HOW TO SWIM: INTRODUCTION TO ALL FOUR STROKEs

Unlike most sports or forms of exercise, swimming is very unique. It is an excellent total body workout with a combination of continuous resistance and cardiovascular training. It is a skill that you can apply to any other form of exercise. Swimming can also save your life. In this guide, we’ll delve into the distinctive aspects of swimming and teach you how to swim all four strokes. You can also enjoy a variety of outdoor water activities without having a second thought.

SWIMVICE swimmer underwater showing no fear of water

There are multiple ways you can learn how to swim. It can be through a combination of proper swim instruction, educational swim content, and consistent practice. One of the best parts about swimming, is that you can learn at any point in your life. It’s never too late. There are no boundaries.

In this blog, I will explain the difference between long and short axis strokes. I will also introduce you to the four strokes in competitive swimming and provide you with supportive examples to help with your technique and training.

WHAT ARE LONG AXIS AND SHORT AXIS STROKES?

There are a total of four strokes in competitive swimming. They are categorized into two different types based on their core movement. Long axis strokes are strokes where the central  movement is based on rotation from the core and hips while maintaining a straight line through the head, spine, and legs. Freestyle and backstroke are both defined as long axis strokes. 

Swimmer swimming laps freestyle Learn How to Swim all Four Strokes

Long axis strokes are more adaptable and sustainable for longer distances due to maintaining your body position within a small profile under the water. This is why freestyle is the preferred stroke for marathon swimming, triathlons, and open water. 

On the contrary, breaststroke and butterfly are short axis strokes. The movement is a hinge like motion originating from the core and hips. There is no rotational movement within the stroke cycle. 

Swimming breaststroke showing Learn How to Swim all Four Strokes SWIMVICE

Short axis strokes are explosive and powerful with a combination of quick flexion and extension type movements. These strokes are meant for sprint distances and are not preferred or typically designed for long distances.

HOW TO SWIM FREESTYLE

Freestyle (i.e front crawl) involves a combination of full body rotation, independent arm movements happening at the same time while maintaining a timed kick. To view a full demonstration of freestyle, check out the video above!

HOW TO EXECUTE PROPER FREESTYLE TECHNIQUE:

  1. Keep your head, spine, and legs aligned and straight.

  2. Start the rotation from your core and hips.

  3. Keep your arms and hands relaxed

  4. Enter your arm in the water while the opposite arm is still extended out front.

  5. Allow gravity of your entering arm to naturally rotate your body.

  6. Keep your legs relaxed with either a light flutter or one rotational kick per stroke.

  7. Keep your head and neck relaxed while rolling for a breath.

  8. Maintain a breathing rhythm of either every two, three, or two-two-four strokes at a time.

  9. Maintain a solid, rhythmic, and consistent pace.

Female swimmer swimming freestyle showing Learn How to Swim all Four Strokes

TIPS FOR EFFICIENT FREESTYLES TECHNIQUE:

Keep your breathing consistent and relaxed. Avoid aggressive exhaling or holding your breath for too long.

  1. Avoid pulling from your shoulders. Instead, focus on driving the rotation from your hips.

  2. Keep your kick light and relaxed. Your kick is not used to support you. It is used for rotation.

  3. Keep your head aligned and buoyant, avoiding any lifting. 

  4. Maintain both arms out front within the stroke cycle as possible. It is not a windmill type stroke.

  5. Allow your core to stabilize your body versus your shoulders.

female siwmmer on the edge of the pool learning Learn How to Swim all Four Strokes

KEY SWIMMING TIP FOR BEGINNERS:

As a safety precaution, be sure to always practice with proper supervision with a certified lifeguard or instructor. This will ensure a safe and focused environment for you to learn without any interruptions.

HOW TO SWIM BACKSTROKE:

Backstroke is almost a mirror image of freestyle with a few slight differences. Your body position for backstroke is extended horizontal while facing upward. This stroke involves continuous rotation for your hips with both arms moving in opposite directions while maintaining a timed flutter kick. To watch a full demonstration of backstroke, check out the video above!

HOW TO EXECUTE PROPER BACKSTROKE FORM:

  1. Align your body towards the surface of the water.

  2. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.

