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Three swimmers jumping into the water for a race.

The 4 Toughest Swimming Strokes to Master

06/03/2015, 5:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech

Race time is almost here. Are you ready?


When it comes to learning new things, Marlins coach Marc Sze isn’t afraid of much. After all, he’s currently working on a master’s degree in between his time barking orders to the athletes at the North Shore Winter Club. 

There are a few things that do frighten Marc, however, things he’s happy he doesn’t have to endure any more. 

Nope, these days Marc is passing that pain onto the next batch of swimmers, a new generation unaware of what they’re getting themselves into. 

“Ha ha come on Marc,” says your friendly neighbourhood blogger guy. “How can something named after a butterfly be tough?”

“Do you want to try it?”

“Naw I’m good.”

Here are Marc’s picks for the 4 toughest strokes to master. 

1. Butterfly Stroke

Why it’s difficult: According to Marc some people are natural swimmers who pick up the butterfly right away, but no matter who you are, it’s still the most physically demanding stroke. It requires elite coordination in order to keep everything moving in the right direction. This stroke s all about rhythm and timing because both arms clear the water when you breathe. 

How to train: learn the proper dolphin kick, build strength, coordination, and rhythm. Build muscle memory. 

2. Breaststroke

Why it’s difficult: it’s an awkward stroke that’s technically challenging, moreso than the butterfly. Performing the stroke means fighting against your own body’s natural urges. The body wants to push backwards at the time of the awkward kick. For Marc, the breaststroke is tough to teach because of the combination of the kick and the way you breathe and move your arms.

How to learn: perform different drills designed to create the feel of the stroke, and get comfortable with what’s most efficient. Watch plenty of video of other swimmers and use equipment to force the extremes of the position.

3. Freestyle Backstroke

Why it’s difficult: while this stroke is more intuitive than the breaststroke or the butterfly, it’s tough for Marc to teach swimmers to perform it properly in a competitive swim environment. Most athletes will be able to pick up the freestyle quickly but will initially lack efficiency.

How to train: Learn how to use the least amount of energy while travelling the longest distance possible. Perform drills that emphasize specific key areas within the stroke.

4. Underwater Dolphin Kick

Why it’s difficult: Used in 3 out of the 4 strokes, the underwater dolphin kick is tough because you’re trapped underwater while performing it. It’s about timing your push off the wall properly and driving yourself efficiently through the water. On a short course you can kick underwater for 15 metres - it’s the second fastest way of traveling other than spring freestyle. If you can be efficient you’re not using as much energy and you move faster

How to learn: perform breathing exercises to control your breathing and build your lungs while pumping your leg muscles. Perform drills under duress even when your body tells you it wantsto surface. 

For Marc, it’s crucial to work on specific drills and activities that mimic the conditions of an event. Underwater training sets, dryland exercises - these elements prepare an athlete physically and mentally so they’re ready to go when it’s race time. 

And race time is quickly approaching, swimmers. 

Are you ready? 


photo credit: SAM_1813 via photopin (license)

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