the stroke.

This stroke is performed with your stomach facing down. Your arms move simultaneously beneath the surface of the water in a half circular movement in front of your body. Your legs perform the whip kick at the same time. The whip kick is executed by bringing your legs from straight behind you close to your body by bending both at your knees and at your hips. Your legs then move outward and off to the side before extending and coming back together. This swimming technique is often compared to a frog’s movement

Butterfly

The butterfly is an advanced swimming stroke that provides an excellent workout. It can be more difficult and tiring to learn, but it is also a lot of fun. It is the second fastest competitive stroke, and the favorite stroke of Olympic legend Michael Phelps.

To perform the butterfly stroke, start horizontal with your stomach facing the bottom of the pool. Bring your arms simultaneously over your head and push them into the water to propel you forward and bring them up out of the water again to repeat. As you move your arms into the water, you will push your head and shoulders above the surface of the water.

Your legs will perform a dolphin kick, which requires your legs to stay together and straight as you kick them similarly to how a dolphin’s lower body and tail moves.

 

Sidestroke

This is an older swimming style that is not typically used in swim competitions, but is still an important stroke to learn for safety reasons. It is most commonly used by lifeguards when they rescue someone, as this stroke most easily allows you to pull something along with you. It involves swimming on your side, as the name implies, propelling yourself forward with a scissor kick and alternating arm movements. It’s one of the easier strokes to learn, and can be a nice break from the more popular swim strokes if you’re looking to add more variety into your routine.

Elementary Backstroke

This is a variation from the typical backstroke you see. It uses a reversed breaststroke kick while your arms move in sync beneath the water. It’s called “elementary” because of its simple technique that’s easy to pick up, and is often one of the first swim strokes taught to new swimmers for this reason.

Combat Side Stroke

This is a form of the sidestroke that all US Navy SEALs have to learn. Efficient and energy-saving, the combat side stroke is a kind of a combination of breaststroke, freestyle, and, obviously, sidestroke. It reduces the swimmer’s profile in the water, making them less visible while allowing them to swim with maximum efficiency–two critical criteria for combat operations that require swimming on the surface. This is a relatively complicated stroke to learn, so click here for the full official description and steps.

Trudgen

This stroke evolved from the sidestroke and is named after the English swimmer John Trudgen. You swim mostly on your side, alternating lifting each arm out of the water and over your head. It uses a scissor kick that only comes in every other stroke. When your left arm is over your head, you spread your legs apart to prepare to kick, and then as the arm comes down you straighten your legs and snap them together for the scissor kick.

Sign up for lessons at SwimJim in order to learn and master the different styles of strokes in swimming. Not sure which level to start out on? Visit our SwimJim Levels page and we will help you out.