The four swimming strokes

Michael Phelps performing the breaststroke at the 2008 Olympics.

Michael Phelps performing the breaststroke at the 2008 Olympics.

If you're a swim parent unfamiliar with the sport, you may be surprised to learn that there are more ways to get through the water than just the doggie paddle! Just like there are different varieties of racing swimsuits, there are also various approaches to swimming. 

In competitive swimming there are actually four strokes that athletes use: backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle. When all four are used in a single event, it is referred to as an individual medley. 

Here's what you need to know about all four strokes: 

  • Backstroke – As you can imagine, this style involves swimming on the back and uses a flutter kick. On turns, swimmers are allowed to rotate to their stomachs, but they must finish the event on their backs. 
  • Breaststroke – In this type of swimming, the hands push out in front of the chest in a heart-shaped motion. At the same time, the legs kick in a motion similar to that of a frog. On turns and at the finish, swimmers must touch the wall with both hands at or above the surface of the water. 
  • Butterfly - This is considered to be one of the most beautiful and difficult of strokes. Both arms must move in unison over the surface of the water, while using a dolphin kick. The athlete must keep both legs together at all times and use both hands to touch the wall during turns and at the finish. 
  • Freestyle – Also known as the forward crawl, the freestyle stroke consists of alternating the arms over the surface of the water, while using a flutter (up-and-down) kick for the legs.