14 November 2011 20 Comments

Something I hadn’t bargained for

The switch from breaststroke to front crawl has had a side effect I hadn’t quite expected. The 2 strokes are quite different in that the main propulsion in breaststroke is from your leg kick, and for front crawl the primary function of the leg kick is for stability (at least it is for distance swimmers). It’s getting the kick right that’s causing me the biggest difficulties: switching to a stiff legged kick from the thigh from my previous ineffectual fluttering of the feet has been a real challenge. I hadn’t expected the deep stiff legged kicks to have such an impact on my back, though. After 3 swim sessions last week I’m as stiff as a board! I’ll have to add more core strength and stretching exercises into my week to tray and aid the transition.



20 Responses to “Something I hadn’t bargained for”

  1. Tod 10 March 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    Interesting about the swim as struggling with FC and thinking of swimming breaststroke as can already do the distance of 3.8 km but struggle to do more than 10 lengths of FC. It is about finishing the ironman as it is my first!


  2. John 11 March 2013 at 12:05 am #

    After a few weeks of lessons I gave up trying and switched back to breaststroke. I figure it this way: if I can do a 1:35 Ironman swim I’m about 15 minutes slower than a reasonably competent front crawler. I can make that sort of time through efficiency in transition and getting fitter on the bike. Far less stressful than trying to get my head around 3.8km of front crawl.


  3. Tod 11 March 2013 at 10:37 pm #

    That’s what I am thinking at the moment as did a 2500m swim in 58 minutes today.

    What is it like on the day as have read many negative comments about breaststroke swimmers and do you wear any special wetsuit?


  4. John 11 March 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    What’s said in forums doesn’t bother me. I’ve never had a negative comment made at a race. Bottom line is you’re 1 of 1500 folk in a black wetsuit wearing the same coloured swim hat. I revel in the anonymity of it and actively enjoy the swim as I get a much better view than the front crawlers.


  5. Tod 12 March 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    Do you wear any special wetsuit for breaststroke?


  6. john sutton 12 March 2013 at 11:36 pm #

    Nope, just a standard Zone 3 trisuit.


  7. Tod 13 March 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    Thanks for the advise – breastroke for me now and will just concentrate on getting quicker and longer in my stroke


  8. john sutton 14 March 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Totally with that; 10 minutes faster but a hell of a lot more tired and stressed by a front crawl swim that you really weren’t up to makes no sense to me at all.


  9. Tod 20 March 2013 at 6:42 am #

    The guy who is coaching and supporting me is not having it – he keeps getting me to try FC!!

    Not getting anywhere fast and am doing my own thing now as not long until Bolton with all the other training going to plan.

    Do you have any exercises you recommend for training drills for breaststroke?


  10. john sutton 20 March 2013 at 8:26 am #

    I think your coach is being a little bit blinkered. For your first Ironman the number one priority is to finish. Performance can follow at a later event if you want to pursue that route. The swim takes up approximately 10% of the event and to go from struggling to do 10 lengths of front crawl to 160 comfortably in 4 months is going to introduce a level of stress into your training routine that frankly, you don’t need. Nobody is denying that for the competent front crawler it’s both more efficient and faster, and maybe if you were aiming to do an Olympic distance race where the swim counts for 20%+ of the total time then I would say it was worth persisting with. If you can comfortably do the 3.8km swim already by using breaststroke you can concentrate your effort where it’s going to have the most impact on your race, i.e. the bike leg.

    Here’s what I do to improve my breaststroke:

    1. Stroke challenge: try to swim lengths with as few strokes as possible by lengthening the glide and making your body long and streamlined;
    2. 100 metre intervals with short rests;
    3. Pullbouy between your legs for arms only lengths;
    4. As many openwater swim sessions as you can fit in.

    I find that tri wetsuits restrict your breaststroke leg kick a bit so the pullbuoy lengths are especially useful as are the openwater training sessions.

