Different Types of Swimming Strokes

You've probably seen the different types of swimming strokes being swum in your local pool or on TV, but which one is which?  Where did they come from, what are the differences  and how difficult is each one to learn?

All is revealed right here...

Different Swimming Strokes

Which one is which? 

Front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly stroke.  You have heard of these referred to as certain styles of swimming or as a particular swimming technique, but what make them different from each other?

These four different swimming strokes can be classified into two groups:

  • alternating strokes
  • simultaneous strokes

Different types of swimming strokes

Alternating Strokes

Front crawl and backstroke can be referred to as alternating strokes.  This is due to the alternating action of the arms and legs.  One arm pulls through the water as the other recovers over the water surface, therefore their actions alternate.  

It can be argued that this alternating action is faster and more efficient when it comes to moving through the water.  

Apologies for stating the obvious but that the main difference between between front crawl and backstroke is that one is swum on the back whilst the other is swum on the front. The clue is in the name.  

Front Crawl (or Freestyle)

Front crawl, often called 'freestyle', is the fastest of the four basic swimming strokes. It is an alternating stroke due to the continuous alternating movements of the arms and legs.

The arm pull and leg kick movements for front crawl are continuous and alternating and keep the stroke balanced as the swimmer moves through the water.

front crawl stroke techniqueFront Crawl Swimming Stroke

Beginners learning to swim front crawl should break the stroke into separate parts. For more details on how to learn front crawl, click here.

For swimming teachers looking for guidance on how to teach front crawl, click here.


Backstroke, also called backcrawl, is an alternating swimming stroke where the swimmer swims in a supine position (on the back, face up).

The arm pulls and leg kick movements follow a similar pattern to that of front crawl, where the kicks and pulls alternate and balance the stroke.

backstroke swimming techniqueBackstroke Swimming Stroke

Beginners can find more details on how to swim backstroke by clicking here.

For more in-depth information about these two strokes and how to swim them, click the one below. 

Simultaneous Strokes

Breaststroke and butterfly are both simultaneous types of swimming strokes because of their arm pull and leg kick actions occurring together.  In other words, both legs kick together at the same time and both arms pull and recover together simultaneously.

The main difference between these two strokes is how the arms and legs move.  For breaststroke, the arms pull in a circular motion whilst the legs kick  around in a circular motion and everything takes place under the water surface.  This makes breaststroke the inefficient of the four basic strokes. 

Butterfly legs kick together but in an up and down motion, driven by the undulating body movement, whilst the arms pull back and recover over the water.  This stroke is more efficient than breaststroke but requires a considerable amount of power and stamina.  


Breaststroke is the slowest of the four basic swimming strokes and is a simultaneous stroke by nature of the arm pull and leg kick movements. Both legs kick around simultaneously in a frog-like action as the arms pull in a circular motion in front of the swimmer.

breaststroke swimming techniqueBreaststroke Swimming Stroke

Learn how to swim breaststroke in stages by clicking here.

For swimming teachers looking for lesson plans, fundamental drills and more information on how to teach breaststroke, click here.

Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly swimming stroke is arguably the most difficult of the four basic strokes, as it requires tremendous power and stamina. The continuous undulating body movement begins at the head. It ends with a powerful simultaneous leg kick as the arms pull through and simultaneously recover over the surface of the water.

butterfly swimming strokeButterfly Swimming Stroke

For a beginner's guide to swimming butterfly stroke, click here.

Swimming teachers, click here for guidance on teaching butterfly stroke in your swimming lessons.

For more detailed information about either of these two swimming strokes, click below. 

Now you can learn all types of swimming strokes

My best-selling book, simply titled 'The Swimming Strokes Book' is your best friend when it comes to learning the different swimming strokes.  It breaks down each technique into parts and the photos and diagrams make learning them easier than ever. 

Click below and download a copy to your computer, tablet or mobile device.  Or, click here for more details

The swimming strokes book for perfecting basic swimming techniques
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