How to swim Distance Freestyle as easily as Breaststroke
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on March 18th, 2011

In a post at the TI Discussion Forum, Alex asked: What conclusion do you draw when you can swim 1 MILE non-stop in Breaststroke…. but barely 100m in Freestyle? My guess is that your need the following to be able to swim 1 MILE in Freestyle:

1. Good balance (to minimize energy consumption per stroke cycle)
2. Good breathing technique (inhale, exhale)
3. Good breathing stamina = fitness
4. Good muscular endurance = fitness

I used to think I have the first but fall short in 2,3,4. But then, the breaststroke thought crossed my mind: “if I managed to have the exact same relaxed breathing pattern in FS as I have in Breaststroke… would I also be able to Swim a MILE in Freestyle?”

Or does the Freestyle stroke require more energy and therefore a higher fitness level than breaststroke?

Richard responded:

All things being equal, front crawl should be more efficient and less strenuous than breaststroke. But all things aren’t always equal.

From 1947 to 2006 I could only swim breaststroke with any degree of ease. In 2006 I discovered Total Immersion and can now swim all four competitive strokes (butterfly only after a fashion but I can swim it for 50m or so). I have swum several 1500m races, very slowly even for a man of my age, but nevertheless I have finished and lived to tell the tale. A few years ago I could only have swum them breaststroke and my times would probably be even slower.

In my case it was mainly the flutter kick that was the obstacle and the first progress I made was when I learned that, for many unskilled swimmers, the kick created more drag than propulsion  and I began to swim freestyle without a kick.

Breathing has never been a real problem for me but there is still plenty of work to be done on it. I still find it difficult to breathe on the ‘wrong’ side.

I think your fitness must be OK if you can easily swim a mile with breaststroke, therefore I conclude that your difficulty with freestyle is mainly with breathing and not fitness.

I suggest you do plenty of 25m and 50m repeats concentrating on easy breathing , making sure you’re exhaling while your face is in the water and not holding your breath at all. Then move to 75m repeats and 100m repeats and soon it will be easy.

Richard’s advice to Alex is excellent. Alex also had an inkling of where the solution should lie. Richard identified both difficulty with breathing and with the kick. Both ultimately depend on Balance. If you cannot swim freestyle with similar ease, and for similar distance, as breaststroke, it’s almost certainly because you’ve not yet truly mastered Balance. To overcome this limitation, devote most of your practice to Balance driils and whole-stroke with Balance thoughts.

Most of these should be relatively short repeats, of 25 to 50 yards. Even short repeats can be good preparation for longer swims if you can steadily reduce the rest intervals between them. Take the shortest rest that allows you to maintain a sense of ease and fluency – no struggle.  But take enough rest to maintain easy and flow.

To practice gradually longer continuous swims, alternate freestyle with a length of breaststroke for ‘active rest.’

On the breaststroke lengths, focus on getting into a fully extended, full-streamlined (i.e. head hanging between shoulders) barely-submerged leisurely glide between strokes. Then take that sensation of balance (or support), minimal drag and calm, quiet movement back to freestyle.

Alternate 25FR with 25BR until you can swim 1000 meters or more, easily recovering from any sense of breathlessness that occurs during the 25FR during one length of BR.

Then progress to 50FR25BR until you can do a sustainable 1000m that way. And so on — 75FR25BR . . .100FR25BR — until it’s no longer necessary to swim BR

3 Responses to “How to swim Distance Freestyle as easily as Breaststroke”

  1. Isaac Ohel says:

    Like many others, I can exert much more power and total energy in running and breaststroke-swimming than in Freestyle. You say that the difference is balance, and it makes sense, yet I need some more help. You provided many useful drills and thoughts to improve balance, (I am amazed at my own progress), yet I have not seen a specific approach to improving freestyle breathing. Does this mean that after we achieve balance, breathing ease will occur naturally? If not, I could use a swimming thought that points to the differences in the act of breathing between the two swimming styles.

  2. Isaac
    Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll do several posts with a breathing focus.

  3. Jakub says:

    I’m 34 years old tri newbie from Poland with an athletic past in college basketball – in 94-96 played college basketball for Winthrop University and up to 2000 played professionally back home in Poland. Anyway, after quitting pro sports at 27, and sitting behind the desk for 7 years gaining some extra pounds I decided to TRI ;). I started learning process TI way – because to be honest that’s the only way, for an adult with no past swimming experience, to effectively swim the distance. Nevertheless, for 4 months of training and learning, I could not swim more than 200 or 250 meters continuously in free. I started having problems with breathing after 50 and after 100 I just struggled, but in breaststroke I could swim 200 or 250 with a great ease. I analyzed why such difference in effort occurred in both strokes? Guess what, EXHALATION, I exhaled strongly and evenly through mouth and nose during breast laps, but somehow during freestyle swims I held my breath until the moment I initiated rotation to breathe – much too late. I started exhaling when my head entered the water, and I felt the same ease as swimming breaststroke. On that day I did 3 x 500m free, and felt great. It was a breakthrough day for me, and that day I’ll remember until the end of my life. Wish you all adult TI learners and swimmers all the best!!!

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