How Were Swimming Strokes Invented?

Quck answer

Swimming strokes have evolved over time, with each stroke having its own unique history and development. The freestyle stroke, also known as the front crawl, is believed to be the oldest and most natural stroke, dating back to ancient civilizations. Breaststroke, characterized by simultaneous arm movements and a frog-like kick, was also used in ancient times. The butterfly stroke is a relatively recent invention, originating in the early 20th century as a modification of the breaststroke. Backstroke, with its alternating arm movements and flutter kick, has a more modern origin and became an official swimming stroke in the 20th century. Each stroke has been refined and improved through competitive swimming and technological advancements in swimming techniques and equipment.

The Earth’s bodies of water are filled with skilled swimmers. When thinking of great swimmers, fish, dolphins, and whales may come to mind. However, humans are the only species that have turned swimming into a competitive sport.

Have you ever observed or participated in a swimming competition? If so, you are aware that each event focuses on a specific swimming stroke. Have you ever thought about the origins of these strokes? When were they created? What makes each swimming stroke unique?

Some swimming strokes have a long history! In fact, ancient cave paintings depict people using the breaststroke. This stroke involves moving the arms in an arc from straight in front of the body to the sides and then beneath the chest. The legs are kicked inward and backward, resembling the movements of a swimming frog.

The butterfly stroke was derived from the breaststroke. The arm movements for this stroke were developed around 1930. In the butterfly stroke, the arms move in an hourglass shape from in front of the swimmer to below their chest and towards their hips.

The leg motion for the butterfly stroke was developed around the same time, but separately. A swimming enthusiast named Volney Wilson studied the swimming techniques of animals and took inspiration from dolphins. He began swimming by holding his legs together and moving them up and down, which became known as the dolphin kick.

Eventually, the dolphin kick was combined with the butterfly arm movement to create the modern butterfly stroke. The butterfly stroke gained popularity when Japanese swimmer Jiro Nagasawa set a world record with it in 1945.

The origins of the front crawl, or freestyle, are uncertain. It originated in South America long ago and spread to England in 1873. During the front crawl, swimmers move their arms from straight ahead to near their hips before pulling them back above water. The legs kick in an up and down motion with pointed feet. Today, the front crawl is the fastest swimming stroke. It is called “freestyle” because it is the most commonly chosen stroke in freestyle competitions due to its speed.

What about the backstroke? It was developed through experimentation by swimmers after freestyle became an Olympic competition in 1896. The backstroke is essentially an upside-down version of the front crawl. It became its own Olympic competition in 1900. The front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly are all used in competitions. However, other strokes, such as the sidestroke, exist for leisure swimming.

Are you proficient in any swimming strokes? How about the doggy paddle or the back float? Perhaps you prefer to stay out of the water altogether. Regardless of your swimming abilities, watching swimming competitions can be a lot of fun. And of course, spending a day at the pool for learning purposes is also enjoyable!

Try It Out

Are you ready to learn more? Try the activities below with the guidance of an adult or a family member.

  • Are you interested in swimming in a pool that holds a world record? Find out about the deepest swimming pool in the world. Would you like to swim there or learn how to dive? Have a discussion with a friend or family member.
  • Which swimming stroke would you prefer to learn? Why? What difficulties do you think you might encounter while learning it? Write a letter or email to a friend or family member explaining why you would like to learn the stroke you have chosen and how you would overcome any challenges.
  • It is always crucial to prioritize safety around water. Take a look at this list of swimming safety tips provided by the Red Cross. Afterwards, create a poster or record a public service announcement to help others learn how to stay safe. Make sure to include the most helpful tips you read about.

Sources for Further Reading

  • (accessed 05 Dec. 2019)
  • (accessed 05 Dec. 2019)
  • (accessed 05 Dec. 2019)
  • (accessed 05 Dec. 2019)


1. How were swimming strokes invented?

Swimming strokes were developed over time through trial and error, as well as observation of aquatic animals. The earliest evidence of swimming dates back to ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Assyrians, who depicted swimmers using a doggy-paddle-like stroke. As swimming evolved, different strokes were created to improve efficiency and speed. For example, the breaststroke is believed to have originated from the frog kick used by Native Americans. The freestyle stroke, also known as the front crawl, became popular in the late 19th century due to its speed and effectiveness. Today, swimming strokes continue to evolve, with athletes and coaches constantly refining techniques to maximize performance.

2. What is the history of the butterfly stroke?

The butterfly stroke, known for its graceful and powerful movement, has an interesting history. It was first introduced as a variant of the breaststroke in the early 20th century. Swimmers would perform a simultaneous arm movement over the water, similar to the butterfly wings, while kicking their legs together. This stroke quickly gained popularity due to its speed, but it was initially considered too difficult for most swimmers. In 1952, the butterfly stroke was officially recognized as a separate stroke by swimming authorities, leading to its inclusion in competitive swimming events. Since then, it has become one of the most challenging and visually appealing swimming strokes.

3. Who invented the backstroke?

The backstroke, also known as the back crawl, has been a part of swimming for centuries. However, its exact origins are unclear. It is believed to have been practiced by various ancient civilizations, including the Romans and Greeks. The backstroke gained more recognition during the 19th century when it started to appear in competitive swimming events. Notable swimmers, such as Lord Byron and Matthew Webb, popularized the stroke and contributed to its development. Today, the backstroke is an essential part of swimming competitions, with swimmers using a streamlined body position and alternating arm movements to propel themselves through the water.

4. How did the sidestroke evolve?

The sidestroke, characterized by a scissor-like leg movement and a long sweeping arm movement, has an interesting evolution. It was originally developed as a survival stroke by Native Americans and indigenous peoples around the world. The sidestroke allowed swimmers to move efficiently in the water while conserving energy. Over time, the stroke was adapted for recreational and competitive swimming. In the late 19th century, the sidestroke gained popularity and was commonly taught as a basic swimming technique. However, with the introduction of more efficient strokes, such as the freestyle and backstroke, the sidestroke gradually fell out of favor as a competitive swimming style but is still used today for leisurely swimming and lifesaving techniques.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *