The 4 Competitive Swim Strokes Explained
There are 4 basic swimming strokes that are recognized in the world of competitive swimming. Each has its own cadence, timing, and technique to master. These four main swim strokes are Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle.
Freestyle is the most common swimming stroke among swimmers and triathletes across many age and skill levels. It is the fastest of the 4 strokes and emphasizes a strong pull and glide, making it more energy efficient than the other strokes. During competition, freestyle is the stroke with the most events; ranging from 50 meters or yards all the way to 1500 meters or 1650 yards. For Olympic level athletes, this creates sprinter specialists as well as long-distance specialists. Most other strokes only have 2 distances offered in competition.
Freestyle is accomplished with the swimmer facing down, parallel to the water. They then create forward momentum by alternating pull and recovery ‘circles’ with the arms. Simultaneously, the feet should be engaging in a steady flutter kick. A flutter kick is the ‘engine’ to the stroke, with pointed toes and straight legs moving up and down in steady alternation. A main component of this stroke is breathing, which should match the cadence of your swimming stroke. When one arm comes up and around the top of the water, you should be breathing on the same side as your arm that is outside of the water. The key is to control your head movement, so you don’t roll on your back or sink from over-rotation.
Freestyle & THEMAGIC5
Triathlete and THEMAGIC5 employee Molly Supple considers Freestyle to be her favorite swimming stroke. "I really like freestyle because it's rhythmic and I feel like I can swim forever."
Backstroke is unique as it is the only one of the 4 competitive swimming strokes that is swum on the swimmers back, facing towards the ceiling. It was the second swimming stroke to be swum in competition after the freestyle, and was first swum in the Olympics in the 1900 Paris Olympics.
Backstroke involves similar movements as freestyle, but facing away from the water rather than facing into the water. Technically, the foundation of backstroke is floating. From there, the swimmer’s arms should resemble the arms in freestyle swimming, with circular motions with alternating arms. The legs engage in a flutter kick, just as in freestyle. Body position is important, as it will ensure that your head is above the surface, your hips don’t sink, and your legs are close together and moving with the cadence of your stroke to create a powerful flutter kick.
Backstroke & THEMAGIC5
One of the best backstroke swimmers in history, Matt Grevers, is a professional swimmer, father of two, and an investor in THEMAGIC5! Matt is a four-time Olympic Medalist. Of all the Olympic swimming events, Matt’s signature event was the 100-meter Backstroke.
Breaststroke is the oldest swimming stroke according to cave drawings found in the Southwestern part of Egypt from the Stone Age. The drawings show figures who are swimming, with legs imitating the legs of frogs. To this day, the kick in Breaststroke is referred to as a ‘frog kick.’ Breaststroke is also the slowest swimming stroke by a significant margin. At the same time, it is often the most commonly learned stroke for beginner swimmers and recreational swimmers because it allows modification in that the swimmers head can stay outside of the water rather than be under water. It is often difficult to learn because of the complexity and importance of the timing associated with success in this swimming stroke.
The stroke is started facing down towards the bottom of the pool with the swimmers' arms moving simultaneously beneath the surface of the water in a half-circle, and meeting at the center of the chest to reach forward and begin the next stroke. The kick is unique in that the legs separate, bend at the knees and the hips to then move around before uniting and beginning the cycle again. Timing is essential in the success of a forward-movement in this stroke.
Breastroke & THEMAGIC5
THEMAGIC5’s social media manager, Christina Nothdurfter specializes in the Breaststroke. “I really like breaststroke because it's so technical and I enjoy focusing on the details of this stroke and the process that comes with it.”
Butterfly is often considered to be the most difficult of the four swimming strokes. It is advanced because technique isn’t easily overcome by strength, and it requires a great deal of practice working on timing, position, and other technicalities. Butterfly is often the second fastest swimming stroke and the last to be added to swimming competition.
To swim butterfly, the swimmer starts horizontal and face down and simultaneously pulls the water to propel themselves forward and then brings them out of the water and around to the front to continue swimming. As you move your arms above the water, the head can be lifted in order to breath. The legs will simultaneously be performing a dolphin kick with the legs together as they undulate from the core, and propel the swimmer forward.
Butterfly & THEMAGIC5
THEMAGIC5 is proud to have Kendyl Stewart on our team as our Marketing Campaigns Manager. Before joining our team, Kendyl was one of the world’s best athletes in the butterfly, swimming for Team USA. Kendyl’s specialized in the 100-meter butterfly. “I love butterfly because I feel I powerful- it's a reminder of a lifetime of dedication to honing my craft” - Kendyl Stewart
The four swim strokes are mechanically different, each with their own intricate styles and techniques. They are as unique as the swimmers who swim them. They inspire and empower different athletes in unique ways. Our team is made of athletes who favor different strokes, at levels varying from elite all the way to recreational. No matter which swimming stroke you choose, THEMAGIC5 goggles can give you the best swimming experience.