The Basic Swimming Strokes – Advantages & Shortcomings

This page will give you an overview of the basic swimming strokes that are currently taught in swimming classes. We will also learn about the advantages and shortcomings of each swim stroke.


The breaststroke is often the first of the basic swimming strokes taught to beginners. The modern breaststroke kick is, in fact, a whip kick. The arms stroke phases include a recovery forward, an outsweep, an insweep where the hands meet below the chest, and again the recovery. All arm and leg movements occur below or at the water surface.

Young girl with fish-like pink swim cap doing breaststroke
Breaststroke is one of the first swim strokes taught to beginners

One of the advantages of the breaststroke is that at a fundamental level, the head can always stay above water. This gives excellent visibility while swimming and avoids breathing issues.

Another advantage is that both arms and both legs execute the same motion synchronously, which makes this swimming stroke one of the easier ones to learn.

The main shortcoming of the breaststroke is that it’s slower and less efficient than the other strokes.


Backstroke is often the next stroke taught to swimmers. As its name suggests, it is swum on the back. The backstroke kick is a kind of flutter kick, which means that the legs alternatively kick up and down.

The arms execute kind of an alternate windmill-like motion. The straight arm recovers above the water in a circular motion from the hip to an extended to the front position, then catches and pulls under the water from the extended front position back to the hip.

The advantage of the backstroke is that as it is swum on the back, breathing issues are avoided once the swimmer has good balance. It is also more efficient than breaststroke and can be swum for long distances. As it gives the back an excellent workout, it is also often advised as a remedy against back problems.

The backstroke also has its shortcomings. It is slower than freestyle or butterfly. For novice swimmers, it can be challenging to find balance on the back and then breathing becomes an issue as the nose is up and water can easily enter the nose. Finally, it can be uncomfortable for beginners to not being able to see in which direction they are swimming.

The Freestyle Stroke

The freestyle stroke is swum flat on the stomach. The feet execute the same kind of flutter kick like in the backstroke. The arms perform an alternate motion where they recover from the hip to the front above the water, then catch and pull back to the hip under the swimmer’s body in the water.

The advantage of the freestyle stroke is that it’s the fastest and also most efficient swim stroke. The fastest event in a swimming competition is always the freestyle. And distance swimmers nearly always use the freestyle as it allows to cover long distances while wasting the least amount of energy.

The difficulty of freestyle is that as the face is submerged and turned towards the bottom of the pool, it must be rotated to the side at the right moment to allow for breathing. The coordination of breathing and swimming in the freestyle stroke makes it one of the more difficult swim strokes to master.

The Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly stroke is both the most beautiful and most difficult of the basic swimming strokes. The body executes a wave-like undulation which starts in the arms and head, travels down the body and ends in the legs and feet which snap like whips.

The arms execute a motion like that of the freestyle, only that both arms move synchronously. From an extended to the front position, they pull back under the swimmer’s body to the hips, then are thrust sideways out of the water and recover to the front above the water in a quick circular ballistic motion.

The advantage of the butterfly is that it is also very fast, faster than breaststroke and backstroke but slower than freestyle. It is also a stroke that is a lot of fun because of it’s unique
dolphin-like body undulation.

However, the butterfly stroke is quickly tiring as it requires a lot of strength. It is also challenging to learn as it requires both an excellent wave-like body undulation and perfect timing
for the arm recovery to occur.


We have discussed the advantages and shortcomings of the basic swimming strokes. You could now start to learn how to swim these strokes. Have fun!

6 thoughts on “The Basic Swimming Strokes – Advantages & Shortcomings”

  1. Fun fact coming from a competitive swimmer: You can literally swim any of the four official swimming styles (fly, back, breast, free/crawl) in a freestyle race without getting disqualified because it is a free style event. However, since crawl is faster, most people choose to swim that style. Notice, it never prevented this guy in my club from swimming an 800 free in butterfly, just to prove to everyone that he is insane!

    1. I am so on your side. I agree. I bet your dad A is a great swimmer. I am one too. I am on level 7-8. I am always talked about for being best swimmer in class and on my team. I am a boy so it is easy I don’t have to worry about my hair getting in the way. I am doing a project about swimming. So I need some facts. I could use some help from A and Grace. Crystal does not sound like she has good and useful info. Listen -A you need to get more info too.

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