All You Need to Know about the Top 4 Swimming Strokes

Do you have aspirations to become the next Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky? Even if Olympic gold medals aren’t your primary pursuit, swimming is a great workout and stress reliever. While there are several types of swimming strokes, we’ll give you a rundown on how to do the big four: (1) freestyle; (2) backstroke; (3) breaststroke; and (4) butterfly. Other notable strokes include the doggy paddle, the sidestroke, and the elementary backstroke. If you need some added motivation to dive into swimming, Family Health & Fitness Day USA will be taking place on September 30th. The event promotes family involvement in physical activity. Why not take the whole family to the pool for a couple of laps or the beach for a sunny swim session?


When you think of swimming, freestyle may be the first stroke that comes to mind. To perform this stroke, move your arms in a circular, windmill motion while you’re on your stomach close to the surface of the water. Use a flutter kick to propel yourself. A visual representation always helps, so check out this video to get a better idea of what this stroke looks like. Freestyle is the fastest stroke of all, which makes it a popular pick for seasoned swimmers. Practice makes perfect as it’s important to keep your body as straight as possible while performing the stroke to maximize your efficiency.


As the name implies, the backstroke occurs while you’re on your back. This stroke is similar to freestyle in that you perform alternating arm movements while your legs do flutter kicks. Your arms should go through a circular, windmill motion just like they do during freestyle. This stroke exerts less energy compared to others, but it’s still an effective workout—especially for those who suffer from back problems. Here’s a video so you can get the basics down pat.


The breaststroke is a great option for both beginners and pros alike. For this stroke, move your arms in a half-circle motion away from your body while your legs simultaneously whip away from your body and then back together. To get a good mental picture, the breaststroke is also known as the frog stroke. If you’ve ever seen a frog swim, you know what we mean! For beginners, you can keep your head above water throughout. For more advanced swimmers, it’s a good idea to dip your head underwater with each stroke to maximize speed and efficiency. Keep in mind, however, that the breaststroke is the slowest stroke of them all which makes it a great choice if you don’t want to exert too much energy too quickly. Check out this video to aid your technique.


If the name doesn’t give it away, the butterfly is a beautiful stroke and is also the most difficult of the big four to master. To perform the butterfly, symmetry is important. Bring your arms over your head at the same time until they reach the water. Your shoulders are used as the core of power to propel yourself. A wave-like body undulation and dolphin kick complete the butterfly. Due to the sheer force used, this is a physically-exhausting stroke and one that takes a good deal of practice to get the full-body motion down. This video should give you the motivation you need to keep at it.

With warm weather pretty much a year-round occurrence in Houston, swimming can consistently be part of your workout routine. If you prefer to swim indoors, many of the major gyms in the area have pools where you can swim laps. As an added bonus, check out this video from Olympic gold medalist Josh Davis about the big four strokes. We’ll leave you with one of the most epic performances seen on the grandest stage of them all: Michael Phelps’ seventh gold in the 100m butterfly at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Is the butterfly your favorite stroke or are you partial to one of the others? Let us know!

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