The Most Difficult Stroke in Swimming: Revealing the Challenging Technique

Choose the stroke you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Jun 16, 2023 10:18 (Updated on Dec 3, 2023 06:38)
Dive into the world of swimming and make a splash with your opinions on StrawPoll's latest ranking: "What is the most difficult stroke in swimming?" Thousands of aquatic enthusiasts are casting their votes, and now it's your turn to have a say! Whether you're a seasoned swimmer or a casual pool-goer, we want to know which stroke leaves you breathless and which one makes you feel like a fish in water. From the elegant butterfly to the challenging breaststroke, cast your vote and see how your favorite stroke fares amongst the competition. Don't see your preferred stroke on the list? No worries! Simply suggest a missing option and let the wave of votes decide its rank. Dive into the debate now and discover if your fellow swimmers share your love (or fear) for that one stroke that truly tests your aquatic prowess!

What Is the Most Difficult Stroke in Swimming?

  1. 1
    Butterfly stroke
    Cpl. Jasper Schwartz · Public domain

    Butterfly stroke

    David Armbruster
    The butterfly stroke is widely considered to be the most difficult swim stroke due to its unique combination of power, speed, and technique. It requires a lot of upper body strength and coordination to perform correctly.
    The Butterfly stroke, also known as the 'fly', is a style of swimming that involves simultaneous movements of both arms and legs. It is considered one of the most difficult strokes. The swimmer propels themselves through the water by performing a dolphin-like motion, where the arms move in a windmill pattern and the legs perform a powerful kick.
    • Arm Movement: The arms move simultaneously in a windmill pattern, starting together above the head, and then they come out of the water at the hips during the recovery phase.
    • Leg Movement: The legs perform a dolphin kick, where they move together in an undulating motion, similar to a dolphin’s tail.
    • Breathing Technique: Breathing is typically done by lifting the head out of the water during the arm recovery phase.
    • Body Position: The body is positioned horizontally, with the head aligned with the spine and the hips at the water surface.
    • Kick Timing: The dolphin kick is executed during the second downbeat of the arm movement.
    Butterfly stroke in other rankings
  2. 2
    The breaststroke is another challenging stroke that requires a high level of technical skill. Swimmers must coordinate their arms, legs, and breathing while maintaining a streamlined body position.
    The Breaststroke is a swimming stroke that requires simultaneous movement of the arms and legs. It is known for its distinctive frog-like motion, with the arms and legs moving in a symmetrical pattern. The swimmer starts in a prone position, with the arms extended forward and the legs extended back. The arms then sweep in a wide circular motion outwards and back towards the chest, while the legs execute a dolphin kick, where the legs move in a simultaneous outward and then inward motion.
    • Arm Movement: Sweeping circular motion
    • Leg Movement: Dolphin kick
    • Breathing: Inhale during arm pull, exhale during the kick
    • Body Position: Head elevated, body parallel to the surface
    • Arm Recovery: Above water
  3. 3
    While freestyle is the most common stroke, sprinting requires a high level of explosive power and speed. Swimmers must maintain proper technique while pushing their bodies to the limit.
    The Freestyle sprint is a competitive swimming stroke where swimmers use a combination of powerful arm and leg movements to propel themselves through the water as fast as possible. It is considered one of the most difficult strokes due to its high intensity and the requirement for excellent technique.
    • Distance: Usually swum over a distance of 50 meters or 100 meters.
    • Arm Movements: Swimmers perform alternating arm movements, keeping them extended during the pull phase and recovering them quickly above the water.
    • Leg Movements: Powerful leg kicks are used to generate propulsion, with swimmers utilizing flutter kicks or dolphin kicks depending on personal preference.
    • Breathing: While breathing patterns can vary, most freestyle sprinters take quick and efficient breaths to maintain a steady rhythm and minimize drag.
    • Technique: Maintaining a streamlined body position, a high elbow during the arm pull, and a strong flutter or dolphin kick are crucial for an effective freestyle sprint technique.
  4. 4
    Backstroke requires a strong core and great body control. Swimmers must maintain a straight body position while coordinating their arm and leg movements.
    The backstroke is a swimming stroke performed on the back, where the swimmer lies flat with the face upwards and arms outstretched. This stroke consists of an alternating motion of the arms while the legs perform a flutter kick.
    • Body Position: Swimmer lies on their back with the face upwards.
    • Arm Movement: Alternating movement of the arms with fingertips entering the water first.
    • Leg Movement: Flutter kick performed by kicking the legs up and down.
    • Breathing: Breathing can be done at any time during the stroke, keeping the face above the water.
    • Stroke Rate: Typical stroke rate is around 60 strokes per minute.
  5. 5
    The individual medley combines all four strokes into one race, making it incredibly challenging. Swimmers must switch between strokes quickly and efficiently, while maintaining proper technique throughout.
    The Individual Medley is a swimming stroke that combines all four competitive swimming strokes in a specific order. It requires swimmers to swim equal distances of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle in that order without interruption.
    • Order of strokes: Butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle
    • Distance: Typically 200 or 400 meters in competitive swimming
    • Number of strokes: Each stroke must be completed for a specified distance before moving onto the next stroke
    • Transitions: No pauses or interruptions are allowed between different strokes
    • Start: Swimmers start in the water, holding onto the poolside or starting blocks
    Individual medley in other rankings
  6. 6

