Different Strokes for Different Folks, Part 1: Freestyle and Backstroke

Whether you’re looking for a good cardio workout or to rehab an injury, swimming is a great exercise to meet your needs and abilities. The buoyancy of water is beneficial to pregnant women and people with arthritis; water resistance provides strength training benefits and challenges beginner and expert swimmers alike.


Swimming is a lifetime activity, one that is not jarring on the body or joints like running or contact sports, that builds cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength. The most popular lap swimming strokes are freestyle and backstroke.

The upper chest and shoulder, pectorals and latissiumus, muscles push the swimmer’s arm forward to reach out of the water before beginning another stroke. As the arm recovers back toward the body, the bicep muscles bend the elbow and continue the pull. The tricep muscles finish the stroke as they straighten the arm past the abdomen to pull back through the water past the swimmer’s hip. Finally, the deltoid muscles of the shoulder re-position the arm to begin the next stroke in the alternating progression.

The flutter kick of the freestyle, also the same kick performed with the backstroke, focuses on the hip, leg, and butt muscles. The adductors and quadriceps propel the down beat of the kick propulsion while the glute and calf muscles pull the leg back into position during the up beat of the kick; this order is reversed in the backstroke since it is swam on the back not the stomach.


Kelly Wright is the Aquatics Supervisor at The Clubs at Charles River Park with more than 15 years of competitive and instructional swimming experience. Along with teaching swim lessons, she also coaches Junior and Master swimming and trains lifeguards. Kelly is an Authorized Provider for the American Red Cross and is certified to teach AED/CPR and First Aid classes as well as Emergency Oxygen Administration, Bloodborne Pathogen Training, Basic Water Rescue, Guard Start, and Water Safety.

One Response to “Different Strokes for Different Folks, Part 1: Freestyle and Backstroke”

  1. Rose Sullivan says:

    Several months ago, I had a total hip replacement. Being able to get back into the pool to swim, participate in water aerobics and HIIT have been the best therapy I could ever have had. Thanks to Kelly and Karen, for helping me recover.