Learning Different Strokes: Mastering the Basics of Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Butterfly


Swimming is not just a recreational activity; it’s a valuable life skill and a fantastic workout. Whether you’re looking to improve your swimming for fitness, competition, or simply to enjoy the water more, mastering the basics of different strokes is essential. So, what are the fundamentals of freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly?


Freestyle is the most common stroke and a great place to start your swimming journey. Perfecting this stroke begins with body position; to achieve a streamlined position, you must keep your body straight and horizontal in the water. Maintain a straight line from the top of your head to your toes and engage your core muscles to reduce drag and resistance in the water.

When it comes to arm technique, focus on a high elbow during the “catch” phase of the stroke, as your hand enters the water. Pull your arm through the water with a strong and consistent motion, with your hand following an S-shaped path and the palm facing backward during the pull. Use a “paddle” motion with your hand, pushing back water to generate propulsion.

Mastering your breathing technique is critical with this stroke, as you need to ensure your breathing pattern minimises interruption to your rhythm. Try to exhale continuously underwater to avoid exhaling while your head is above the water. It’s generally advised to practice bilateral breathing (breathing on both sides) to balance your stroke and improve your overall swimming symmetry. Your breathing cadence will depend on how hard and fast you’re attempting to swim.

While your arms pull you forward, your legs propel you forward. Develop a strong flutter kick with a quick tempo and focus on generating power from your hips and core. Keep your kick below the surface of the water, avoiding excessive splashing.


Backstroke is a relaxing and effective stroke that allows you to swim, as the name suggests, on your back. Not just a stroke for competitive swimmers, it’s also a good stroke to learn from a safety standpoint; as a stroke that requires you to essentially float on your back, it’s a handy skill.

To get started, float with your body horizontal, head relaxed, and legs extended. Alternate your arms in a continuous windmill motion, keeping them close to the water’s surface while executing a flutter kick, like the one used in freestyle. Breathing is far simpler with backstroke as your face is out of the water; simply tilt your head backward a little. Perhaps one of the trickier aspects of backstroke is the fact you cannot see ahead of you. To orientate yourself, use the ceiling or sky as a reference point to maintain direction.


Breaststroke is often considered the most graceful and meditative of the four strokes – and once perfected, it can be performed at a slow pace with minimal energy.

Start with your body facing downward, legs extended behind you, and arms extended forward. Sweep your arms outwards, then pull them back to your chest while bending your elbows. With your legs, perform a simultaneous, circular motion, bringing them together and then extending them.

To breathe during this stroke, inhale as you lift your head above the water, then submerge your head during the arm pull and leg kick and exhale.


Butterfly is known to be the most challenging stroke and is generally only practised by those who wish to do it competitively. No one is butterflying their way to safety in an emergency!

Begin with your body facing downward, arms extended forward, and legs close together. Pull both arms simultaneously in a circular motion, bringing them out of the water and then back down to your hips. With your legs, execute a simultaneous, powerful dolphin kick. Lift your head above the water during arm recovery to take a breath.

Master these strokes with expert coaching

Mastering these fundamental swimming strokes takes practice, patience, and dedication. Start with the basics and gradually work on refining your technique. Remember that proper body position, timing, and breathing are the keys to success in all of these strokes. Whether you’re swimming for fun or competition, improving your skills across these four strokes will open up a world of aquatic possibilities and enjoyment.

Aquastar Swim Schools offers a Learn to Swim program for children and adults. For young swimmers who are looking to take the next step in the pool and are interested in starting to swim competitively, our Squad Program provides a pathway to elite, national and international competition. This program was designed in collaboration with World Champion and Commonwealth Gold Medalist, Kelly Stubbins, and is led by qualified coaches. If your child is ready to hone their skills in the pool, dive in here.

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