While you may have started swimming by learning to dog paddle, that's not considered a mainstream swimming stroke. Four main swimming strokes exist to help you meet your fitness goals. The arm and leg movements required for each stroke work your body differently, so incorporate several strokes into a swimming workout. Always consult your doctor before beginning this or any exercise regimen.
When many people start learning mainstream strokes, they start with the front crawl, also called the freestyle stroke. With this stroke, you alternate your arms, with one leaving the water near your shoulder to move forward above the water while the other hand pushes down into the water, moving from front to back. Perform a flutter kick with your feet -- alternate moving your feet up and down in small movements.
Two other forward strokes exist to incorporate into your swimming routing. The breaststroke requires you to start with your hands together in front of your chest with your head and chest slightly lifted. Push forward and down, separating your hands under water and bringing them back up under your body to start the next stroke with the hands together. Use a frog kick to help propel yourself forward, where you bend your knees outward, then push your feet back until your legs are straight.
The butterfly stroke is similar to the front crawl in that your arms come up out of the water on each side, but in the butterfly, the come up and down together instead of alternating. Use a dolphin kick with this stroke, where you keep your feet together and move your legs up and down from the hips, bending your knees slightly to keep the movement fluid.
Changing to Backward
Swimming on your back doesn't mean you're taking a break. The backstroke moves you quickly across the pool, but you're facing up rather than down toward the bottom of the pool. Also called the back crawl, extend one arm straight up and bring it down behind your head, pulling it down into the water with the elbow slightly bent. Straighten it to perform the next stroke. Alternate your arms so one is above water and one is under in a continuous movement. Use the same flutter kick as with the front crawl.
How you breathe affects how effective your swim strokes are. Instead of holding your breath, exhale continuously between breath intakes. When you need to breathe in, time it so it works best with the stroke. In the freestyle, for example, alternate sides so you don't end up drifting one way because you turn your head that way every time. You might want to breathe every third stroke, taking in a quick but full gasp of air. With strokes that bring your face above water, such as the breaststroke, you can breathe with every stroke if needed. Consult a professional coach or trainer to ensure your technique is correct.