My first book, Swim Speed Secrets, focused solely on the freestyle stroke and the vital elements of the underwater pull—the few things swimmers cannot forgo if they want to get faster. I knew that the vital elements in freestyle are also vital and present in all strokes, but even I was shocked at the extent to which this is the case.
My intent with my new book Swim Speed Strokes was to photograph the underwater mechanics in each of the four competitive swimming strokes, including the most critical elements of it, so swimmers could learn from the sport’s icons in their stroke specialty.
As each photo session ended, however, and the images downloaded, I saw a striking resemblance among the strokes. I zoomed in on images—focusing on just one arm during a particular phase of the stroke—and noted that the strokes are not only similar, but they are indistinguishable from one another.
To show what I mean, here is a fun test:
Each of the four strokes—butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle—is represented in the photos on page 7 (below). Each photo captures the stroke during the catch phase of the pull. The arms you see in these photos are the arms of world-record holders swimming the stroke naturally. None of the photos were staged.
Can you match the photo with the stroke? Take a close look and really give this some thought. (The answers are at the very bottom of this article.)
How did you do? Not an easy test, right? If I wasn’t the one to select the photos I’m not sure how I would do. It’s a bugger. Don’t worry about how you scored. The key is that you understand through this example how working on the mechanics of any one stroke reinforces the other strokes. I hope this inspires you at practice.
Many swimmers think of themselves as one-stroke, or maybe two-stroke, specialists. The majority of triathletes stick to freestyle, and competitive swimmers slip to the back of the lane at practice when the coach gives a set that involves their weaker strokes. We fall into the trap of thinking, I’m just not naturally good at that stroke, so why try?
The stealth message in Swim Speed Strokes is that putting forth effort in your non-primary strokes will do you more good than you can imagine. Consider this quote from a triathlete who took a backstroke clinic I coached in the winter of 2014:
“What stunned me is that learning the correct catch and grab for the backstroke translated into my FINALLY figuring out the catch and grab for freestyle. Who knew that after all these years, it would take flipping me onto my back to get the most important part of the freestyle stroke?”
This triathlete now deliberately practices backstroke rather than using it as a stroke to take a rest.
Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. Swimming more than one stroke will make you a better swimmer in your preferred stroke. Get started with Swim Speed Strokes.
ANSWERS: A) backstroke B) freestyle C) breastroke D) butterfly