Description of the Strokes

The term “freestyle” in swimming refers to a style rather than a stroke.


The Front Crawl stroke is usually, but not always used during a freestyle race. Any stroke can be used although breaststroke, backstroke or butterfly can’t be used if the event is a medley event.


The Different Strokes
Front Crawl -The front crawl stroke is used almost all the time in freestyle as it is regarded as the fastest stroke. It is swum flat on your stomach with your legs stretched behind you and one or other of your arms in front of you. While your arms propel you through the water, your legs are kicking up and down – known as the flutter kick.


Breaststroke – This is the slowest of the main four strokes but can still be swum with speed and is a favourite with fitness swimmers.


The arms go through the water in a circular formation with the legs performing a frog kick at the same time. It can be hard to coordinate arm and leg movement.


Backstroke – Also known as back crawl, the backstroke is swum on the back which makes it easy to breathe but not so easy when you can’t see where you’re going. The arms turn alternately through the water while the hips and shoulders roll slightly and the head is slightly up. The kick should be from the knees.


Butterfly – This is the stroke that probably needs the most stamina and is widely regarded as the most difficult. Your arms go through a push, pull and recovery and they must come out of the water on every stroke. Both arms work together in a circular motion to pull you along. Your body moves in a wave-like motion with the hips going up as the chest is pressed down. The kick is often called a “dolphin kick”.


These are the main four although any other stoke is permitted e.g. a dog paddle or side stroke. The rules for freestyle are set out by FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation) which is the governing body responsible for aquatic sports.


There are 8 different freestyle competition distances and these are swum either in a long course (50 metres) or short course (25 metres) pool. In the United States, 25-yard pools are also used. The distances are 25, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 metres plus 4 x 100metres and 4 x 200 metres relays. In addition, there are 100, 200 and 400 metres individual medley and 4 x 100 metres medley relay.


The main rules are that the wall has to be touched at the end of every length and at the finish, and some part of the swimmer must be above water at all times during the race apart from the first 15 metres after the start of each length. This is to prevent faster underwater swimming from being used to the advantage of the swimmer.


Front crawl is the fastest stroke but other strokes have benefits as well. The backstroke is similar to front crawl and is often called the back crawl and is also fast although the swimmer can’t see where they are going so they rely on stroke count.


Although slower, the breaststroke can still be swum powerfully, while the butterfly is the toughest to learn. but how you move your body is similar to other strokes.