Swimming strokes: a comparison

Get the most out of every lap and find the best stroke for you with our expert comparison of swimming strokes.

Water provides the resistance needed for fat-burning exercise with the added benefit of a low-impact environment, so there's less stress on joints and a lower risk of injury.

Whether it's breast stroke, front crawl, butterfly or backstroke, swimming is one of the best exercises for boosting circulation, muscle tone, lung capacity and for losing weight. But how do the various strokes compare to each other?

Breast stroke

Best for: casual swimming

Breast stroke is the most popular of all strokes and is often the first stroke learnt by budding swimmers.

Swimming tip: Keep your shoulders, hips and legs as horizontal as possible, but slope your body slightly to allow the leg kick to stay beneath the water.

Front crawl

Best for: speed

Front crawl is the fastest stroke in swimming.

Swimming tip:
With your elbow slightly bent, sweep your arm forward, then back towards the centre of the body, then out towards the thighs - imitating an hour glass shape.


Best for: cardio

Butterfly is the newest stroke swum in competition. Both arms move simultaneously while the legs perform a dolphin kick.

Swimming tip:
Your arms should stretch out in front of your body above the water surface and be led into the water by the thumb. Hands should enter about shoulder width apart with elbows bent and slightly higher than the hands.


Best for: back pain

Backstroke is the only of the four strokes that doesn't have a poolside jump start. Swim speed is similar to butterfly, but the lack of jump start means race times are slower.

Swimming tip:
Generate momentum by rotating your shoulders and hips. As one arm lifts out of the water, the other starts the propulsive phase underneath the surface.

Last updated Friday 2 September 2022

First published on Tuesday 7 July 2015