What are Some Basic Swimming Strokes?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The four basic swimming strokes are those incorporating the front crawl, the backstroke, the breaststroke and the butterfly. Usually the first taught of these strokes is the front crawl. The backstroke generally is taught next. The breast stroke and butterfly swimming strokes tend to be reserved for swimmers who are fairly adept in front crawl and backstroke.

The backstroke is one of the four basic swimming strokes that's taught.
The backstroke is one of the four basic swimming strokes that's taught.

The front crawl utilizes full extension of the arms, which alternately scoop into the water past the swimmers head. This causes the body to move forward and more power is added to the swimming strokes of the arms by light powerful kicks, at the same time. The kicks are most effective when they originate from the thighs, and not the knees. The swimmer should also try to keep the kicks even with the water, since extra splashing makes the kick less efficient.

The butterfly is a more advanced stroke that beginners may find difficult.
The butterfly is a more advanced stroke that beginners may find difficult.

Most swimmers learning the basic swimming strokes have difficulty mastering the breathing aspects of this stroke. Since the body is face down, swimmers must learn to breathe in coordination with taking a stroke. This means breathing on the side opposite to the arm that is stretched out, with a quick turn of the head. The head should lie flat on its side, without the swimmer entirely lifting the head out of the water. Learning to breathe while doing this stroke does take some time to master.

When beginning swimmers can do a passable front crawl, they often move on to learning the backstroke. Some find this stroke easier, since the body is face up, so one can breathe with ease during this stroke. Leg kicks are quite similar in this style, and the swimmer should try not to make huge splashes with the legs. Toes are pointed providing greater efficiency as the body moves through the water.

The arms are brought up one at a time, in what looks like a windmill if one is viewing a swimmer practicing these swimming strokes from above the pool. The arm moves up and then reaches back, then comes forward to beside the body from under the water. As the forward motion begins with the first arm, the second arm moves up and reaches past the swimmers head. The stroke is most efficient when the arms remain close to the body. They should almost graze the ears as they reach back.

The breaststroke coordinates the movements of legs and arms. The swimmer faces down in the pool, and then with both legs and arms makes circles, that ultimately lift the upper half of the chest out of the pool where a breath is taken. The leg movement is very similar to the movement of frogs’ legs, and the arms copy this movement. This is a slow stroke that provides excellent aerobic exercise.

In the butterfly stroke, both arms come out of the water and perform a stroke similar to the forward crawl swimming strokes. The arms go over the head and then pull the swimmer forward slightly raising the chest for a breath. As the head descends into the water the legs come up. This is a difficult stroke to master, though many find it both fun and challenging.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Minombre- I agree that the butterfly stoke is difficult, but not for Michael Phelps. In fact, that is his signature stroke.

The reason is that when Michael Phelps starting swimming at the age of 9, he did not want to put his face in the water, so his coach had him swim on his back and work on the butterfly stroke instead.

Coach Bowman, Michael Phelps’ coach suggests that swimmers wanting to perfect their butterfly stoke extend their arms when they swim as much as possible. He adds that the long strokes help the swimmer develop speed.

According to Coach Bowman, the average swimmer takes twelve to sixteen strokes to cover 25 yards, while Michael Phelps does it in six to eight strokes.

Cross training the upper body with weights and a medicine ball are also suggestions that the Coach Bowman recommends.


Butterfly seems such a complicated stroke. Breast stroke seems the easiest for me, or no stroke at all, just laying on the water and taking a little break. It takes some practice, but once learned it is easy, especially in the sea.

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