  3. Start the rotation from your hips.

  4. Extend your legs with your toes slightly turned in using a light flutter kick.

  5. Extend your hips up to the surface.

  6. Anchor your low arm under your body to move past the water.

Use the opposite arm to extend relaxed in the direction past your head position.

KEY SWIMMING TIP FOR BEGINNERS:

As a safety precaution, be sure to always practice with proper supervision with a certified lifeguard or instructor. This will ensure a safe and focused environment for you to learn without any interruptions.

Coach Mandy showing backstroke which is part of Learn How to Swim all Four Strokes

TIPS FOR EFFICIENT BACKSTROKE TECHNIQUE:

  1. Keep your flutter kick shallow, relaxed, and quick

  2. Avoid twisting your body line.

  3. Instead of short, choppy strokes, keep them relaxed and extended.

  4. Stabilize your body from your core and hips.

  5. Engage your glutes to keep your hips up and extended.

HOW TO SWIM BREASTSTROKE

Breaststroke is a combination of sweeping your arms forward while simultaneously using your kick to propel you forward into a glide. The sequence of movements occurs through four steps: sweep in, breathe, kick, glide. The glide is the free ride generated from powerful form. To learn and visualize the stroke, check out the video demonstrated above!

HOW TO EXECUTE PROPER BREASTSTROKE FORM:

  1. Keep your sweep within shoulder range.

  2. Sweep your forearms and hands in.

  3. Take a quick breath

  4. Sweep the arms forward into the glide position.

  5. Turn your feet out simultaneously, bring them around, and finish with extending the legs together during the glide.

  6. Slide your shoulders forward before you finish the glide.

  7. Use all the momentum you generated to align your body in the glide position.

HOW TO SWIM BUTTERFLY

Butterfly is a unique stroke. It is incredibly powerful and the most technical to execute. This stroke is the only stroke that simulates a sinusoidal wave, working with the water within its natural path. This stroke involves both arms releasing forward on top of the water while using a powerful dolphin kick to maintain balance and momentum. To watch a demonstration of the butterfly stroke, check out the video linked above!

HOW TO EXECUTE PROPER BUTTERFLY TECHNIQUE:

Begin with both arms extended in front, shoulder width apart.

  1. Press your chest down to create the wave.

  2. Form a strong hold of the water to press back.

  3. Follow by pressing your hips down continuing the wave.

  4. Release both arms out of the water near your hips.

  5. Throw both arms forward over the water.

  6. Simultaneously finish the kick with both legs extended together.

  7. Finish the kick from the tops of your feet down (similar to the snap of a whip).

SWIMVICE butterfly technique

TIPS FOR EFFICIENT BUTTERFLY TECHNIQUE:

  • Keep your head aligned only tilt your head up quickly for a breath.

  • Aim for both elbows in front as high as possible to create the catch.

  • Relax your shoulders to create the wave.

  • Pressing your chest down to work with the water.

  • Relax your hands during the release forward.

  • Keep your feet plantar flexed to maximize the power and snap from the kick.

SWIMVICE motivaiton quote for swimmers

KEY TIPS TO HELP YOU IMPROVE:

As mentioned before, you can start your journey at any point. I have listed below a few tips to help you towards your swimming goals.

  1. Watching educational swim content daily or weekly.

  2. Work with a qualified instructor or coach.

  3. Have someone film your swim technique for feedback.

  4. Have a practice plan before jumping in the pool.

  5. Keep your technique practice simple and clear.

  6. Practice at least three to five times per week.

  7. Practice your form in front of a mirror for instant feedback.

  8. Schedule resistance and mobility training to maximize your potential in the water.

  9. Have fun and enjoy the process!

Motivational swim quote for swimmer SWIMVICE for Learn How to Swim all Four Strokes

BOTTOM LINE:

Swimming is a lifelong sport where you can make it part of your weekly routine. It will transform you both mentally and physically, pushing you towards limits you may have never thought you could achieve. You can get involved in swimming through your local club/recreational center, join a USMS team, or work with a certified instructor. 

Your goals are defined by the work you put in, sticking to the process, and enjoying the journey. So keep going, you will become the best swimmer you can be. It is only a matter of time!

SWIMVICE Freestyle Program Thumbnail - Coach Mandy demonstrating freestyle swimming technique.

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