The Different Types of Swimming Strokes and How to Perfect Each

Swimmer is stroking the pool water

Swimming is an intense sport, but it can also be an incredibly satisfying one. Mastering each stroke can be a feat that even the best swimmers have trouble with. But understanding the types of swimming strokes and which one suits you best is essential to be a successful swimmer.

If you find that you can master every stroke there is, then you are among the rare few elites. However, there is nothing wrong with having a niche. That niche can help out a lot in a pinch.

What Are the Types of Swimming Strokes

swimmer stroking the pool water and he is wearing a goggles and swim cap

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When it comes to competing, there are only four types of swimming strokes that you will use. Those strokes are the freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. Each one has its technique, style, and difficulty level.

Typically, swimmers will practice every stroke. However, most will find one that they excel at more than the others and focus primarily on that one. But, sometimes a swimmer will find that they are proficient in all four strokes and that is very valuable to a swimming team.

Swimmers who are excellent in all four strokes can be in any event, including the intermediate medley and relays. These elites are often a team's ace in the hole. However, an excellent swimmer with a specialty can be just as powerful.

When a swimmer has a niche, they become the go-to athlete for specific events and relays. A great breaststroker can mean the difference between first and second place in a relay event. Typically, even the all-around swimmers will have one or two strokes that they prefer and are the best at.

When it comes to the strokes themselves, certain ones are easier to master than others. One of the hardest strokes to even be decent at is the butterfly, which is Michael Phelps' staple. And even he has had trouble with the stroke in the past.


You will use this stroke every single day in practice, that is a personal guarantee. Parts of this stroke have found their way into nearly every other stroke we use. It is the core foundation of swimming. Not to mention, it is also one of the easiest strokes to master.

The stroke is made up of four main components. The pull, push, breath, and kick. To properly execute this stroke, you will need to get each of those components down.

The stroke starts with you emerging from either your dive or push off. You come up still streamline and take one arm and begin to bring it down past your body.

Doing so will pull then push yourself forward. With that same arm, bring it out of the water and throw it in front of you, keeping your shoulder bent and fingers close to the water the whole time.

At the same time, take the other arm and then push it behind of you. Once your first arm is stretched out in front of you, and your other is behind, you can alternate each arm continuously until you reach the wall. While your arms are pushing and pulling, your legs will be always flutter-kicking to keep you flying forward.

The breaths for this stroke can vary, depending on your skill level and comfort. However, it is a general rule that you should be breathing every third stroke, alternating sides.

When you are bringing your arm above you, you will have an opportunity to turn your head, bringing your face out of the water. This is when you have a split second to catch a breath. Do this for the entire race, and you're swimming freestyle.


Another one of the easier types of swimming strokes, the backstroke is essentially the same as freestyle, but on your back. However, instead of bending your arms, you should keep them stretched out when bringing them above you.

The backstroke has three components: the pull, push, and kick. The pull and push are the same as the freestyle push, but inverted, seeing as you are on your back this time around.

Once you come up from your dive or push off, you will break streamline by bringing one arm down past you, in the pull/push motion. While you are doing that, your legs will start to flutter kick, as with the freestyle. Here you do not have to worry about breathing, seeing as your face will be above the water the whole time.


The breaststroke is a relatively slower stroke, but still can be one of the more difficult types of swimming strokes to master. This stroke has its own move set that is unique to its technique.

Here we have four components: pull, push, breath, and streamline. You start, like with any stroke, emerging from the water after your push off,

The first thing you are going to do is pull both of your hands away from you, pulling yourself through the water. Doing so will lift your shoulders and head out of the water, giving you the chance to breathe. Once your arms are about in line with your shoulder, you will bend them, so your hands meet at your chest, and push them forward under the water.

At the same time as your arms are moving down, your legs will be doing a whip kick. The whole stroke is symmetrical, so what your arms do, your legs will do something similar. The final move is the glide.

The glide is when both your arms and legs are stretched out, and you are in a streamline position. You should hold this move for about one or two seconds, or until you feel yourself losing momentum. Then, it starts all over again.


