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The Ever Changing Breaststroke

posted Feb 10, 2012, 10:09 AM by Pat Windschitl   [ updated Feb 10, 2012, 2:01 PM ]

Breaststroke is one of the more unusual strokes. While it's one of the most popular stroke for new swimmers, due mainly to it's low impact style and the option to breath with every stroke, it can also be one of the most challenging for competition athletes. Breaststroke at the higher levels requires the same strength and endurance as Butterfly, even more so in the legs and lower body, yet swimmers move at only a portion of the speed. It's also changed dramatically in the past 80 years, with constant small changes still being made today. But before we can begin to understand how the stroke is changing now we should look at where it has been. 

Here are a few of the more drastic changes made to the stroke in the last 80 years. 

  • 1934
  • David Armbuster, swim coach at the University of Iowa, refines a method of bringing arms over the top of the water to reduce drag and resistance in Breaststroke. With this discovery he creates what we now consider Butterfly arms.
  • 1935
  • Jack Sieg, one of David Armbuster's swimmers at Iowa, develops the dolphin "fish-tail" kick. He and Armbuster combine these two and create a stroke they label "Butterfly". While this kick is much faster, it did violate the current rules of the Breaststroke. 
  • 1936
  • Swimmers at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin use Butterfly arms with a Breaststroke kick in their Breaststroke races. 
  • 1938
  • This combined style of Fly Arms & Breaststroke Kick is almost universally adapted by competition swimmers and is accepted as a variant to normal Breaststroke. Both styles, each with their own advantages, mutually coexist.  
  • 1952
  • "Butterfly" finally becomes its own stroke. New rules, such as eliminating the over water recovery in Breaststroke, are developed to keep the stroke separated and defined. Swimmers discover it is faster to swim it under the surface without breathing, and Breaststroke becomes an almost completely underwater event.
    SIDE NOTE: BEFORE 1952 THE INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY & MEDLEY RELAY ONLY CONSISTED OF 3 STROKES! BACKSTROKE > BREASTSTROKE > FREESTYLE. BUTTERFLY WAS ADDED AS THE FIRST STROKE IN THE IM TO ALLOW SWIMMERS A DIVE, AND IT WAS PLACED 3RD IN THE MEDLEY RELAY TO ALLOW THE BACKSTROKE SWIMMER A PROPER START. 
  • 1956
  • At the Summer Olympics in Melbourne 6 swimmers were disqualified for swimming Breaststroke without surfacing. However, Japanese swimmer Masaru Furukawa won the Gold medal in the event by only surfacing for the last 5 meters of each 50 meter lap. Underwater distance restrictions are later put in place.
  • 1960's
  • New rules are added so Breaststroke arms can not go past the hip line, with the exception of the first stroke from the start and the turn. This creates the traditional pull-down all our coaches learned and used when they were competing. 
  • 2004
  • Japan's Kosuke Kitajima wins the gold medal in the 100m Breaststroke at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Underwater cameras showed Kitajima using a defined dolphin kick at the start and at his turns. He was not disqualified because officials claimed these kicks were not visible from the surface. 
  • 2005
  • FINA changes the rules to allow one dolphin kick at the start and at each turn, with the butterfly kick placed during the downward pull. This is the pull-down all of our athletes know and have worked with most of, if not all, of their years swimming. 

So what's changing now? Well here's an example of a pull-down from the 2011 Shanghai Swim meet.

    

But something was different there.. Did you catch it? Let's try watching it in slow motion.

    

As the swimmer closest to the camera enters the water he allows his hands to separate slightly (meaning he has technically started his pulldown) and then he completes a single dolphin kick BEFORE finishing the pulling down motion. By doing this he is getting the most out of his kick and out of his pull by not allowing one to impact the other. This can benefit all our swimmers greatly as it removes the over undulation (moving up and down) from the pull-down that slows down swimmers during the start!

This new pull-down is starting to gain some traction on the world stage. Coach Dave Salo at the University of Southern California (who's post-grad team has included Rebecca Soni, Jessica Hardy, Yulia Efimova, and Kosuke Kitajima to name a few) has started to recommend this modified pull-down in the last year to his Olympians and to his club coaches too. 

So be sure to watch for it and any new changes to the stroke in the coming season. I can't wait to see what's next!

- Coach Pat