Which Swimming Stroke Is the Fastest? (And Efficient)


Whether it’s for competition, exercise, or emergency, learning how to swim fast is a handy mini-superpower. It can also give you a big confidence boost. You may ask: which is the fastest and the most efficient swimming stroke?

Underwater strokes like the dolphin kick and the fish kick are the fastest, but that doesn’t implicate an undisputed claim. Despite random debates, the real champion, the front crawl stroke, is the fastest official swimming stroke ever, even since prehistoric times, as most swimmers can attest. 

The Dolphin Kick and Fish Kick Dilemma

Yes, the fastest two underwater strokes: the fish kick and the dolphin kick. These speedy kicks require moving the legs next to each other in an alternate motion while bending the body and maintaining one arm in a straight line in front of the direction of travel.

Overall, the fish kick is the quicker of the two moves. The only problem is that they are not recognized as official strokes in the swimming world. But, if you are a fan of underwater hockey or underwater swimming, you can see why it is brought up so frequently in these arguments.

So, since these are unofficial swimming strokes, the front crawl or freestyle is still considered to be the fastest swimming stroke known to every swimmer.

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Video Creator: Phlex Swim

What Do the Records say?

There are four strokes featured in international swimming competitions: breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, and freestyle.

According to world records posted on USAswimming.com, freestyle is the fastest swim stroke in the world. Butterfly and backstroke take the second and third positions while breaststroke remains the slowest competitive stroke.

Effective Freestyle Swimming

Well, to be effective in swimming underwater, you need to have a high level of concentration and coordination. So, to help you become a great swimmer, let’s talk about the three components that are important in a front crawl swim: the flutter kick, arm rotation, and rhythmic breathing.


There is more to kicking than simply pushing. You still require an “effective” kick that helps you maintain a good body position, minimize drag, drive body rotation, and lessen energy consumption.

Always remember to kick from your hip, not your knee, when performing a front crawl. The kick should be sleek, consistent, and has a clear beginning, with only the heels of the feet breaking the surface of the water. Your toes should almost touch as they pass one another.


Of course, you can also exercise the kick by holding onto the pool’s edge or by standing on a kickboard. And remember, consistent kicking speed will also prevent your body from over-rotating, so take note of that.

Arm Stroke

The majority of the forward motion in the front crawl is generated by the arm stroke. The position of your arms at all times during the front crawl is crucial for achieving an efficient style.

The arm stroke of the front crawl consists of four distinct movements: the down sweep, the in sweep, the upsweep, and the recovery. In order to properly execute the style, keep your elbow slightly bent and elevated above your hand. 

And, in order to propel yourself forward, you have to pull yourself back through the water further than if you stayed closer to the surface.

Also, try to ensure that your arm recovery is relaxed by keeping your elbow high and your fingers close to the water’s surface. Relax your forearm and wrist, and use your elbow to drive the motion. Alternate between both arms. 


While one is performing the power phases of the cycle, the other is in recovery, descending forward to begin the cycle on the opposite side of the body.

Breathing and Coordination

Whether you breathe on your right or left side will depend on whether you are right- or left-handed. Regardless of its position, remember that as your hand begins to recover, you need to turn your head to the side to take a quick breath (approximately one second).

The trick is to coordinate the roll with the arm movement. One breath is taken after everyone, and two or three arm cycles by swimmers perform the front crawl. In short, every time you perform a set of arm cycles on the same side, practice taking a breath.

Often, when attempting to avoid the water for a breath, a common error is to lift the head up instead of turning it sideways. Well, this is counterproductive since it disrupts your body position and causes you to sink deeper into the water surface.

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Video Creator: SwimUp

These Front Crawl Mistakes Are Slowing You Down

The front crawl is the most efficient and effective swimming style, but if your technique is incorrect, it is also one of the most exhausting.

  • Holding Your Breath: Causes an increase in blood carbon dioxide levels and a sudden, urgent need for oxygen.
  • Leg Kick Overuse: Excessive use of the leg kick depletes energy, and long distances can be exhausting.

Common Swimming Strokes

Now, setting aside the dolphin kick and fish kick, here are four of the most common strokes you should know if you’re starting out on your swimming journey.

Front Crawl or Freestyle Stroke

Long-distance swimmers prefer freestyle, which is considered the most efficient stroke. Freestyle assists you to swim further without expending more energy than other strokes. If you’re someone strict on counting laps during your swimming workouts, this will help you reach your goal more quickly.

Additionally, swimmers that participate in freestyle events will also experience a full-body workout. It engages your arms forward, tests your core on the water violently, and improves the overall human body just like what the physical therapist ordered. 

Simply put, if you are looking for a specific swimming style to strengthen your build, freestyle is your best bet.

Freestyle can appear intimidating to a novice swimmer because it requires submerging the face in the water. But, once you become accustomed to submerging your face in the water, adding breathing to the freestyle cycles is simple, and it will eventually increase your speed even more. 


As one arm rises and exits the water, you simply turn your face to the side and take a breath. Then, as the arm descends, return your face to the water. When it comes to breathing, some swimmers alternate sides while others stick to one side.


The backstroke swim is the inverse of the front crawl swim. The same series of movements are performed, but this time on the back. This style is frequently recommended by physicians to patients with back issues because it is an excellent back exercise.

To backstroke, alternate your arms in a windmill-like motion while floating on your back. Use the rhythmic movement of your arms and legs to push yourself backward. The arms should commence the circular motion, like with the front crawl, by propelling underwater and returning above water.

Yes, the backstroke is simple for novices to learn, but the inability to see the surroundings can often cause anxiety and some minor accidents.

Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly is the most difficult of the four strokes, and only a few elite athletes can pull it off with at least a silver medal in a real contest. It derives its name from its movement, which resembles butterfly wings. It originated from a modification of the breaststroke.


In addition to being the most taxing stroke calorie-wise, this style provides an excellent workout with a spice of some butterfly kick. It is one of the fastest swimming strokes and can occasionally reach a maximum speed faster than the front crawl.

Yes, the butterfly technique is disliked by the majority of swimmers, but still admired by some and truly mastered by only a few. 

Michael Phelps, one of the greatest swimmers of all time, performed the butterfly stroke and called his own ‘the fastest stroke’. And it helped him to bring home 28 Olympic medals.


As I have mentioned before, breaststroke is the slowest of swimming’s four official strokes. In reality, it’s the opposite of what the fastest stroke looks like.

Typically, breaststroke is the first and easiest style taught to young swimmers. This is primarily due to the fact that the style allows you to keep your head above water at all times, making it easier for beginners to breathe correctly.


This style is executed with the abdomen facing downwards. Your arms move in a half-circular motion below the surface of the water across from your torso while your legs concurrently do the whip kick.

Lesser-Known Swimming Strokes

Aside from the aforementioned swimming styles, there are other under-the-radar techniques you should know as well.

  • Sidestroke: A somewhat forgotten old swing style that offers a very relaxed and efficient process.
  • Elementary Backstroke: It is known by the supine position and uses a simple arm stroke with an inverted backstroke kick.
  • Trudgen: An older precursor of the front crawl.
  • Combat Sidestroke: A sidestroke variant developed and used by US Navy SEALs for swimming long distances.