Today’s Whiteboard Wednesday dives into the stroke mechanics of short axis and long axis strokes. These two types of strokes are fundamentally different and in this lesson, we’ll look at how to train both of them!

Each of the 5 strokes (yup, five) have their own characteristics that should not be ignored. Below is a brief categorization. The key difference between short axis and long axis strokes is where the kinetic energy originates from.

Short Axis Strokes

  • Breaststroke
  • Butterfly
  • Underwater Dolphin Kick

Long Axis Strokes

  • Freestyle
  • Backstroke

Related: Energy Zones Explained

4 Awesome Training Plans

Video Overview

The biggest differentiator between short axis and long axis strokes is where the kinetic energy comes from that drives the body forward. In Breaststroke and Butterfly (short axis strokes), the power comes from the hips. In Backstroke and Freestyle (long axis strokes), the power is derived from the rotational momentum your body creates. It’s why body rotation from the core is encouraged in Freestyle and Backstroke.

Energy Zones Overview

  • REC – “Easy”
  • EN1 – “Moderate”
  • EN2 – “Endurance”
  • EN3 – “Threshold”
  • SP1 – “Best Average”
  • SP2 – “Race Pace”
  • SP3 – “Sprint”

Related: Whiteboard Wednesday: Energy Zones
Short axis strokes need to be trained at a higher intensity – more time spent in SP1, SP2, SP3 compared to long axis strokes. Because Breaststroke and Butterfly are less efficient than Backstroke and Freestyle, you need to make sure you’re training these strokes at speed to teach your body how to swim higher in the water. Backstroke and Freestyle can be performed for longer periods of time (continuously), therefore will be better suited for more aerobic swimming – En1, EN2, EN3 zones.

Short Axis Example Sets

  • 10 x 100s (50 Breast or Fly, 50 Free) @ 2:00 – hold 200pace on the first 50
  • 8 x 50s Odds: Free; Evens: Breast or Fly @ 1:00 – hold 200pace on the Evens

Long Axis Example Sets

  • 5 x 300s Free or Back @ 5:00 Descend 1-5
  • 12 x 100s Free or Back @ 1:30 4x[1: Easy, 2: Endurance, 3: Best Average]

I hope this video showed you how to train short axis and long axis strokes differently. Until next time, have fun and happy swimming!



  1. Karim Mansour on

    Thanks a lot for the amazing facilitation and would you mind to tell me the secret behind the breathing in 200 fly to give more O2 for the muscle

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