4 Basic Swim Strokes Every Swimmer Should Master
Fine-tune your basic swim strokes like a pro
Whether you are gunning to surpass Michael Phelps’s career record of 28 Olympic Medals, or just training for the sake of strengthening and toning your body, there are four basic swim strokes that every swimmer should master: freestyle stroke, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly stroke.
Mastering these swim strokes will help you:
- Avoid injury from poor form
- Develop a competitive swim time
- Learn more complex swimming strokes
Read on to find tips and crucial details to pay attention to when mastering Swimming 101, the basics:
Remember swim camps in the summer? Most likely one of the first strokes you were ever taught is the freestyle. This particular stoke is part of swimming 101. When executed correctly, the freestyle stroke can get a swimmer from one end of the pool to the other with little energy expenditure.
The freestyle stoke starts by pushing off the wall of the pool with your body facing downward. For the duration of the stroke, you should look downward or briefly to the side when coming up for air. Your arms will act as paddles as your feet constantly flutter, propelling your stroke along. Additionally, your hips and shoulders should tilt slightly from side-to-side as you pull through each stroke.
A crucial part of creating a freestyle stroke that’s efficient is the form of your arms. At the front of the stroke, gently place your hand into the water fingertips first. Your palm should face the bottom of the pool with your wrists slightly higher than your fingertips and your elbow higher than your wrists. Continue to keep your elbow high as your arm enters the water and you start to pull down through the stroke. Press down with your forearm and try to hold as much water as possible through the “catch position”. As your arm re-enters the water, you should keep it as close to your body as possible, never out to the side. Continue this process, alternating from one arm to the next until you finish your lap(s).
Oftentimes, swimmers refer to this stroke as the “frog” due to the motion of the arms and legs. The arms synchronously move in short, half-circular underwater strokes while the legs simultaneously perform the whip kick. The breaststroke is a favorite among recreational swimmers, but also popular in competitive swimming.
The idea behind the breaststroke technique is to keep your body facing downward through the entire stroke. You’ll start by extending forward into the stroke with palms facing down, legs together and feet pointed. From here, your palms should turn outwards and start to move apart into a “Y-position”. As your arms begin to separate past your shoulders, your elbows should flex as your hands move back and downwards. Follow up by bringing your arms back and inward to meet at the front of your chest. This phase will help you build propulsion to move forward through the breaststroke.
Don’t forget to breathe! When your hands meet in the middle of your chest, your head and shoulders should come up above the water for a breath. As you take your breath, bend your legs towards your buttocks with your knees facing outwards. Once your head and shoulders re-enter the water, extend your arms and legs straight out again to propel forward. Glide in this position for a bit and then begin the breaststroke cycle again.
The backstroke is the one basic technique where the swimmer starts on his or her back. Thus, causing this movement to be a slower stroke in comparison to other techniques However, the backstroke is similar to the freestyle stroke in that the arm pulling and leg fluttering alternates.
Start by floating on your back in the water with your head facing upwards and aligned with the spine. Begin to flutter kick with your legs; toes pointed and alternate downward kicks. Continue this motion throughout the entire stroke. As you kick, be sure to alternate your arms through the water in circular motions, making sure to keep them close to your body. This movement creates momentum for your backstroke. As you complete the cycle your recovering arm should become the sweeping arm, and as your arm enters the water in front you and your sweeping arm will become the recovering arm as it exits the water at your hip.
This particular stroke is often difficult for swimmers to master as it’s easy to let your form slip away from you. One of the problems the backstroke technique presents is distracted swimming. Swimmers have a tendency to look around and move their head when performing the backstroke. This can slow you down significantly and lead you to stray outside of the lane! Stay in your lane by making sure your head is straight and facing upwards. Check out “Your Swim Book” for more tips on mastering the backstroke technique and others.
Butterfly Stroke Technique
This is the last of our basic stroke techniques, and just as its name implies, during this stroke you should think about mimicking the robust fluttering of a butterfly’s wings. This technique requires an abundance of upper body strength and stream-lined form.
Start with both of your arms straight in front of you, extended above your head with palms tilted slightly outward at shoulder’s width apart. Push your arms through the surface of the water in a downward, semicircular motion until they resurface. The ‘pull’, pushing your palms through the water along your sides and past your hips, provides the fastest momentum to finish the release. While your arms are “fluttering” endlessly through the water, your legs and feet should be “glued” together, flipping through the water using the dolphin kick.
The butterfly stroke takes time to master due to its usage of the dolphin kick and the arm technique. When you train, take time to make sure the palms are facing outwards so the thumbs enter the water first. Additionally, the distance between the arms should be no greater than shoulder width apart when entering the water. This significantly decreases entry drag, which increases speed and efficiency through the butterfly stroke.
It can be difficult to train or know whether or not you have mastered these strokes, but thankfully, there are tools that help. SwimMirror is the ideal underwater coach for training swimmers to perfect the basics and beyond in the water, since it can help you see the small details in your swim technique.
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