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Swimming Strokes 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Different Swimming Techniques

A Beginner's Guide to Different Swimming Techniques

For a long time, people have enjoyed swimming for recreation as well as competition.

From ancient times when swimming was seen as a specialist skill, to today’s Olympic athletes where swimmers race to be the fastest in the world.

As a result, swimming has always been a big part of many people’s lives.

There are different styles or “strokes” in swimming, each with its own way of moving in the water. We’ve put together this guide to help you learn about these strokes, their history and why they’re so exciting to watch and do!

Freestyle (Front Crawl)

Male swimmer doing crawl freestyle stroke technique

Overview

The Freestyle, also known as the Front Crawl, is often the first stroke that comes to mind when you think about swimming.

Its roots can be traced back to ancient tribes in the Amazon and the Pacific islands, where natives developed a basic form of the stroke to navigate vast bodies of water.

Today, it’s the poster child of competitive swimming, celebrated for its speed and beauty.

Technique Breakdown

Arm Movement

The alternating arm movement in Freestyle is a study in biomechanical efficiency.

As one arm pierces the water, fingers first, it pulls the body forward in a semi-circular motion, harnessing the water’s resistance.

Meanwhile, the other arm, having completed its underwater pull, arcs above the water, preparing to dive back in, creating a continuous propelling motion.

Leg Movement

The flutter kick, characterised by its rapid, straight-legged motion, serves a dual purpose. It not only propels the swimmer forward but also stabilises the body, preventing side-to-side wobbling.

The power of the kick originates from the hips, with the feet remaining relaxed, almost floppy, to maximise the water’s push.

Breathing Technique

As the body rotates, the swimmer turns their head to the side and takes a quick breath. Exhaling occurs underwater, ensuring that the time the head is turned is minimised, maintaining a streamlined position.

Body Positioning

Imagine a straight line from the tip of the head to the toes; that’s the ideal body position. This streamlined posture, coupled with a gentle side-to-side rotation, minimises drag and maximises speed.

Tips for Beginners

Freestyle’s beauty lies in its simplicity, but mastering it requires patience. One common pitfall for beginners is the temptation to lift the head forward to breathe, which disrupts the body’s alignment. Instead, focus on turning the head to the side, using the extended arm as a guide.

Additionally, while the arms and legs are the stroke’s primary movers, the core plays a crucial role in maintaining stability. Engaging the core muscles can significantly enhance the stroke’s efficiency.

You can read our guide to swimming freestyle without getting tired here.

Breaststroke

Male swimmer breaststroke style technique

Overview

The Breaststroke, with its characteristic froggy kick and arm sweep, is a stroke of elegance and power. Ancient civilizations, from the Egyptians to the Greeks, have depicted a form of the Breaststroke in their art and writings. It’s a stroke that has stood the test of time, evolving and adapting, yet retaining its core essence.

Technique Breakdown

Arm Movement

The Breaststroke’s arm motion is similar to birds flapping their wings. Starting with arms extended forward, they sweep outwards in a semicircular motion, pulling water towards the body. This is followed by a quick inward motion, shooting the arms forward, propelling the swimmer ahead.

Leg Movement

The leg movement, often referred to as the frog kick, is both powerful and graceful. It begins with the legs drawn towards the body, knees bent. Then, in a whip-like motion, the legs extend outwards and snap back together, propelling the swimmer forward.

Breathing Technique

One of the Breaststroke’s unique features is its synchronised breathing. As the arms sweep out, the head naturally rises above the water, allowing for a quick inhalation. As the arms shoot forward, the head submerges, facilitating exhalation.

Body Positioning

The body’s motion in Breaststroke is undulating. As the chest rises for a breath, the hips drop slightly, and as the head goes down, the hips rise, creating a wave-like motion.

Tips for Beginners

Synchronisation is the soul of Breaststroke.

The pull, breath, kick, and glide should flow seamlessly, like a well-conducted orchestra. One common mistake is diving too deep during the pull phase or arching too high during the breathing phase. Both disrupt the stroke’s rhythm and waste energy. Instead, focus on staying close to the water’s surface, maximising forward momentum.

