Guide to Different Types of Swimming Strokes and Styles

Swimming is good for lots of reasons. Swimming in different ways is even better. You can learn how to swim to be competitive, exercise, survive, and do many other things like swimming when you’re embarrassed at a pool party.

Here are the most common swim strokes. They all have rules, and they are for different purposes. These styles are used in the water, and usually, you use your arms to move through it.


freestyle swimming

The front crawl is a swimming stroke that you do on your stomach. You alternate your arms in a windmill motion and move forward. The freestyle is a good competitive and exercise stroke, and it allows you to swim for longer without getting tired.

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Freestyle is the best swimming stroke. It’s fast and easy to learn, too. If you’re new to swimming or want a good workout in the pool, then freestyle is a great way to start. Freestyle at an average speed for an hour, and a 140-pound person will burn up to 500 calories.


backstroke swimming

Lie down on your back and move your legs in a circular motion while moving your arms in a windmill motion. It is similar to the freestyle, but you swim on your back and propel yourself backwards. Doctors recommend this technique to people who have back problems or want to develop stronger back muscles. This can be harder than other strokes, so consider taking private lessons about doing it correctly.

Backstroke is the opposite of freestyle. It is easy to do, and most people like it. You can swim with one arm, but both arms work best. Your face stays out of the water so you can breathe when you need to. Backstroke is good when you want a break from swimming freestyle because your face does not go in the water then, too.


breaststroke swimming

Float with your stomach facing down. Then, move your arms in a half-circle motion in front of you. Bend your legs, then kick back with good timing, and you’ll propel yourself up and forward. This is an excellent workout for people who swim for exercise.

Since the average person burns just shy of 350 calories per hour while swimming breaststroke, it may not be your go-to for a high-intensity workout. But since it uses such a different movement pattern than freestyle or backstroke, it’s a great way to switch things up and focus on different muscle groups, says Russell, C.P.T., former Olympic swimmer and swim coach and trainer at Life Time Athletic in New York City.

Plus, “if you’re hesitant to hold your breath, breaststroke is great because you breathe every stroke,” she explains. Heck, you can even do it without putting your face in the water at all (though that’s not technically correct).

Butterfly Stroke

butterfly stroke

The butterfly stroke is one of the best. It tests a mature swimmer. You bring your arms over your head, and then you push them into the water to go forward. Your legs move in a dolphin kick, which means they stay together and kick at the same time quickly, like jumping in place.

Maybe the hardest swimming stroke, the butterfly is also the best. It is hard to learn, though, so you should work on other strokes first. But once you get good at them and then try it, know that it burns many calories, and your heart rate will go up quickly.

This isn’t easy to learn, but if you take swimming classes, they can teach you how to do it right and help you until you get good.


sidestroke swimming

Although not one of the four strokes in competitive swimming, the sidestroke is a good way to keep yourself and others above water. Lie on your side and scissor your legs to move forward. This is best for lifeguards because they can hold onto someone while doing it. Alternate by meeting hands in front of your chest then flinging them outwards, one back and one forward. This can be hard at first but important if you are trying to help someone else who cannot swim or an emergency that requires you to stay afloat.

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Sidestroke is a good way to move through the water. Navy Seals used it to train and swim during missions. They are the best swimmers in the army and some of the best endurance swimmers in the world. That means that sidestroke is a perfect choice when you need speed combined with efficiency for the survival and success of a mission.

About Jessica J

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica J. Follow me on Pinterest & LinkedIn.

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