The freestyle (or front crawl) has three motions – the flutter kick, the arm stroke, and breathing. While doing the flutter kick, the legs move alternately, with one leg kicking downward while the other leg moves upward. The arms also execute alternating (or rotating) movements. While one arm pushes water backwards underwater, the other arm recovers forward above water. When you move through water, you create a ‘bow wave’ with your head and body, just like a boat does. Breathe into this trough and you don’t have to lift your head to inhale, you just have to rotate your head a little without lifting it. Swimmers should take one breath every 2 or 3 arm cycles.
The backstroke (or back crawl) is the only one of the four competitive swimming strokes swum on the back. It is slower than the front crawl or butterfly, but faster than the breaststroke. The starting position for the backstroke is called the tuck position. As in the freestyle, the arms execute alternating movements; they mimic the action of a windmill. One arm recovers above water while your other arm sweeps underwater. The legs perform the flutter kicks, with legs alternately kicking downward then upward. Breathing should be in time with recovery of each arm. Inhale and exhale consistently at the same point of each stroke.
The breaststroke is the slowest of the four competitive swimming strokes. The breaststroke begins with the glide position, on your stomach with your arms in front of you and your legs together near the surface. The legs perform the whip kick and the arms move in the shape of an upside-down heart. Breathing takes place at the end of the cycle when you lift your face out of the water and take a breath in through your mouth. Put your face back into the water, breathing out through your nose and mouth.
The sidestroke is a swim stroke swum on the sides. It is not used in competition, but should be used when you are trying to conserve energy. The arms move in a way resembling ‘picking apples’ and the legs move in a scissors kick, with the top leg moving forward and the bottom leg moving back, like the blades of a scissors. Breathing should occur at the end of the phase where the arms move apart and during the glide phase that follows.