Most folk talk about the four competitive strokes, butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. While not formally recognized, there are in reality, two freestyles, sprint and distance. While nothing is true for all swimmers, and probably nothing is perfectly uniform for athletes in any sport, there are distinct differences between the two.
Sprinters generally swim with a higher head position, a shorter pull, a faster turnover rate and breathe less frequently. A high elbow recovery, while still common, is not as important. Sprinters also tend to kick with more intensity and at a higher rate. Conversely, distance swimmers need to lower the head, lengthen the pull and moderate their turn-over and kick rates and breath management changes dramatically.
Let’s look at the reasons for the differences.
Lets look at the primary driver for the divergence between the two: Survival time. In a 50 to 100 yard sprints you are generally swimming for less than 2 minutes. In many cases, much less than 2 minutes. In distance events, you need to manage energy consumption and muscle fatigue over the course of events that can take from minutes to hours.
When working out, swimmers need to determine which of the two freestyles is their focus and adapt their stroke accordingly. In future posts, I will detail some of the core differences between the two.
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