You can absolutely do breaststroke in an Ironman! The only stroke that you can’t do in any sort of triathlon is backstroke – for two reasons; firstly, because you can’t see where you’re going, and secondly, because it’s rolling on your back that signifies you may be in danger or at least struggling.
Breaststroke is a natural fall-back stroke for less comfortable swimmers because you can see where you’re going reasonably comfortably, and there’s a natural breathing point within the stroke. The downside is that it’s a slower stroke comparatively to freestyle (if both are done reasonably well), and wetsuits aren’t designed to stretch laterally (i.e., out to the sides) so this could add extra fatigue to your swim.
If you do choose to do breaststroke – or switch between doing breaststroke and freestyle – then there are a few things that you can focus on. With your arms, aim to keep them in front of you, where you can see them as opposed to trying to pull your hands back to your sides every stroke. With your legs, think about bringing your heels up towards your bum, with your knees fairly close together; then turn your feet so they point outwards and push your feet back, out and round until they come back together fully stretched behind you. Finally, aim to have the only pause/stop in your stroke when you’re fully stretched out, in a ‘streamlined’ position. The rhythm should be something like arms pull while the heels come up towards your backside, then arms push forwards as your legs kick back, then glide for a moment. You could almost think of yourself coiling up like a spring, and then exploding outwards.
John Wood is an award-winning triathlon coach of 10 years, and a former international swimmer