When they go swimming, many people simply throw themselves into the ocean wave or the pool and paddle around enough to keep themselves moving and their head above water. This is fun, but when they watch competitions such as the Olympics and watch the swimmers perform various swimming strokes they may wonder what the differences between them actually are. Here are five basic swimming strokes.

The Freestyle

Also called the American crawl, this is the fastest stroke. It combines a flutter kick with a hand-over-hand arm stroke and rhythmic breathing. A flutter kick is achieved when each foot lashes backward and upward. Interestingly, the American crawl was developed around 1900 by an Australian named Richard Cavill.

The Breaststroke

In this stroke the swimmer extends their arms then sweeps them out and back, making sure that the palms press against the water. The legs are drawn up, and the knees are thrust sideways. Then, the legs are pushed out and swept together as the swimmer extends their arms forward again. The breaststroke is one of the oldest strokes and has been recognized since the 16th century.

The Butterfly Stroke

This is the swimming stroke used extensively in competition. It is a racing stroke where the swimmer lifts both their arms forward out of the water and flings them back toward their waist. Many swimmers combine this action with what’s called a dolphin kick. It is basically a double flutter kick where the legs are whipped up and down together, the way a dolphin might move its tail to propel itself through the water. The swimmer can also use the kick that’s used in the breaststroke.

The Backstroke

The backstroke is like the freestyle, but it is upside down. It combines a hand-over-hand arm stroke with a flutter kick. The backstroke, now seen in competition, was originally a stunt stroke that was developed around 1902.

The Side Stroke

A side stroke is not often used in competition and is restful. It is propelled by a scissors kick when the swimmer floats on one side, draws up their upper leg, thrusts it out and forward then snaps both legs together. At the same time, they extend their lower hand forward from their chin and pull the upper hand straight back from their chin. This stroke most likely descended from the breaststroke.