“It’s one of those things where you don’t pick the stroke, the stroke kind of
It’s an age old question for which there is no perfect answer. Many would say they are born, but coaches have turned many”3/4’s” IM-ers into well rounded individual medley competitors. Despite variation in individual experience, research may guide us toward what qualities matter when selecting young breaststroke talent.
In previous reviews, we have analyzed anthropometric and flexibility research, noting that “Jagomagi and Jurimae (2005) found that hip external rotation was predictive of breaststroke kick speed along with knee external rotation and ankle supination. Interestingly, hip internal rotation in static posture was not correlated with kick speed, which suggests that kick improvements are more trainable than many suspect.”
However, like many breaststroke studies, the conclusions are imperfect, as the study focused on breaststroke kicking and not the full stroke. Another unique tidbit to emerge from this study is that ankle SUPINATION, not pronation, was indicative of breaststroke speed. So a key point is not only seeking kids who can evert their ankles, but finding those who can take their ankles through the full range in multiple planes (dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, inversion, eversion).
Fortunately, we need not rely strictly on kicking studies, as others have studied full stroke timing parameters. Natural breaststrokers seem to have a natural affinity for timing their pull and kick optimally. In a very recent study on skilled age group swimmers, Strzala (2013) reported, “Significant relationship was noted between minimizing the first non-propulsive phase of arm recovery with higher contribution of the next, partially immersed sliding phase of arm recovery.” Armed with knowledge of objective timing parameters, might it become more possible to ingrain effective timing at young ages?
Finally, also consider the role of energy system. Anyone swimming breaststroke correctly will attest it is a very demanding stroke energetically. This is confirmed via research showing that “swimming speed using breaststroke kick depended to the largest extent on anaerobic endurance.” (Strzala 2012) Though efficiency is often the goal in building a stroke, strength cannot be discounted, especially in breaststroke, with Seifert (2005) finding that male breaststrokers demonstrated an “ability to overcome very great active drag.” This finding may suggest a more anaerobic tendency when identifying young talent.
Is it Risky to Be a Breaststroke Swimmer!
It's risky to force kids into a specialty too early, especially a unique stroke such as breaststroke. Just as most would not recommend early specialization in a sport, you can almost view breaststroke as its own sport in this context. This is especially true given the risk of repetitive use knee injuries in kids, and more critical with the changes to bone that occur in the hips and knees even through the late teenage years.
We've discussed the concept that changes to bone in the hip and knee adds to the uncertainty in predicting which athletes will thrive as breaststrokers. Osseous changes may also affect injury risk in both breaststroke specialists and non-specialists, as the knee is one of the most frequently injured body regions in swimming (Johnson 1987, Soder 2012, Vizsolyi 1987, Rovere 1985, Knobloch 2008).
- Johnson JE, Sim FH, Scott SG. Musculoskeletal injuries in competitive swimmers. Mayo Clin Proc. 1987 Apr;62(4):289-304.
- Soder RB, Mizerkowski MD, Petkowicz R, Baldisserotto M. MRI of the knee in asymptomatic adolescent swimmers: a controlled study. Br J Sports Med. 2012;46(4):268-272.
- Vizsolyi P, Taunton J, Robertson G. Breaststroker’s knee: an analysis of epidemiological and biomechanical factors. Am J Sports Med. 1987;15(1):63-71.
- Rovere GD, Nichols AW. Frequency, associated factors, and treatment of breaststroker's knee in competitive swimmers. Am J Sports Med. 1985 Mar-Apr;13(2):99-104.
- Knobloch, K. Yoon, U. Kraemer, R. Vogt, PM. 200-400m breaststroke dominate among knee overuse injuries in elite swimming athletes. Sportverletz Sportschaden. 2008 Dec;22(4):213-9. Epub 2008 Dec 15.
- Strzała M1, Krężałek P, Kaca M, Głąb G, Ostrowski A, Stanula A, Tyka A. Swimming speed of the breaststroke kick.. J Hum Kinet. 2012 Dec;35:133-9. doi: 10.2478/v10078-012-0087-4. Epub 2012 Dec 30.
- Jagomägi G1, Jürimäe T. The influence of anthropometrical and flexibility parameters on the results of breaststroke swimming. Anthropol Anz. 2005 Jun;63(2):213-9.
- Strzala M1, Krezalek P2, Glab G3, Kaca M1, Ostrowski A1, Stanula A4, Tyka AK5. Intra-cyclic phases of arm-leg movement and index of coordination in relation to sprint breaststroke swimming in young swimmers. J Sports Sci Med. 2013 Dec 1;12(4):690-7. eCollection 2013.