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Types of Swimming Strokes and Styles

With water covering three-quarters of the globe we live on; it would seem to behoove us to at some point in our lives to learn how to swim. 

Indeed, there is a myriad of reasons why you might want to learn swimming skills, and a partial list of those reasons includes lakes, hotel swimming pools, rivers, oceans, bays, municipal swimming pools, creeks, estuaries, regular swimming pools, and the like. 

Whether for fun, relaxation, exercise, adventure, or safety’s sake, the ability to swim is a force multiplier when it comes to life’s enjoyment. 

With an array of styles available, finding the swimming stroke that works for you is just a matter of learning them and trying them out to see which type of stroke you prefer. 

Learning several different strokes will provide you with different options to use in changing conditions.     

Basic Swimming Skill Sets

woman doing swim strokes

Before we dive into the deep end of this discussion, let’s look at the basic skills you will need to work on master your swimming skills. 

In general, there are five sets of skills that every swimmer needs to know regardless of the swimming styles and strokes.

Managing breathing techniques is a critical factor at learning how to swim. 

Owing to the different strokes involved in the various styles involved, your breathing techniques will change based on when your face is in the water.

Speaking of getting used to keeping your face in the water, you will want to practice and getting used to gliding through the water with your face in the water.

It may seem as though you are doing that rubbing the stomach and head simultaneous thing, much of learning how to swim involves learning how to coordinate your various body parts during movement.

Once you have gotten used to keeping your face in the water, learned some breathing techniques, and have mastered your various body parts to work together to move you through the water, you will be ready to look at learning various strokes.

The key to becoming a good swimmer takes time and a lot of practice, but once your floundering becomes splashing, and transforms into clean and powerful strokes.

With these facts in mind, let’s look at the five standard swimming styles.

Freestyle and The Front Crawl

When picturing yourself cutting through the water, Olympian-style, you are probably envisioning yourself utilizing the Front Crawl. 

This ubiquitous poolside move is also known as “Freestyle” swimming as most competitive swimmers adopt this stroke for freestyle competition because it is the fastest stroke.

Executing the front crawl requires you to lie on your stomach with your body parallel to the water. 

You move through the water by using alternating arm movements, windmill motion style, whereby you begin by pushing underwater before recovering once they break the water. 

While all this is happening with your arms, your legs should be pitching in by propelling you with flutter kicks. 

These kicks are performed with your feet pointed as the legs move up and down in alternation. 

It is important to remember to not bend your knees while executing this move. 

The final component of successfully completing the front call is your breathing.

Match your breathing to your swimming strokes by turning your head to the side when your arms are in recovery mode above the water position. 

If you notice that you are sinking into the water rather than gliding across it when you make this move, you are turning your head too far upward. 

You want to turn your head just enough to clear the waterline to take a breath.

The Backstroke is Great Back Therapy

Similar to the Front Crawl movement of spinning of your arms windmill-style as you kick your legs, the backstroke is conducted on, the appropriately named, back. 

It is an excellent way to exercise any lumbar issues in a low-impact environment. 

Ensuring that you receive the most benefits for your back however, it is important to make sure that you are doing the stroke correctly.

In the same manner that you would conduct a Front Crawl, with the exception that you will be lying on your back, you move through the water by using alternating arm movements, windmill motion style, whereby you begin by pushing underwater before recovering once they break the water. 

Unlike in the Front Crawl however, you will be looking straight up without having to worry about turning your head. 

You should still be fully aware of your breathing, and time it to coincide with your arm strokes.

Remember to keep your body as straight as possible with a slight decline of your lower body to make sure that your legs stay under water. 

In this position you will engage the flutter kick movement keeping your hips together to allow for more powerful strokes.  

A common problem beginning swimmers have is that they allow their hips to dip too deep in the water which will slow you down.

Learning the Basics with the Breaststroke

The Breaststroke is a popular initial foray into the water for beginning swimmers. 

Although a slow stroke, the advantage to the beginning swimmer lies in the fact the swimmers face remains out of the water. 

Competitive swimmers do put their face in the water and breathe at designated intervals, but the beginner can adjust to emersion in the water.

Performing the Breaststroke requires you to get in the water with your stomach facing downward.

Move your arms simultaneously in the front of your body using half circular movement while your legs simultaneously accomplish whip kicks.

You execute the whip kick by bringing your legs up close to your body from a straight position by bending your knees before powerfully kicking outward and then off to the side before coming back together. 

For those picturing this move in their heads, you would be correct to compare it to a frog’s movement through the water.

More efficient propulsion will be achieved by timing your arm strokes with your leg movements. 

You should rest your arms while the legs make their signature frog-like move, and switch to using your arms when your legs are kicking out backwards and to the side. 

This allows you to contribute to the propulsion through the water throughout the stroke.

Fly Across the Water Like a Butterfly

One of the more advanced swimming strokes, the Butterfly is not only the second fastest competitive stroke but is also provides an excellent overall workout. 

Those who closely follow Olympic swimming legends will know that this is the preferred swimming stroke of Michael Phelps. 

That said, let’s look at the first step to winning a bunch of gold medals.

The Butterfly stroke requires you to start in a horizontal position with the stomach facing towards the bottom of the pool. 

Simultaneously bringing your arms over your head, you push them into the water to achieve forward propulsion while repeating the movement to continue moving. 

When pushing downward with your arms you will push your head and shoulders out of the water.  

Throughout this process your legs will stay together and straight, which you will move in the same manner as a dolphin uses with its tail, which should allow you to adopt a fluid wave-like movement.

Timing your breathing, the best approach is to inhale is right as your arms leave the water and you begin your next forward thrust. 

While an exhausting and tiring stroke to learn and perform, the Butterfly stroke is explosive amount of fun in the water.

Safety First with the Sidestroke

While you don’t need to wear 1920s-style swimwear to learn the Sidestroke, it is an older move that does not see much usage in the competitive sphere. 

Indeed, a plodding pace, relative to the Freestyle and Butterfly strokes, the Sidestroke is a favor of lifeguards owing to the stroke allows the hauling of a burden from the water.

As the name suggests, the Sidestroke is conducted by swimming on your side and pushing yourself forward with scissor kicks and alternating arm movements. 

A nice change from competitive strokes, the sidestroke adds an interesting variation to your swimming routine.

Often compared to apple-picking, the Sidestroke begins with your first arm extending forward (to pick an apple), and when your arms meet close to your chest (the first hand gives the second hand the apple) until the entire orchid is empty or you make it to the other side of the pool.