Tag: backstroke

Why Learn Several Different Swimming Strokes?

Are you wondering if learning all the different swimming strokes makes sense? Or if sticking to your favorite swim stroke is enough?

Three children practicing breaststroke movements on dry land
Learning several different swimming strokes requires patience but has its rewards.

For example, you may be a beginner triathlete being able to swim breaststroke. But you’d like to be able to swim much faster for an upcoming event next summer, and need to learn freestyle.

Or you may be a long-time swimmer that can swim the breaststroke or freestyle stroke well. But now you are wondering if being able to swim the butterfly stroke or the backstroke will bring any advantages?

The Benefits Of Swimming Several Strokes

Well, I think that besides a more significant time investment, there are only benefits to know several different swimming strokes.

  • When you swim several strokes, you use more muscles, and your body gets a better workout.
  • The risk of a swimming injury is decreased because you don’t always stress the body with the same movements, and the musculature is more balanced.
  • Your swimming fun is increased because your workouts are more varied when you can choose from several swim strokes.
  • The skills that you learn in one stroke can often be transferred to another swim stroke. For example, the balance skills that you learn for the front crawl are also needed in the backstroke. Or the body undulation that you need for the butterfly stroke is also an asset while swimming breaststroke.
  • Knowing several types of swimming strokes can also be a significant advantage in triathlons. Obviously, if you know freestyle, you will swim faster and tire less than if you only swim breaststroke during the event. Switching to breaststroke, in turn, can be interesting when you need orient yourself, as you have better visibility than when you are swimming front crawl. And if you know backstroke, you can roll on your back when you are tired and take a few strokes in that position to recover.

In conclusion

So my recommendation is that if you aren’t in a big hurry and need to learn how to swim one particular swim stroke as soon as possible, it pays off to learn how to swimthe four competitive strokes.

The Different Swimming Strokes / Styles

The most common swimming strokes or styles are the freestyle stroke, the breaststroke, the backstroke and the butterfly stroke. They are well-known because they are used in swimming competitions.

collage showing the four competitive swim strokes
The swim strokes used in competitions

Besides these common strokes, other styles of swim strokes exist like the sidestroke, the trudgen, the combat swimmer stroke, etc. They are used less often but can also be fun to learn.

Let’s have a quick overview of these popular swimming strokes now.

The Freestyle Stroke

The Freestyle Stroke or front crawl is often the preferred stroke of seasoned swimmers. It uses alternating arm movements with an above water recovery. The legs execute a flutter kick.

Freestyle is fast and efficient. In fact, it is the fastest of all swimming strokes. That’s why it is used in freestyle competitions and in the swimming leg of triathlons.

Breaststroke

Breaststroke is the most popular swim stroke of all. In breaststroke, both arms execute half-circular arm movements at the same time underwater in front of the swimmer. The arm recovery also occurs under water. The legs simultaneously perform a whip kick.

A young man swimming breaststroke
Breaststroke

Breaststroke is often the first swimming stroke taught to beginners. In fact, many casual swimmers can only swim this stroke.

The advantage of breaststroke is that beginners can keep their head above the water. This avoids breathing and orientation issues. More experienced swimmers, however, submerge their head during the stroke cycle to improve efficiency.

Breaststroke is the slowest of the competitive strokes.

Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly stroke stands out among the competitive strokes because of it’s unique and spectacular technique. It uses a symmetrical arm stroke with an above water recovery. It also uses a wave-like body undulation and a dolphin kick.

A man swimming the butterfly stroke
The Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly is the second fastest swim stroke after freestyle. It has a reputation of being hard to learn and is quickly exhausting. But once you have mastered it, swimming a few lengths of butterfly can be a lot of fun!

Backstroke

As its name suggests, backstroke is swum on the back. It uses alternating circular arm movements and an above water recovery. The legs execute a flutter kick similar to the one used in freestyle.

A woman swimming backstroke with arm extended overhead
Backstroke

In competition, backstroke is faster than breaststroke but slower than butterfly. Physicians often prescribe backstroke swimming to people experiencing back problems because it gives the back an excellent workout.

Sidestroke

The sidestroke is an old swim stroke swum on the side that uses a scissor kick and asymmetrical underwater arm movements.

A man swimming sidestroke
Sidestroke

Sidestroke is not used in swimming competitions and is therefore swum less often nowadays. Nevertheless, it is easy to learn and can be an interesting alternative to the popular swim strokes. It is also used by lifeguards to rescue victims.

TWO GREAT PEARLS FOR A FASTER BACKSTROKE

Courtesy of Gary Hall Sr., 10-time World Record Holder, 3-time Olympian, 1976 Olympic Games US Flagbearer and The Race Club co-founder.

The fundamentals of backstroke are the same as for freestyle. However, the priority of those fundamentals differ for backstroke and there are certain nuances of backstroke that differ from freestyle.

Of all four strokes, backstroke is not the fastest stroke, but it is the most efficient stroke. That means that there is less change of speed in backstroke than in any other stroke. There are two principal reasons for that. First, the coupling of the body rotation comes at the very end of the pulling motion, which is the weaker part of the pull, as opposed to the stronger middle of the pull in freestyle. The result is the propulsive force of the arm pull remains more constant in backstroke.

The second reason that the velocity of the backstroker is more uniform has to do with the kick. When a swimmer is on his or her stomach, the down kick is typically much more propulsive than the up kick. However, when on the back, the weaker down kick becomes very propulsive because the foot pushes down against a larger vortex and gravity helps assist in the downward motion of the foot. As a result, the propulsive forces of the down and up kicks become much more even and the resultant velocity is more constant.

When it comes to taking advantage of these two nuances of backstroke, here are two important pearls in your technique that will help.

1)      On the backstroke arm recovery, throw the arm and hand hard to the water. Accentuating the speed of the hand entry on the recovery also has the effect of accentuating the body rotation. This will help maintain the swimmer’s speed toward the end of the pulling motion.

2)      Work the down kick hard on backstroke. During both the underwater dolphin kick and the backstroke, it is very important to press downward vigorously with the sole or bottom of the foot to take advantage of the large vortex formed from the stronger up kick. If a swimmer does this, he or she can get more propulsion and speed from the weaker down kick than from the stronger up kick. This downward motion of the feet will also help keep the swimmer’s speed more constant.

This week our Race Club members in Lane 2 will get classroom instruction on how the fundamentals of backstroke differ from those of freestyle. Race Club members in lane 3 will see a great dryland technique from world champion Junya Koga on how to teach swimmers the proper backstroke pulling motion.