Fastest and Slowest Swimming Strokes

There are multiple types of swimming strokes. Each stoke has a different technique, but the end goal is still the same. According to George Edelman, a physical therapist for 16 years working with the USA’s Swimming Sports Medicine and Science Network, a swimmer is tasked with two functions — to minimize drag and maximize forward propulsion.

men swimming butterfly swimming stroke

A Brief Fastest Swimming Stroke History

Two men from North America were invited to London by the British Swimming Society in the High Holborn pool to show how fast they could swim. Wenishkaweabee and Sahma, both from Canada, were to compete against one another for the silver medal. Wenishkaweabee beat his rival hands down during both rounds when they raced the length of the pool.

Despite being wowed by the impressive display of the two, the British found their swimming technique as quite “grotesque”, with one paper reporting that they hit the water violently, with their arms thrashing water like the sails of a windmill while beating the water downward with their feet. The real contest that day wasn’t between swimmers, but their swimming styles- what is now known as the front crawl or freestyle, and the backstroke, which at the time was favored by the British.

Though there’s no clear beginning on swimming history, there’s a clear indication of the contest between two major swimming styles- the dog style paddle and the front crawl. Today, there are only four competitive types of strokes; breaststroke, backstroke, front crawl, and butterfly. There are instances of sidestroke being used as well. Although the front crawl and breaststroke can be linked through prehistoric times, they are constantly morphing as coaches, and elite athletes study and tweak how their bodies move through the water.

dolphin kick swimming stroke

The 2 Fastest Unofficial Swimming Strokes

Technically the fastest swimming stokes are actually underwater strokes. The dolphin kick and the fish kick remain the fastest swimming strokes. The fish kick stroke is the fastest. Both strokes involve moving both legs in an up and down motion while flexing the body and keeping the arms straight out forward towards the direction of travel. With the dolphin kick, the swimmer typically faces downwards and cracks their entire body like a whip. Such cracking creates a wave from the chest level, increasing amplitude as it heads towards the toes. With the fish kick, the swimmer is on their side. Though they aren’t recognized as official swimming strokes, underwater hockey players frequently use it to get that extra kick in speed while approaching an opponent’s goal.

The Fastest Official Swimming Stroke

The front crawl comes in as the fastest official swimming stroke, though there’s an ongoing debate about which among the dolphin, fish, and front crawl is the fastest. Proponents of the front crawl suggest that it should come in first since it uses a body roll and out-of-arm return that reduces drag at the shoulder level. Its usage of the kick keeps the legs behind the body, thus further minimizing drag. The front crawl’s efficiency is relatively high in freestyle competition, where swimmers can choose their strokes. Most swimmers choose this style, which gives proof to its efficiency. Since it’s so common, many people tend to think that freestyle is the front crawl stroke name.

slowest swimming stroke breaststroke

Slowest Swimming Strokes

The breaststroke is the slowest of the four official swimming strokes (front crawl, butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke) and the hardest to teach due to the timings and coordination involved. The swimmer leans on their chest, hands slightly breaking the water while the legs are entirely underwater. The head also goes underwater for the second half of the stroke. Sometimes, the kick is referred to as the frog kick since it resembles a frog’s motion. Usually, the body assumes a steep angle during a forward motion, which reduces the swimmer’s speed drastically compared to any other style.

The backstroke is the second slowest and the only style that entails swimming on your back. It’s the only style that allows for easier breathing. Apart from being slow, the only disadvantage is that the swimmer doesn’t have a visual of where they are heading. It’s similar to the upside-down freestyle or front crawl.


Swimming has morphed from 1844 to date. Scientists continue to study aquatic creatures as they strive to develop efficient ways to reduce drag and improve performance. As for the fastest and slowest swimming strokes, the raging debate concerning the dolphin, fish kick, and front crawl rages on. Athletes and swimming enthusiasts can amicably agree that the breast and backstroke are the slowest of the four strokes.

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