The butterfly is by far the hardest of the types of swimming strokes to master, let alone be halfway good at. This is because it is the most exhausting stroke there is. However, it is also the most noticeable stroke there is.

During this stroke, your body executes a wave-like motion. The stroke starts in a streamline position. Your arm stroke is symmetrical, like the breaststroke.

As you break streamline, your arms will trace an hour-glass pattern under the water, until they are behind you. As you are doing the arm movement, your legs will do a dolphin kick. Keeping them together and moving them as a mermaid or dolphin would.

Your breathing happens as you are pulling your arms under the water. The pattern of your arms and movement of your legs will push your upper body above the water, allowing you to breathe. However, it is a good idea to keep breaths with every other stroke.

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You can do this by forcing your head and shoulders to stay under the water. This will maximize your speed and the consistency of your stroke. Often, swimmers trip up when trying to breathe, as it can throw off the natural rhythm of the stroke.

Using training flippers, like the CAPAS Fins, is a great way to help train your body and get your legs used to dolphin kicking. Many swimmers find that combining the kick with the stroke is the hardest part of the butterfly stroke.

Techniques to Practice

Each of the different types of swimming strokes has its technique, made to help you master it. Some will be easier than others, given the nature of each. But none are impossible to learn.

The two techniques that have been proven to be the most difficult are pertaining to the breaststroke and butterfly. But why is this?

The techniques for those two particular strokes are far different from each other and the other types of swimming strokes. They are unique to themselves.

For example, the butterfly has the hourglass hand movement and dolphin kick, which you don't see in any other stroke. The breaststroke has its similar hand and leg movements that are different as well. As for the freestyle and backstroke, their techniques are somewhat similar, just inverted.

However, it just comes down to practice. Once you get the core movements down, and continuously practice the techniques of each stroke, the rest will come naturally. Every swimmer, no matter their preference, can become reasonably proficient in every stroke in time.

How Can You Improve Your Stroke

If you are currently practicing swimming, surely your coach has done various drills with you. These drills are designed to enhance specific types of swimming strokes. You may also benefit from using something like the Overmont Kickboard to assist you with some of these exercises.

The finger-drag drill is a prevalent exercise that can help you make your freestyle stroke beautiful. This involves you dragging the tips of your fingers across the surface of the water until they are stretched in front of you. Doing so will help your body get used to keeping your arm bent as you bring it out of the water and towards the front of your stroke.

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Another good drill to make use of is the catch-up, which also helps your freestyle and backstroke. Here, you keep one of your arms out in front of you until the other is finished with the stroke. This allows you to focus on the movements of one arm at a time, helping with your pull and rotation.

A breaststroke drill, called the “heel touch,” is meant to help with your breaststroke kick. Here, you lay on your face with your hands by your side, near the back of your hips. With each kick, raise your heels to touch your fingers.

Finally, a great, if not tiring butterfly drill, is the 4-1 drill. This involves you always kicking and executing four single-arm strokes. After four from each arm, you do one full butterfly stroke and start over.

That last one will significantly improve your butterfly stroke, as it is one of the most difficult to master. But once you do, it can be the most gorgeous stroke anyone will see.

Perfect Your Stroke

swimmer ready to stroke for the swimming competition

Nailing the techniques and movements of each of these strokes is vital to becoming a successful swimmer. However, don't worry if you find yourself not being quite good at a particular stroke. As long as you can execute it adequately, you'll be fine.

However, if you find yourself unable to get a specific part of any of the types of swimming strokes down, remember to utilize your drills. Your coach gave them to you for a reason. If you find yourself with spare time, try practicing one of those drills.

After all, with practice comes perfect. And no one became an Olympic athlete overnight. Just keep at it, and you will be celebrated in no time at all.

Are you currently learning different types of swimming strokes? Which is your favorite? Tell us about your experience in the comments section.

Featured Photo by Guduru Ajay bhargav from Pexels


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