Freestyle (or front crawl for our northern friends) is the go-to stroke for ocean swimming, and where the majority, if not all, of an ocean swimmers effort goes in training.
For the most part, it makes sense, after all, it’s freestyle that you’ll be using during 99% of the time you’re ocean swimming.
I did watch a gentleman swim 10km from Bondi to Watsons Bay doing butterfly once… but that’s an anomaly!
However, the lack of technique and practice of backstroke and breaststroke becomes pretty apparent in our clinics when we start to teach the ocean swimming techniques of sighting backstroke and deep-diving under waves.
These two techniques, when performed efficiently, will greatly assist in your navigation out and back through the surf, and should form part of your ocean swimming skills repertoire.
Without a solid backstroke technique, it’s hard to lift your head up and keep it up as you look past your toes to observe conditions behind you, without your lower body dropping considerably under the water and creating a debilitating drag, slowing you down and tiring you out.
Without a solid breaststroke technique, you’ll find it tough to get deeper underwater and stay down long enough to propel yourself any great distance. This is particularly important when negotiating larger surf, dumping waves and shallow sandbanks.
So, if you have poor and/or inefficient backstroke and breaststroke techniques, then these are absolutely two areas you should work on to become a better ocean swimmer.
Start with a private lesson with a swim coach to make sure your technique is sound, then:
In the pool you can add these strokes to your warm-up, focus on one per session in your drills set, and perhaps substitute freestyle for one in a main set. To start with you could alternate with freestyle, i.e. a 6 x 100’s set could be odds freestyle, evens backstroke.
In the ocean, simply ensure you’re utilising the techniques when you’re navigating the surf – you may have to improvise if the surf doesn’t warrant it, or before you head off on your swim, practice some drills out the back. For breaststroke, I like to incorporate a little hypoxic-type training into the drills. To do this, perform a swim-deep dive-swim drill, starting with one breaststroke under the water, then two strokes, then three etc. When doing this drill, focus on being relaxed underwater and maintaining a gentle rise to the surface in a streamlined position, recovering your breath during your first couple of freestyle breaths.
Like all good things, good ocean swimming strokes come in threes.