The most common swimming strokes or styles are the freestyle stroke, the breaststroke, the backstroke and the butterfly stroke. They are well-known because they are used in swimming competitions.

collage showing the four competitive swim strokes

The swim strokes used in competitions

Besides these common strokes, other styles of swim strokes exist like the sidestroke, the trudgen, the combat swimmer stroke etc. They are used less often but can also be fun to learn.

Let’s have a quick overview of these popular swimming strokes now.

The Freestyle Stroke

The Freestyle Stroke or front crawl is often the preferred stroke of seasoned swimmers. It uses alternating arm movements with an above water recovery. The legs execute a flutter kick.

A young woman swimming the freestyle stroke

The Freestyle Stroke

Freestyle is fast and efficient. In fact it is the fastest of all swimming strokes. That’s why it is used in freestyle competitions and in the swimming leg of triathlons.

Breaststroke

Breaststroke is the most popular swim stroke of all. In breaststroke, both arms execute half-circular arm movements at the same time under water in front of the swimmer. The arm recovery also occurs under water. The legs simultaneously execute a whip kick.

A young man swimming breaststroke

Breaststroke

Breaststroke is often the first swimming stroke taught to beginners. In fact, many casual swimmers can only swim this stroke.

The advantage of breaststroke is that beginners can keep their head above the water. This avoids breathing and orientation issues. More experienced swimmers however submerge their head during the stroke cycle to improve efficiency.

Breaststroke is the slowest of the competitive strokes.

Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly stroke stands out among the competitive strokes because of it’s unique and spectacular technique. It uses a symmetrical arm stroke with an above water recovery. It also uses a wave-like body undulation and a dolphin kick.

A man swimming the butterfly stroke

The Butterfly Stroke

Butterfly is the second fastest swim stroke after freestyle. It has a reputation of being hard to learn and is quickly exhausting. But once you have mastered it, swimming a few lengths of butterfly can be a lot of fun!

Backstroke

As its name suggests, backstroke is swum on the back. It uses alternating circular arm movements and an above water recovery. The legs execute a flutter kick similar to the one used in freestyle.

A woman swimming backstroke with arm extended overhead

Backstroke

Backstroke is faster than breaststroke but slower than butterfly. Physicians often prescribe backstroke swimming to people experiencing back problems because it gives the back an excellent workout.

Sidestroke

The sidestroke is an old swim stroke swum on the side that uses a scissor kick and asymmetrical under water arm movements.

A man swimming sidestroke

Sidestroke

Side stroke is not used in swimming competitions and is therefore swum less often nowadays. Nevertheless it is easy to learn and can be an interesting alternative to the popular swim strokes. It is also used by lifeguards to rescue victims.

Elementary Backstroke

Elementary backstroke is a swim stroke that is swum on the back, using a reversed breaststroke kick and a simple synchronous under water arm stroke.

A man swimming elementary backstroke

Elementary Backstroke

Elementary backstroke can be used as a first swim stroke with children (or adults) that learn how to swim because its technique is very simple.

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