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Some swimmers learn the different strokes at an early age.
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No matter your age or skill level, learning to swim is a must -- it could save your life or the life of someone else. Propelling yourself through the water with confidence requires you to execute one of the six basic swimming strokes with proper technique. While some strokes have simple arm and leg movements, others offer advanced swimmers the challenge of timing and coordination.
Often the first stroke a young swimmer learns, the dog paddle is very basic, easy to learn and allows you to keep your head above the water for easy breathing. The stroke mimics the movements of a four-legged animal as you propel through the water. You extend your arms forward and your hands alternate as they paw at the water moving in a downward, circular movement. Your legs extend backward with bent knees and your feet alternate in a quick up and down movement to perform a flutter kick.
Sometimes referred to as a back crawl, the backstroke is the fastest stroke performed on your back. Your arms alternate the pushing and pulling parts of the stroke with a circular, windmill motion. As one arm extends forward and enters the water, the other is exiting. Your legs alternate in an up-and-down motion, to perform the flutter kick. Your face is out of the water, which allows you to develop your own breathing pattern.
Sometimes referred to as the crawl, the freestyle is one of the fastest strokes. It is performed on your stomach with your face in the water and your whole body close to the surface. Similar to the backstroke, your arms move in a circular, windmill motion and you use the flutter kick. Your arms alternate, as one arm reaches forward, enters and starts to pull through the water, the other arm exists the water. To breathe, instead of lifting your head, turn it to one side to take a quick breath.
The sidestroke is performed while on your right or left side. The stroke starts with your bottom arm extending forward, above your head, your palm down and your top arm resting along your side. Simultaneously, pull your bottom arm backward in a sweeping, half-circular motion to the front of your chest, bend your top arm slightly and move it forward to the front of your chest. Your top arm then sweeps backward until it is fully extended. After a short glide you repeat the arm movements. The sidestroke uses a scissor kick -- you move your legs back and forth the way scissors open and close.
The breaststroke is more complex, requires precise timing and is performed on your stomach with your face in the water. Your arms extend forward, below the water, pull backward in an outward sweeping motion toward your chest and then extend again to glide and start the next stroke. As you pull your arms back, you lift your head to breathe. The frog kick is used and starts when your arms begin to reach forward to glide. You bend your knees, bring your feet up toward your body, move your feet outward and then extend and snap your legs together.
The butterfly stroke also requires precise timing in addition to coordination. You time the movement of your arms with a dolphin kick as your body undulates, similar to the way worms move, through the water. Lift both arms out of the water, reach forward, enter the water in front of your shoulders and pull your hands back through the water toward your feet. When your hands are near your thighs, lift your head to breathe, lift your arms out of the water and repeat the stroke. Take two dolphin kicks with each stroke. Keep your legs together, bend your knees and whip your feet downward.
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