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A Closer Look At Different Swimming Strokes

Updated on July 19, 2011

covers a majority of the earth's surface and makes up a majority of our bodies. Though it is necessary for our survival, we can also enjoy it for recreation and play. Swimming is one of the most popular activities enjoyed around the world, especially during the sweltering summer months. For thousands of years, people have always been participating in swimming as both a recreational leisure activity, as well as a competitive sport. Throughout the years, the strokes used to propel swimmers through the water have become refined in order to achieve higher speeds, safety, and better efficiency.

Today swimming strokes are a highly technical part of competitive swimming. Since this sport is all about beating the clock and achieving the fastest time, a stroke must be perfected in order to maximize a swimmer's speed. In modern competitive swimming matches, four strokes are used in the majority of races around the world. These strokes include the breaststroke, the butterfly stroke, the backstroke, and the freestyle.

The breaststroke is the stroke with the most history, especially in early competitive swimming matches. This stroke is performed while the swimmer is on their chest in the water. To propel forward through the water, the swimmer brings their arms almost together in front and then arcs the swings the arms to the side mostly underwater, only breaking the water slightly. The head is underwater during the second half of the stroke. While performing this stroke, the legs are always under water. The kick is sometimes called a frog kick, because its resemblance to the kick of the amphibious creature, though it is also sometimes called a whip kick. Though the breaststroke is the slowest of the strokes used in competitive swimming, it is the most efficient. A swimmer conserves the most energy during distance races because the breaststroke consumes less energy than other strokes. A swimmer using the breaststroke can only swim 1.57 meters per second at the fastest but can cover more distance. The breaststroke is also regarded as one of the most difficult strokes to learn and perform correctly.

Unlike the breaststroke, the butterfly is considered the fastest stroke used in competitive swimming. The butterfly was a result of a serious study of the breaststroke by the head swim coach at the University of Iowa, David Armbruster. While observing swimmers using the breaststroke, Armbruster theorized that the underwater recovery caused drag and loss of time. He thought bringing the arms up above the water would reduce drag and increase the speed of the swimmer. This stroke is performed with synchronous arm movements that arc forward and then pull back to the sides to propel the swimmer forward. The kick for the butterfly is referred to as the dolphin kick and was developed shortly after Armbruster's innovation. The legs are kicked in unison, back and forth, like the tail of a fish. This stroke requires a lot of technique and is considered one of the most difficult to master, but once a swimmer has done so, they can speed through the water with ease.

The next stroke to consider is the backstroke. As the name would indicate, this stroke is swum while the swimmer is on their back. Because this stroke is similar to another stroke called the front crawl only performed on the back, it is sometimes referred to as the back crawl. One unique feature of the backstroke in competitive swimming is that the race is begun in the water instead of diving into the water at the beginning of the race. In this stroke, the swimmer lies on their back and then with alternating arm movements, brings one arm back over their head, into the water, and then back to the side of the hip, pulling the swimmer forward through the water. The kick is often called the flutter kick, which basically consists of quick, fluttering, alternating movements by the feet and legs to help propel forward, though the arms do most of the work.

Though the backstroke makes breathing easier because the swimmer's mouth and nose are always above water, one downside to the backstroke is that it is harder for a swimmer to see where they are going. This stroke has a long history in competition. The second modern Olympic Games in Paris in 1900 was the first time the backstroke was a swimming event in the modern Olympics.

The term freestyle is used in competitive swimming to describe an event where any stroke may be used. However, because the front crawl is usually the fastest stroke, the two terms have become synonymous. Though sometimes the butterfly is faster than the front crawl in its peak, the front crawl takes less recovery time and is therefore the stroke of choice during the freestyle events. This stroke has been used for thousands of years by indigenous peoples of just about every continent. However, because its movement required splashing, it was sometimes considered barbaric by European swimmers. However, once people realized it was much faster than the breaststroke, it began to gain in popularity. This stroke is performed on a swimmer's chest with alternating arm strokes that extend out and then pull into to the hip or side. The alternating arm patterns cause some movement by the torso and help propel the swimmer through the water. Like the backstroke, the freestyle or front crawl utilizes the flutter kick. The first time the front crawl was scene in competitive swimming was during a swimming competition in London in 1844 when native North Americans using the front crawl beat Europeans using the breaststroke. Because the front crawl is so much faster than a breaststroke, the Native Americans won the competition.

Though not commonly used in competitive swimming, the trudgen stroke evolved as a result of the front crawl. Named after John Arthur Trudgen who saw South Americans swimming the crawl, he changed the kick used in the stroke to a scissor kick instead of the flutter kick more commonly used.

Though there are other strokes that are used in swimming, like the dog paddle, the four strokes listed above are the ones regulated and used in competitive swimming, the breaststroke, the butterfly, the backstroke, and the freestyle. The development of these strokes has allowed swimmers different options for speed and efficiency. Along with the develop of these strokes the development in swim gearas allowed swimmers to become faster and faster.


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      6 years ago


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      Blake Atkinson 

      7 years ago from Kentucky

      I recently had to swim all the way across a lake. I had no idea how to do it. I wish I would have read this beforehand haha. I like how in-depth this hub is!


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