3 Beginner-Friendly Swim Strokes to Try Out

Beginning swimmers of all ages generally start by practicing and developing the same key set of skills. After beginner swimmers become comfortable in shallow waters it’s time to learn how to float, paddle, and tread water. When these three foundational elements have been mastered, it’s time for novice swimmers to graduate from the fundamentals and begin learning their first swim strokes.

Veteran competitive swim coach Mike Kotch has a deep understanding of the natural progression of swimming techniques and took the time to detail the three swimming strokes he finds most beneficial for beginners to gain confidence in the water.


Most beginners are introduced first to the “dog paddle,” a rudimentary swimming style that mimics the paddling motions of a dog. It allows the beginning swimmer to learn paddling and movement skills without submerging completely. Because of its chest-down position, the dog paddle may be paired with the use of a floatation device for those who are in the most basic stages.

The breaststroke is a close evolution of this basic “dog paddle” style and is considered by most swimmers to be the sport’s easiest stroke. Mike Kotch explains that the breaststroke is an ideal and comfortable next-step for beginners because it allows the swimmer to balance on their stomach without having to be as efficient as a competitive swimmer, and they can keep their head above water all the time if desired. He further adds that by utilizing the belly-down positioning, frog-like kicks, and circular arm motions, the breaststroke allows for a more organic movement than other strokes such as the butterfly. This makes it one of the most natural and straightforward swim strokes for novices.


As the only stroke which technically allows swimmers to keep their mouth, eyes and nose above water at all times, Mike Kotch advocates that the backstroke is excellent for beginners who struggle to pace their breathing or for those who are afraid to submerge their heads completely. It allows swimmers to gain confidence balancing on the water and focus on fundamentals.

To start learning the backstroke, novice swimmers must first master floating with their chest up. Because floating is a basic skill that most beginners must acquire, the backstroke is a great next step for new swimmers.

In order to execute the backstroke, the swimmer must first flatten the body. The legs should be moved in a rapid yet controlled fluttering motion. Meanwhile, the arms must move circularly in turns, employing a movement reminiscent of windmills. When executing the backstroke, the swimmer should rotate the hips and shoulders with each stroke and move head-first in the intended direction.

Front Crawl

Commonly referred to as “freestyle” in the sport’s formal discourse, the front crawl was the first officially recognized swim stroke. The front crawl is a chest-down stroke in which the arms alternate, making a sweeping, arc-like motion that propels the body forward. Between strokes, as the arm is extended above the water, the swimmer must turn the head to the corresponding side in order to breath. Meanwhile, the feet perform a flutter-kick to stabilize the body and further excel its momentum.

While the front crawl does take considerably more coordination and skill than other beginning strokes such as the breaststroke or backstroke, Mike Kotch states that it is still one of the most commonly first-taught swimming methods. This is likely due to its widespread use and prominence in the world of competitive swimming.

Mike Kotch’s Final Thoughts

Learning to swim is daunting for many individuals, and the learning process requires dedication and patience to master the above techniques. Mike Kotch strongly recommends that beginners take their time and master each stroke before moving onto the more complex and cardio-demanding strokes. Each technique is an important building block for the next stroke, do not rush the learning process. The ultimate goal should always to build confidence in the water, and progress techniques.