The Different Swimming Strokes / Styles

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. Here a short video that demonstrates the freestyle stroke:

More information about the freestyle stroke:

Breaststroke

Breaststroke is the most popular swim stroke of all. In breaststroke, both arms execute half-circular arm movements at the same time underwater in front of the swimmer. The arm recovery also occurs under water. The legs simultaneously perform 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. Here a short video that demonstrates breaststroke:

More information about the breaststroke:

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

The 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! Here a short video that demonstrates the butterfly stroke:

More information about the butterfly stroke:

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

In competition, 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. Here a short video that demonstrates backstroke:

More information about backstroke:

Sidestroke

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

A man swimming sidestroke
Sidestroke

Sidestroke 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. Here a short animation of the sidestroke:

More information about the Sidestroke:

Elementary Backstroke

Elementary backstroke is a swim stroke that is swum on the back, using a reversed breaststroke kick and a simple synchronous underwater 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. Here a video that demonstrates elementary backstroke:

More information about elementary backstroke:

23 thoughts on “The Different Swimming Strokes / Styles”

  1. I met a lady at the pool who does a scissors kick with freestyle arms. She says it is a long-distance stroke. I would like to know what the name of that stroke is. I learned to do it, and it seems to be faster than freestyle though I have not timed it.

      1. Sounds like a trudgeon crawl. Scissor kick like the side stroke with the arm movement of the crawl or free style. There is also a double trudgeon which uses a double scissor kick. You are swimming from your hips more than your lower legs. Less knee stress. You have a roll of the hips and legs as you swim that allows you to swim farther longer. I am a former WSI and Aquatics Instructor, BSA

    1. Johann Fast Swimmer

      Truth is the scissorkick in freestyle is wrong. Im a competitive swimmer myself and that’s not proper. Kicking up and down is the proper way.

  2. Hafsah Umar Maigida

    Hello,

    I am Hafsah Umar Maigida. I am in primary school 3. Thanks, this page helped me a lot with my homework. I will learn how to swim soon.

  3. I’m a lifeguard trained not competitive trained swimmer who’s writing a story in which the characters are learning to swim.

    At some point, I was doing the Butterfly Arm Stroke with a whip kick, and calling it (Incorrectly) Trudgen.

    Anybody got the correct name for this butterfly / breaststroke cross?

    1. I guess you can call it butterfly arms and frog kick. I like doing breaststroke arms and dolphin kick and that is how we call it. Hope this kind of helps

  4. This is a very useful article; a great help for learners trying to master the different types of strokes in the pool. I liked the fact that you have also included training videos about each stroke. I personally like the breast stroke the most, as it requires a wide range of muscle groups to act in coordination; serves as an effective cardio workout.

    1. Hi Jam,

      In the past, I’ve had people literally create copycat sites of my site to try to make a quick buck. So to avoid this, the videos are now specifically tied to the website and can’t be downloaded. Hope this makes sense.

      Best regards,

      Christophe

  5. I find this funny as though yes, freestyle and butterfly are fast, when I swim, breaststroke is my fastest. And I was taught freestyle first and the backstroke, breaststroke and finally butterfly.

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