You can read our complete guide to swimming breaststroke here.

Backstroke

boy doing backstroke swimming technique

Overview

The Backstroke offers a refreshing take on swimming. Lying on your back, gazing at the sky or the ceiling, swimmers navigate the waters with grace and power.

While it shares similarities with the Freestyle, the dynamics of swimming backward introduce unique joys as well as challenges.

Technique Breakdown

Arm Rotation

The arm motion in Backstroke is a mirror image of the Freestyle. However, since the swimmer is on their back, the orientation changes. The underwater pull happens as the arm moves from above the head towards the hips, pushing water away and propelling the body forward.

Leg Movement

The flutter kick remains a constant, with its rapid up-and-down motion. However, the challenge lies in maintaining this kick while lying supine, requiring strong lower back and core engagement.

Breathing Technique

One of the joys of Backstroke is the unrestricted breathing. With the face always above water, there’s no need to time breaths, allowing swimmers to establish a comfortable rhythm.

Body Roll

Just like in Freestyle, the body rotates around the spine in Backstroke. This rotation aids in arm recovery and adds power to each stroke.

Tips for Beginners

Navigating in a straight line can be a challenge in Backstroke. Using lane ropes, the ceiling, or the sky as a reference can help maintain direction. Additionally, it’s crucial to keep the head still, resisting the urge to tilt forward or backward, ensuring a streamlined body position.

You can read our full guide to swimming backstroke here.

Butterfly

female swimmer doing the butterfly stroke technique

Overview

The Butterfly, with its symmetrical arm and leg movements, is a testament to human athleticism.

Emerging in the 1930s as a variant of the Breaststroke, it quickly distinguished itself as a separate stroke, demanding unparalleled strength, coordination, and stamina.

Technique Breakdown

Arm Movement

The arms in Butterfly move in tandem, tracing a windmill pattern. They dive into the water, pulling forcefully from the front to the hips, followed by an above-water recovery, preparing for the next stroke.

Leg Movement

The dolphin kick, characterised by its fluid, wave-like motion, is the heart of the Butterfly. Both legs move together, with power originating from the hips, flowing down to the toes.

Breathing Technique

Breathing in Butterfly requires precision.

As the arms pull water, the head rises for a quick inhalation, and as the arms recover, the head submerges for exhalation.

Body Wave 

The entire body, from the chest to the toes, moves in a rhythmic, wave-like motion. This undulation is crucial for maintaining momentum and coordinating the arms and legs.

Tips for Beginners

Butterfly can be daunting for newcomers. The key lies in mastering the dolphin kick and ensuring that the arm pull and kick are synchronised. Using fins can help beginners get a feel for the kick, and isolating the arms and legs during practice can help hone technique.

You can read our full guide to swimming perfect butterfly here.

Sidestroke (Bonus)

female swimmer during a front crawl swimming technique

Overview

The Sidestroke, a relic from the past, holds a special place in the world of swimming. Historically used by lifeguards and soldiers, it’s a stroke designed for endurance and efficiency, allowing swimmers to cover long distances without exhausting themselves.

Technique Breakdown

Arm and Leg Coordination

The Sidestroke’s uniqueness lies in its scissor kick and alternating arm pull. While one arm remains extended forward, guiding the swimmer, the other arm pulls water towards the body, propelling it forward.

Breathing Technique

Since the swimmer’s face remains above water, breathing is natural and unrestricted.

Body Positioning

The swimmer remains on their side throughout the stroke, cutting through the water with minimal resistance.

Tips for Beginners

The Sidestroke is all about conservation of energy. Maintaining a steady pace, using the leading arm as a guide, and ensuring a tight scissor kick can optimise efficiency.

Conclusion

The world of swimming is extremely varied, with each stroke offering a unique experience. From the rhythmic Breaststroke to the powerful Butterfly, there’s a stroke for every mood and goal.

For UK residents eager to dive deeper into the world of swimming, we offer a range of private swimming lessons in a range of excellent locations across the United Kingdom. Please get in touch if you would like to find out more!

by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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