    200-meter butterfly

    David Armbruster
    The 200-meter butterfly is one of the most grueling events in swimming, requiring a high level of endurance and stamina. Swimmers must balance their speed with technique to maintain their form over the entire race.
    The 200-meter butterfly is a challenging swimming stroke that requires a combination of strength, stamina, and technique. It is one of the most difficult events in competitive swimming, notorious for pushing swimmers to their limits.
    • Distance: 200 meters
    • Stroke: Butterfly
    • Body Position: Swimmers must maintain a horizontal position with their bodies close to the water's surface, undulating their bodies throughout the stroke.
    • Arm Movement: Both arms move simultaneously in a symmetrical manner, executing a powerful and continuous butterfly stroke.
    • Breathing: Swimmers must time their breaths effectively, taking a breath every second or third stroke to maintain rhythm and reduce fatigue.
  7. 7
    The 400-meter individual medley is another challenging event that requires a high level of technical skill and endurance. Swimmers must switch between strokes quickly and efficiently, while pushing their bodies to the limit.
    The 400-meter individual medley is a demanding swimming event that combines all four competitive swimming strokes, including butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle, into a single race. Swimmers must complete four lengths of the pool, with each length dedicated to one of the specific strokes in a predetermined order.
    • Timing: The swimmer with the fastest overall time is declared the winner.
    • Distance: 400 meters
    • Order of Strokes: Butterfly - Backstroke - Breaststroke - Freestyle
    • Number of Lengths: 4
    • Butterfly Technique: Both arms must be brought forward simultaneously in a circular motion
  8. 8
    The 1500-meter freestyle is the longest race in swimming, requiring a great deal of endurance and pacing. Swimmers must maintain a steady pace while conserving energy for the final push.
    The 1500-meter freestyle is a long-distance swimming event in which swimmers compete to complete 1500 meters (or 30 laps) of the pool solely using the freestyle stroke. This event requires exceptional endurance, as swimmers must maintain a steady pace throughout the race.
    • Distance: 1500 meters
    • Stroke: Freestyle
    • Pool length: 50 meters
    • Number of laps: 30
    • Gender: Male and Female
  9. 9
    The 100-meter breaststroke is a short but intense race that requires a high level of power, speed, and technique. Swimmers must coordinate their arm and leg movements while maintaining a streamlined body position.
    The 100-meter breaststroke is a swimming stroke that requires athletes to swim 100 meters using a specific technique. In this stroke, swimmers propel themselves through the water using a combination of arm and leg movements, while their face remains above water for the majority of the race.
    • Distance: 100 meters
    • Style: Breaststroke
    • Technique: Arms and legs moving simultaneously
    • Breathing: Every stroke or every other stroke
    • Turns: One or more touch turns permitted
  10. 10
    The 50-meter freestyle is the shortest race in swimming, but also one of the most intense. Swimmers must be explosive off the starting block and maintain their speed and technique over the entire race.
    The 50-meter freestyle is a sprint swimming event that requires swimmers to swim a single lap (50 meters) in the pool using any stroke they prefer. However, it is mostly swum using the freestyle stroke, which is commonly known as the front crawl. This event is often considered one of the most difficult strokes in swimming due to its intense speed, explosive start, and short duration.
    • Distance: 50 meters
    • Stroke: Any (typically freestyle/front crawl)
    • Pool Length: 50 meters
    • Start: Dive from starting blocks
    • Duration: Typically around 20-30 seconds

Missing your favorite stroke?


Ranking factors for difficult stroke

  1. Technique complexity
    The stroke's difficulty could be influenced by the level of difficulty of the technique involved, including body positioning, coordination, timing, and the complexity of required movements.
  2. Coordination
    Some strokes require complex coordination between arms, legs, and torso, making them more challenging for swimmers to master.
  3. Muscle groups involved
    Strokes that require the use of multiple large muscle groups, or that particularly strain one, would be considered more difficult due to the physicality required to maintain the proper form.
  4. Breathing
    Breathing patterns and ease of breath management during the stroke should be considered. Strokes that demand more complex or infrequent breathing may be harder to master and execute, especially for beginners.
  5. Endurance and energy demands
    Strokes that consume more energy or require significant endurance may be considered more difficult to perform and maintain, especially for distance swimmers or in competitive situations.
  6. Speed
    The potential speed that the swimmer can achieve with a particular stroke may affect its level of difficulty.
  7. Skill level and adaptability
    Some strokes may be harder to learn and execute for swimmers with different skill levels or body types, making them more challenging to master.
  8. Risk of injuries
    Strokes that have a higher potential of causing injuries due to their complex movements or improper techniques can be considered more difficult.
  9. Progression and improvement
    The learning curve and the time it takes to see improvement in a particular stroke can affect its perceived difficulty.
  10. Popularity and accessibility
    Strokes that are less commonly taught or practiced may be considered more difficult due to the lack of readily available resources or coaching for instruction.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult stroke in swimming. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or stroke is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 187 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each stroke once every 24 hours. The rank of each stroke is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.

More information on most difficult stroke in swimming

Swimming is a great form of exercise and competition, and one of the most popular sports in the world. Swimmers use a variety of strokes to move through the water, each with its own unique challenges and benefits. The four basic swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. While all four strokes require a combination of strength, endurance, and technique, many swimmers consider the butterfly to be the most challenging. The butterfly stroke requires a unique combination of upper body strength, coordination, and timing, as well as a high level of cardiovascular fitness. Mastering the butterfly stroke can take years of practice, but it is a rewarding and impressive accomplishment for any swimmer.

Share this article