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Common Swim Strokes

Common Swim Strokes

Below you will find information on the most common swim strokes. Please know that this information does not serve to take the place of proper swimming lessons by a certified instructor and is for informational purposes only.

Treading Water

Treading water should be mastered before moving on to learning swim strokes. Learning how to tread water is one of the most important parts of swimming, helping prevent accidents and helping people keep afloat. You can use kickboards to help you tread water and learn swim strokes.

Treading water is the motion of your arms and legs moving at the same time but in an efficient method. Your right arm should push out and away from your body and in a clockwise motion pull back to the chest. Your left arm should be in sync and perform the same motion but in a counter-clockwise direction. Your back should be straight with legs bent, and your legs should be making the same clockwise and counter-clockwise movements.

Freestyle/Front Crawl Stroke

The most common and most natural to perform of all the swimming strokes is the freestyle or front crawl stroke. The freestyle stroke allows you to swim straight on your stomach by kicking your legs and rotating your arms over your head. It is extremely important to become comfortable with the breathing technique, as your face will stay submerged for a few strokes.

Body position is important to the freestyle swim. Your back, neck and head should be relaxed and in line with each other in order to reduce any resistance. Reach forward with your right arm and extend it as far as you can. As you place your right palm into the water, your left hand should be in motion reaching up and forward. Your right arm will be pushing through the water as your left arm is stretched out and swinging above your head.

When rotating arms to reach forward, your body will rotate with the arm reaching out of the water. Your body will pivot with each stroke allowing you to push harder through the water and extend your arm further.

While you are rotating, it will feel natural to tilt your head and breathe. You don’t want to take a breath every stroke but find a comfortable pattern and breathe every four strokes or so. Your feet should be kicking in a fluttering manner or a slower smooth pattern.

Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly stroke is one of the most difficult swim strokes to master, but because of its high level of technique and skill, it’s also very fulfilling to learn. Follow these steps to learn the butterfly stroke:

The Pull

The pull part of the butterfly stroke is focused on body positioning and propulsion. The hands should be kept straight to make a paddle. Make a semicircle with the elbow higher than the hand and the hand pointing towards the center of the body and downward. Shoot your fingers downward and forward into the water to create the most propulsion.

The Push

The push is created by pushing the palms of your hands back through the water underneath the body at the beginning and at the side of the body. The movement increases speed throughout the transition phase, of the pull and push. The speed at the end of the push is used to help with the recovery.

The Recovery

The recovery is all about keeping your body in a straight line. Keeping your elbows straight, bring the arms sideways across the water to the front. Squeeze and shrug shoulders during the transition between the recovery and pull stages.

Leg Movement

Move your legs simultaneously in a dolphin kicking motion. Keep feet together and pointing downwards and pressing down the head.


After you know the arm movements for treading water, the breaststroke will come easily. This style of swimming allows you to propel yourself forward while keeping your head above the water.

For a fluid breaststroke, you should start in a prayer position with palms together and thumbs up. While keeping your hands together, push your arms forward away from your body. As you stretch your arms straight, release your hands and turn your palms out. Push your arms to your sides and back up to your chest in the starting prayer position. These motions should be done in one fluid action.

Your legs are equally important in swimming the breaststroke. Together with your arms, draw your knees up to your chest and kick your legs out to each side as wide as you can. Bring your legs together, straight back behind you and start the motion over again.


Swimming the backstroke is the same movements as the freestyle but you’re on your back! This is a very comfortable swim stroke and easy to learn.

Make sure your body is straight and inline, and your face looking up skyward. Float on your back in the water and extend your right arm above your head. Reach out as far as you can above and behind you. As your right arm enters the water, bend your elbow and draw your arm under, pushing through the water, and back to the surface. Your left arm will follow this same motion but at the opposite time: when your right arm is submerged, your left arm is extended above you. Your legs should be helping you propel yourself with your feet butterfly kicking.