What are the Different Types of Swimming Strokes?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 December 2019
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There are many commonly used swimming strokes, varying widely in difficulty. Some, such as the breaststroke, the butterfly, and the backstroke, are challenging to execute and are mainly used in competitive swimming. The crawl, or freestyle stroke, is commonly used by both competitive and casual swimmers, while the less physically taxing sidestroke is a popular choice for long-distance swimmers and lifeguards. Perhaps the least complicated of all swimming strokes is the dog paddle. This stroke is often used by inexperienced swimmers.

The breaststroke, the butterfly, and the backstroke are swimming strokes often used during swimming competitions. To perform the breaststroke, the swimmer begins by positioning himself on his chest with his head held above water. He reaches his submerged arms out in front of him and then moves them in opposite arcs, pushing the water away with his hands until his elbows are near his body and then repeating. Simultaneously, he performs a frog kick motion with his legs, keeping his knees together and moving the lower legs up and down rapidly. The breaststroke is considered by many the most difficult stroke to perform properly.


One of the most physically exhausting swimming strokes is the butterfly. It is thus generally used only by advanced swimmers. To perform this stroke, the swimmer begins on his chest with his head held out of the water. He reaches his arms up out of the water simultaneously, rotating them forward at the shoulder, and then plunges them downward again. At the same time, he moves his legs in a dolphin kick, in which the feet are held together and the legs are pumped up and down.

Another popular competitive stroke is the backstroke. The swimmer begins this stroke by positioning himself on his back. He reaches his arms out of the water alternately, rotating them at the shoulder and then plunging them back beneath the water at a point behind his head. While moving his arms, he also performs a flutter kick with his legs. In this motion, the legs kick alternately from the hip, with one moving upward while the other moves down.

Used by competitive and casual swimmers alike, the crawl, or freestyle stroke, allows for very rapid movement through the water. To execute this stroke, the swimmer positions himself on his chest and then alternately rotates each arm forward at the shoulder, using the hand of the opposite arm to "dig" through the water. He simultaneously moves his legs in a flutter kick. Often, competitive swimmers perform this stroke with their heads submerged, briefly lifting their faces for breath with every third stroke.

As the sidestroke is one of the least tiring swimming strokes, it is popular among lifeguards and long-distance swimmers. To begin this stroke, the swimmer positions himself on his right side. He reaches his right arm out so that it makes a straight line with his body and holds his left hand at his chest. Then he moves his arms in a sweeping arc motion, using his hands to push the water. At the same time, he performs a scissor kick, in which one fairly straight leg moves backward while the other moves forward.

A final popular swimming stroke is the dog paddle. In this stroke, the swimmer begins on his chest. With his hands facing downward, he makes small strokes with his arms, effectively “paddling” the water. As he moves his arms, he also performs a flutter kick with his legs. The dog paddle is fairly easy to perform, and is thus often taught to beginning swimmers.


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