Part – I of Swimming Strokes: The Long Axis Strokes

Swimming involves aligning the body such so as to generate the minimal resistance while moving forward and applying the chest, back and upper leg muscles to provide maximum thrust. Pushing against water by the arm pulls and legs kicks in the right way, aids us to swim excellently.

The swimming strokes can be categorised into two types on the basis of movement of body for breathing and movement of arms. These are:

The long axis strokes: Freestyle and backstroke are the types of long axis strokes in which, the body does not wiggle through the water and any side-to-side movement is with the whole of the body.

The short axis strokes: Butterfly and Breaststroke are the types of short axis strokes in which, the body wiggles in a way similar to Dolphins, referred to as undulation. For this, we need to move our chests to breathe. To practice undulation, lie on the floor, raise your head and move your shoulders up and down.  (Click here to know about Short Axis Strokes in detail.)


The requirement of long axis strokes is to lift the head to breathe and to move the arms out of the water. This movement, starting at our shoulders and proceeding towards the hips, involves movement of one arm at a time. One arm remains inside the water while the other remains out of the water. This movement of arms involves the back and chest muscles on their own, thus rolling from side to side, aided by the arms to clear water for a smooth and faster swimming.

For the long axis strokes, the shoulder/elbow should move in combination and the hips/knee/ankle kick also in combination like scissors cutting paper on the water surface. Never let your hands cross past your nose above or below the water. Let the feet flip like a whale’s tail by relaxing your ankles and keeping the feet close by touching the toes together from time to time.


  • This stroke commences to administer a pull by moving an arm forward. When arm moves to enter into water, it should not move towards the nose. The arm should be straight and no elbow movement is permitted.
  • After entering into the water, the arm should be stretched straight ahead and a little down to prevent formation of bubbles from palm.
  • The hand should be positioned to catch the water, about a hand's width below the surface. Rotating the forearm, the hand should persist to move under the elbow. At this point you should catch water. You should catch water in front as far as possible.
  • Pull back the hand by holding the water. You should not push down on it. The most common mistake committed is leaving the hand at the surface and catching water at that point.
  • Start paddling to generate a faster movement. The check to observe whether you have a correct streamlined body or not is that, with your eyes towards the pool bottom, you should not see your hands unless they are at the catch point and after the catch, your fingers should point towards the pool bottom. And in doing so, you need to move your wrist joint.
  • During the recovery, fingers and forearm should be straight aligned. One should train to perfect his catch point. If you catch very near to the surface, you will wiggle and if you catch too deep, you will have shorter distance for generating the pull. This part of the pull before the hand passes the waist is referred to as first quadrant of the full arm stroke.
  • This is followed by the freestyle roll sequence beginning with hands entry into the water and rolling of shoulder downwards. Holding the water and moving shoulder backwards, finally the shoulder leaves the water before the recovery of arm. The amount of overlap of both hands in water varies for sprinters and long-distance swimmers. After the forearm points at the pool bottom, the release takes place and hand stops to hold water, recovery commences and you get an extra push from the core body enabling you to roll upwards.

Points to remember:

  • Entering before the elbow, the hands should move downwards while the elbow affixes near the surface.
  • At the catch point, the hand affixes and the body moves past the hand.
  • After the hips passing the affixed hand, the hand releases and gets set to recover.
  • From catch to recovery, the fingers point at the pool bottom.
  • The legs must roll along with the hips, allowing the feet to kick on an angle. It is important to maintain a proper angle between the upper and lower arm at the elbow joint during recovery, as too sharp angle exerts extra stress on the rotator cuff and too wide angle interferes with hand entry and shoulder extension before the catch.


  • There is a little variation in Backstroke from freestyle. The technique involved to swim fast in backstroke is rolling on your sides and not bending the joints in your arms and legs.
  • The arm moves straight back, similar to freestyle. The little finger enters the water first, followed by movement of shoulder downwards, enabling the hand to move deep inside the water for catching water as that is where the best water to pull is. There are no bubbles.
  • Now, rolling the body back, the shoulders are levelled, moving the hands towards the water surface and throwing away of water past your feet. Keep the hands under water to avoid bubbles.
  • When the hand passes by the hips, rotate the hips upwards and raise your arms to move out of water for recovery.
  • Strongly kick with your knees straight in order to keep head, stomach and toes close to water surface.
  • Follow the breathing sequence you are comfortable in and practice the same. It is significant that the arms should enter the water at an angle and not straight above the head. The correct entry position for the arms is to stand up and make the letter Y with your arms up and body.

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