Think global pandemic and it can be hard to think of any silver linings, but if there is any, it has been the way it has encouraged so many of us to reconnect with the beautiful blue and green spaces around us and get wild swimming. With this huge increase in numbers of people swimming outdoors, has come a shift in the type of swimming people are doing and why. More and more are joining the scene to dip into cold water for all the mental health benefits and the sense of adventure it brings. People are coming with a much more relaxed approach to wild swimming, preferring to swim breaststroke because they are of a generation where breaststroke was the only stroke they were taught at school or that it fits better with their more social form of swimming and taking in the views.
This means that the stroke, once sniffed at as not proper swimming yet propelled to national glory by Olympic swimmer Adam Peaty, breaststroke is cool once more.
And with that comes a welcome change for the wetsuit industry that for years has relied on the traditional stereotype of a swimmer as a front crawler. We caught up with Angus of Yonda Sports and Sarah of Tri Wetsuit Hire to find out how they have adapted what they do to meet this need.
Angus describes the problem, “Whilst swimming breaststroke in a standard swim wetsuit is not impossible, if you have ever tried it, you will soon find it frustrating and tiring as the added buoyancy of the wetsuit means you float higher. This means your feet tend to kick out of the water and you bob to the surface too quickly after your arm pull to gain anything useful. The upshot being, it can feel like you are putting a lot of effort in for not a lot of forward movement.”
Which is why the first thing Sarah asks people when they get in touch is, “What kind of swimming do you want to be doing?”. “Whether people swim breaststroke or front crawl makes a huge difference to the wetsuit we recommend for them. And it was because of this feedback we have been able to work with brands like Yonda to come up with wetsuits specifically suited to breaststroke,”
Angus goes on to say, “As for any stroke, a wetsuit needs to fit like a glove but not like a straightjacket. But when it comes to swimming breaststroke there are other key things to think about such as where buoyancy is in the wetsuit and how flexible the suit feels especially around the legs and arms as they are used in a totally different way to swimming front crawl.”
Wetsuits are great at keeping us warm and helping us float but that often means that thicker neoprene is used which affects movement and comfort. “At Yonda we use Yamamoto neoprene which is super flexible and soft,” comments Angus. “This is great for arms and legs but also very important for around the neck as with breaststroke, the bobbing of our heads can lead to chafe on the neck.”
A common complaint of those swimming breaststroke in a standard wetsuit is backache. “Many wetsuits especially non swim specific ones such as surf suits, have a lot of buoyancy around the hips and legs. For many who keep their heads out of the water, they end up taking on the shape of a banana as their legs float to the surface,” says Sarah. Angus adds, “Whilst improving your swim technique can help, wearing a wetsuit with buoyancy in the right places for breaststroke can make a huge difference. “This is exactly why we designed the Spook. It deliberately has less buoyancy in the legs meaning you can comfortably bring your legs up for that breaststroke whip kick, but it is also a great wetsuit for however you want to enjoy your wild swimming.”
“Together we want to help as many people as possible enjoy the water their way and wearing the Spook makes swimming breaststroke much more comfortable for many,” concludes Angus.
Jude Palmer is an Open Water Swim Coach and experienced swimrunner. When not in cold water you will find her out on the trails. @runsurreyhills