The Variety of Swimming Techniques

Front Crawl (or Freestyle Stroke)

The front crawl (also often called the freestyle stroke) is the fastest of the competitive swimming strokes.

Body Movement

The front crawl is swum in a horizontal position on the chest. The body rolls from side to side, always turning to the side of the arm that is currently pulling in the water. The head remains in a neutral position, face down, except when breathing.

Arm Movement

The arms move continuously and alternately. While one arm pulls underwater from an extended forward position down to the hip, the other arm recovers above the water, from the hip to the extended forward position.

Leg Movement

The legs perform fast, compact movements, alternating up and down with outstretched feet (flutter kick).

Breathing

To breathe, the swimmer turns his head to the side during the arm recovery until the mouth is above the water surface. The swimmer breathes in quickly, then turns his head back down.

The exhalation begins as soon as the mouth is under the water surface again and continues until the next breathing arm recovery.

Additional Information

Front crawl is the fastest and most efficient of all swimming strokes for the following reasons:

  • There is always one arm pulling underwater, ideally positioned to deliver powerful propulsion.
  • The arm recovery above water minimizes drag.
  • The continuous flutter kicking contributes to steady propulsion.

Because the front crawl is fast and efficient, it dominates races where the choice of swimming style is free, such as freestyle races or triathlons.

For the same reasons, it often is the preferred swimming stroke of fitness swimmers.

Breaststroke

Breaststroke is the most popular swimming stroke of all.

If you go to the pool, chances are most of the people you’ll see will be swimming breaststroke.

Body Movement

The breaststroke is swum in a prone position. The body moves from a horizontal position during a short, streamlined glide phase to a more inclined position during the arm recovery phase.

Arm Movement

The arm movements are simultaneous and symmetrical. As the arms are pulled backward underwater, the hands create an arc, moving from a forward extended position to a position below the chest.

During the arm recovery, the hands move in a straight line from the position below the chest to the extended forward position.

Leg Movement

The legs execute a symmetrical whip kick. First, the legs are fully extended at the end of the glide phase.

The feet then move toward the buttocks during the leg recovery.

Finally, during the propulsive phase of the kick, the feet move outward and backward from the buttocks, then inward and backward, to return to the fully extended leg position.

Breathing

Breathing occurs at the end of the underwater arm pull, when the hands move under the chest and the head and chest move above the water surface.

Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly stroke is the second-fastest swimming stroke and is quite exhausting.

Body Movement

The butterfly is swum in a prone position. The body executes a wave-like undulation, where the chest and the hips move up and down in the water in a specific order.

Arm Movement

The arm stroke is symmetrical, where the hands trace an hourglass pattern underwater, moving from an extended forward position to below the chest and then to the hips.

The hands exit the water at the hips and then circle forward above the water until they are extended forward again.

Leg Movement

The legs do a dolphin kick. They are held together and move up and down symmetrically with the feet extended.

Breathing

Breathing occurs during the arm recovery in a breathing stroke cycle, where the head and chest are lifted above the water to allow breathing.

Most swimmers alternate breathing stroke cycles with non-breathing stroke cycles, as breathing stroke cycles require more energy to lift the upper body above the water.

Backstroke

The backstroke is the only one of the four competitive strokes that is swum on the back.

Body Movement

The backstroke is swum on the back in a horizontal position. The body rolls from side to side, always turning to the side of the arm that is currently pulling in the water. The head remains in a neutral position, face-up.

Arm Movement

The arms move in opposite directions and alternate between pulling in the water and recovering above the water.

The pulling arm sweeps underwater from an extended forward position to outside the shoulder and then to the hip.

The arm recovery occurs above the water with a straight arm. The hand traces a semi-circle in the air, moving from the hip over the shoulder and then extending forward again.

Leg Movement

The legs do a flutter kick, kicking up and down alternately with fast, compact movements and with stretched feet.

Breathing

Since the face is directed upward and remains above the water’s surface, breathing is not restricted. However, most backstroke swimmers synchronize their breathing with their arm movements.

A common variation is to inhale during the arm recovery on one side and to exhale during the arm recovery on the other side.