Short Axis vs. Long Axis Strokes: How to Choose the Right Technique for Your Goals

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Short Axis vs Long Axis: Which Stroke is Best?

When it comes to swimming, there are two primary strokes that swimmers use: the short axis stroke and the long axis stroke. Each stroke has its own unique characteristics and advantages, and swimmers often debate which stroke is the best. In this article, we will explore the differences between the short axis and long axis strokes, and discuss the pros and cons of each. Whether you are a competitive swimmer or just looking to improve your technique, understanding these strokes can help you enhance your swimming abilities.

swimmer performing a short axis stroke and a long axis stroke

Short Axis vs Long Axis: An Overview

Before diving into the details, it’s important to understand the basic concepts behind the short axis and long axis strokes. The short axis strokes include the breaststroke and butterfly, while the long axis strokes include the freestyle and backstroke. The short axis strokes involve a rotational movement around the body’s axis, while the long axis strokes involve a linear movement along the body’s axis.

Short Axis Strokes: Breaststroke and Butterfly

The breaststroke and butterfly strokes are considered short axis strokes because they involve a rotational movement around the body’s axis. In the breaststroke, swimmers perform a simultaneous arm stroke while executing a frog-like kick. This stroke requires coordination and strength in both the upper and lower body.

On the other hand, the butterfly stroke is known for its powerful and undulating movements. Swimmers execute a dolphin kick with both legs while performing a simultaneous arm stroke. The butterfly stroke requires a high level of core strength and coordination to maintain rhythm and fluidity.

Long Axis Strokes: Freestyle and Backstroke

The freestyle and backstroke are considered long axis strokes because they involve a linear movement along the body’s axis. In the freestyle, swimmers perform an alternating arm stroke while executing a flutter kick. This stroke is often regarded as the fastest and most efficient stroke for competitive swimming.

The backstroke, as the name suggests, is performed on the back. Swimmers execute an alternating arm stroke while performing a flutter kick. This stroke requires a strong back and core muscles to maintain a streamlined position in the water.

Pros and Cons of Short Axis Strokes

Short axis strokes, such as the breaststroke and butterfly, offer their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look at each stroke:



  • Breaststroke is often considered the easiest stroke to learn, making it suitable for beginners.
  • It is a low-impact stroke, making it ideal for individuals with joint issues or injuries.
  • Breaststroke provides an excellent cardiovascular workout and can help improve lung capacity.


  • Breaststroke is generally slower compared to other strokes, such as the freestyle.
  • The technique requires a significant amount of coordination and timing to execute properly.
  • It can put strain on the knees and lower back if not performed with proper form.



  • Butterfly is a demanding stroke that works the entire body, making it a great choice for building overall strength.
  • It is one of the fastest strokes, allowing swimmers to cover distances quickly in competitive races.
  • The undulating movement of the butterfly stroke engages the core muscles, promoting a strong and stable torso.


Pros and Cons of Long Axis Strokes

Now, let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of the long axis strokes, specifically the freestyle and backstroke:






  • Backstroke is considered the easiest stroke to learn after the freestyle, making it suitable for beginners.
  • It provides a great workout for the back muscles, helping to improve posture and spinal alignment.
  • The backstroke allows swimmers to breathe freely without turning their head, making it a suitable choice for individuals with respiratory issues.


  • Backstroke is generally slower compared to the freestyle, especially in competitive races.
  • The stroke requires good spatial awareness to avoid collisions with other swimmers or pool walls.
  • Swimmers may experience neck strain if the head is not properly aligned with the body during the stroke.

Choosing the Right Stroke for You

Ultimately, the choice between the short axis and long axis strokes depends on your goals, fitness level, and personal preference. If you are a beginner or looking for a low-impact workout, the breaststroke or backstroke may be more suitable. If speed and efficiency are your priorities, the freestyle or butterfly may be the strokes to focus on. It’s also important to consider any existing injuries or physical limitations when choosing a stroke.