    Last thought: Ironman is all about mental strength, if swimming breaststroke gives you confidence that you can finish the swim without exhausting yourself then that’s a positive thing.


  11. tod 20 March 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    thanks for the reply – I will focus on the drills.

    Is the wetsuit you use a cut-off to save the legs being restricted?


  12. john sutton 24 March 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    No, just a standard ankle length triathlon wetsuit.


  13. tim doswell 18 June 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Very interesting to read the stuff on doing IM breaststroke. My front crawl is equally hopeless despite lessons and a lot of time worrying about it! I’m doing Tenby in September which as you will know is a sea swim. Have you got any experience of doing long distance breaststroke in the sea?


  14. john sutton 18 June 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    I have swum in the sea breaststroking, but not in an Ironman. The Bala standard a couple of years ago was so rough it might have been a sea swim too! The main problem with breaststroke in the sea is coming up for a breath just as a wave slaps you in the face: cue lungful, spluttering etc. But, if you concentrate on building your breaststroke into a stron stroke you’ll get around the course comfortably within the time limit. See comments above: the number one priority is to reduce stress and if doing front crawl is introducing big stress then try something different. At some point you have to say that trying to get to 3.8km doing front crawl isn’t achievable this year, and unless you are already doing close to that distance then I’d say change tack.


  15. tim doswell 18 June 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    Thanks for the reply. Fingers crossed for a calm day in Tenby September!


  16. john sutton 23 June 2013 at 11:36 am #

    Best of luck! I’d love to hear how you get on.


  17. Dave Libby 27 June 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    hi there.

    Am new to Tri’s coming from a Sportive and running background and plan to do my first Sprint in October.
    Its an open water event , not too fussed about that as I also windsurf and spend plenty of time in the sea.

    I was really interested in you article on FC, I have just started to lean FC and suffer from everything you mention, specifically breathing, having lessons which is helping but its slow progress …

    I can swim breaststroke just fine, 750m is not a problem . I guess I know the answer but would you suggest I stick with Breastroke for the first couple of events. ?

    I have read and not knowing the format that Breaststroke is frowned upon but reading your article suggests completely the opposite , get through the event and relax.

    Enjoying your blog and thanks.



  18. john sutton 27 June 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    This thread just keeps on growing! Nobody disputes that front crawl is more efficient, faster and easier on the legs therefore if you are a good front crawler then that’s the way to go. It’s also a great thing to aim for, but it takes time and coaching to get it right. I haven’t so far. I don’t care about the fact that I swim breaststroke – I’m one bobbing blue hat among a sea of bobbing blue hats, and frankly, I enjoy the atmosphere of a mass start while swimming breast as I can see much more than the inept front crawlers zig-zagging around in front of me. I don’t do pool based triathlons as I think breast strokers would annoy faster swimmers, but apart from that I don’t have a problem with people tackling a triathlon with whatever kit or technique that is within the rules. If it helps get you to the finish line in better shape then that’s fine by me.


  19. tim doswell 9 September 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    Just to let you know that i completed Ironman wales yesterday having done the sea swim bit in 1hr 34mins doing nothing but breast stroke. Fortunately the sea was calm but there was still an obvious current heading towards the first buoy, but the current helped heading back the other way. I was told at the start of the year by a swim coach that i would never complete the sea swim in Tenby using breast stroke so you can imagine how relieved i am to have proved him wrong. I even passed a lot of front crawlers in the sea which helped to quickly calm my nerves.
    The swim turned out to be the easy bit in the end; the bike and the run were absolutely brutal! The support in Tenby and the local towns and villages was just amazing though and helped me through. I eventually completed in 15 hrs 32 mins which I am more than happy with.
    I was going to try and have some more front crawl lessons but i’m not sure i’ll bother now!
    Thanks for a great blog.


  20. john sutton 9 September 2013 at 11:08 pm #

    Fantastic! Congratulations, Tim. Nothing beats the feeling of completing your first Ironman. Thanks for letting me know how it went. I might even sign up myself next year!


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