What Is the Fastest Swimming Stroke?

In the world of competitive swimming, speed is king. A frequently asked question by both enthusiasts and professionals is, What is the fastest swimming stroke? This article ventures into uncovering this answer, exploring the intricacies and mechanics of different swimming strokes, including the often-overlooked but crucial crawl stroke.

The Mechanics of Swimming Speed

Speed in swimming is a result of intricate techniques involving propulsion and drag reduction. The effectiveness of these elements varies across different swimming strokes, influencing their overall speed.

Propulsion: The Driving Force

In swimming, propulsion acts like the engine in a vehicle. The stronger and more efficient the stroke, the faster the swimmer cuts through the water. This is where technique and strength converge to create speed.

Drag Reduction: The Art of Streamlining

Just as aerodynamics are crucial for a vehicle’s speed, hydrodynamics play a similar role in swimming. A streamlined body shape helps to minimize resistance, allowing swimmers to move more efficiently through the water.

Analyzing the Strokes: A Comparative View

Each swimming stroke has unique characteristics that impact its speed potential. Let’s dive into the specifics of each stroke to understand their speed dynamics.

Freestyle: The Speed Front-Runner

In surface swimming, the freestyle swim stroke is often considered the fastest. This stroke is characterized by a streamlined body position and minimal drag. The rotational movement of the body allows for optimal arm positioning, creating significant propulsion.

Breathing in Freestyle

Proper breathing technique is crucial in maintaining speed in freestyle. Inefficient breathing can hinder the swimmer’s pace, but this can be improved with targeted exercises.

Crawl: The Essence of Freestyle

Often used interchangeably with freestyle, the crawl is essentially the fastest version of the freestyle stroke. It involves alternating arm movement with a flutter kick, offering a high degree of propulsion and minimal drag. Its efficiency in speed makes it a popular choice in competitive swimming.

Dolphin Kicking: The Underwater Phenomenon

Dolphin swim stroke

Some swimmers can achieve incredible speeds with underwater dolphin kicking. This stroke’s streamlined position significantly reduces drag, though it’s limited by the need for oxygen and is more applicable to pool swimming.

Backstroke: Close but Not Quite


Backstroke is similar to freestyle, with the swimmer moving in a straight line. However, it generates slightly more drag due to more of the body being submerged. The positioning of the arms in backstroke is also less efficient in creating propulsion compared to freestyle and crawl.

Butterfly: Powerful but Drag-Heavy


The butterfly stroke is powerful in terms of propulsion but falls short in speed due to increased drag. The simultaneous recovery of both arms requires lifting the upper body out of the water, creating substantial drag and a ‘stop and go’ motion.

Breaststroke: The Gentle Giant

Breaststroke is generally the slowest among competitive strokes. It creates significant drag due to the underwater recovery of arms and legs, and the half-pull arm movement limits its propulsion.

Concluding Thoughts: The Speediest Stroke

While the freestyle and crawl dominate in terms of surface swimming speed, underwater dolphin kicking can surpass them over short distances. However, in standard swimming competitions, the crawl style of freestyle is widely recognized as the fastest due to its efficient combination of propulsion and low drag.

The Takeaway: A Spectrum of Strokes

Understanding the fastest swim stroke is not just about declaring a winner but appreciating the unique attributes of each style. From the power-packed butterfly to the efficient crawl, each stroke offers a blend of technique, strength, and speed, making swimming a diverse and fascinating sport.