Enhancing Your Swim Technique: Short Axis vs Long Axis

Regardless of the stroke you choose, there are several techniques and training tips that can help you improve your swimming abilities. Here are some tips to enhance your swim technique for both short axis and long axis strokes:

Short Axis Strokes

  1. Focus on body position: Maintaining a streamlined body position is crucial for short axis strokes. Keep your body horizontal and your hips high in the water to reduce drag.
  2. Practice timing and coordination: Short axis strokes require precise timing and coordination between the arms and legs. Practice drills that focus on synchronizing your arm and leg movements to improve efficiency.
  3. Develop core strength: Strong core muscles are essential for short axis strokes. Incorporate exercises such as planks, Russian twists, and flutter kicks to strengthen your core.

Long Axis Strokes

  1. Improve your kick technique: The kick plays a significant role in long axis strokes. Work on developing a strong and efficient kick by practicing kick drills and incorporating leg exercises into your training routine.
  2. Focus on arm rotation: Long axis strokes involve rotating the body from side to side. Concentrate on rotating your torso and extending your arms fully during the underwater phase of your stroke.
  3. Enhance breathing technique: Breathing plays a crucial role in long axis strokes. Practice breathing on both sides to improve lung capacity and reduce the strain on one side of your body.

Unlock Your Full Potential: Training Tips for Short Axis and Long Axis Strokes

To unlock your full potential in swimming, it’s important to develop a comprehensive training program that focuses on both short axis and long axis strokes. Here are some training tips to help you improve your overall swimming abilities:

  1. Incorporate variety into your training: Include a mix of short axis and long axis stroke sets in your training routine to improve your overall swimming fitness and technique.
  2. Work on endurance: Building endurance is crucial for both short axis and long axis strokes. Gradually increase the distance and duration of your workouts to improve your stamina.
  3. Seek professional guidance: Consider working with a qualified swim coach or trainer who can provide personalized guidance and feedback on your technique.
  4. Practice drills: Incorporate specific drills that target different aspects of your stroke technique, such as body position, kick, arm rotation, and breathing.
  5. Cross-train: Engage in other forms of exercise, such as strength training, yoga, or Pilates, to improve overall strength, flexibility, and mobility.
  6. Listen to your body: Pay attention to any signs of fatigue or discomfort and give yourself adequate rest and recovery time to prevent overtraining and reduce the risk of injuries.
  7. Stay consistent: Consistency is key when it comes to improving your swimming abilities. Make swimming a regular part of your fitness routine and commit to consistent practice.


Q: Is breaststroke or butterfly better for toning the body?

A: Both breaststroke and butterfly strokes engage a wide range of muscles, resulting in toning and strengthening of the body. However, butterfly stroke requires more strength and coordination, making it a more intense workout for muscle toning.

Q: Which stroke is the fastest in competitive swimming?

A: The freestyle stroke, also known as the front crawl, is generally considered the fastest stroke in competitive swimming. Its combination of arm and leg movements allows for efficient propulsion through the water.

Q: Can I switch between short axis and long axis strokes during a swimming workout?

A: Yes, you can switch between short axis and long axis strokes during a swimming workout. Incorporating both types of strokes can provide a well-rounded workout and help improve your overall swimming abilities.

Q: How can I improve my speed in the freestyle stroke?

A: To improve speed in the freestyle stroke, focus on developing a strong and efficient kick, improving your arm technique, and working on overall body position and streamlining in the water. Incorporate interval training and sprint sets into your workouts to build speed and endurance.

Q: Are there any specific exercises to improve the butterfly stroke?

A: Yes, there are specific exercises that can help improve your butterfly stroke. These include dolphin kick drills, butterfly pull-ups, core exercises such as butterfly sit-ups, and exercises that target shoulder and chest strength.

Q: Can I use fins or other swimming aids to enhance my stroke technique?

A: Yes, fins and other swimming aids can be used to enhance stroke technique and provide additional resistance or propulsion in the water. However, it’s important to use them in moderation and under the guidance of a qualified swim coach to avoid dependency on the aids.

Q: How long does it take to master the breaststroke or butterfly stroke?

A: The time it takes to master the breaststroke or butterfly stroke varies depending on factors such as individual ability, prior swimming experience, and the amount of practice and training. It can take several weeks or months of consistent practice to develop proficiency in these strokes.