Want to Swim Breaststroke During a Triathlon? Consider These 6 Things

swim breaststroke in a triathlon

So you’re thinking of making a splash with the breaststroke during a triathlon?

It’s a common consideration for many everyday athletes, especially those participating in their first triathlon.

Although it’s traditionally a slower stroke than freestyle, its a stroke many will find more at ease with.

In this guide, we outline the pros, cons, and some important considerations that could make or break your race. We also include some tips on how to see success swimming breaststroke in open water races.

Quick Summary

  • It’s perfectly fine to swim breaststroke in a triathlon if that’s what you want to do.
  • For most people, freestyle is a faster stroke than breaststroke, which is why you’ll see most triathletes using that stroke.
  • Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and goals. And remember, swimming is just one aspect of the event!
  • Practice swimming in open water and a wetsuit to help you replicate event conditions.

Is it OK to Swim Breaststroke in a Triathlon?

Yes, it’s definitely OK to swim breaststroke in a triathlon. Every athlete is different, and it’s all about swimming your race.

Triathlon swims can vary in distance too – from the quick sprints of around 750 meters in some races to the more demanding lengths like the 3.8km in an Ironman.

Throughout these distances, competitors might naturally switch strokes to give certain muscle groups a break or to adjust to varying conditions.

While the freestyle stroke may be the triathlon poster child, there’s no hard and fast rule against using the breaststroke (you could even swim side stroke if that works best for you).

However, it’s important to recognize its advantages and trade-offs, ensuring it aligns with your triathlon objectives.

If your goal is to win… having a fast swim is important and freestyle will likely give you the best chance of achieving a fast time.

Our guide on breaststroke vs freestyle includes how these different strokes influence muscles worked, calories burned and average speed.

Can you Swim Any Stroke in a Triathlon?

Most events won’t actually let you swim backstroke as its harder to know if you’re signalling for help. You also can’t see where you’re going so it might disrupt other participants. Butterfly would also be an unusual stroke to see in a triathlon as its so energy intensive.

Swimming Breaststroke in a Triathlon


  • Unique Perspective: Unlike freestyle’s side view, breaststroke gives you a forward-looking view. This head-above-water advantage allows better visibility, which can be beneficial, especially when gauging your direction or spotting buoys.
  • Pacing & Rhythm: For many, the rhythmic nature of breaststroke can be meditative. It might allow you to maintain a steady heart rate and conserve energy, ensuring you have the stamina for the biking and running segments of the triathlon.
  • Safety Net: It’s like your trusty old blanket. The breaststroke offers more balance and stability in water, which can be your safety net if fatigue or cramps catch you off guard.


  • The Need for Speed: Freestyle often wins the speed game. Choosing breaststroke could affect your overall finish time, especially if not executed efficiently.
  • Energy Play: It’s a little deceptive. While it can feel more relaxed, the breaststroke can drain specific muscle groups, leading to potential fatigue in the latter parts of your race.
  • The Space Factor: The whip kick and the wider arm movements can mean taking up more space. This might inadvertently lead to clashing with fellow competitors, especially in the initial rush.

Improving Freestyle Technique

If you enjoy triathlons, it’s probably worth trying to improve your freestyle stroke so you have that as an option if you want. Once you’ve mastered the breathing pattern, the stroke isn’t as difficult as it may seem at first.

6 Things to Consider

Practice Swimming Breaststroke in a Wetsuit

Alright, imagine slipping on a pair of skinny jeans after a leg day. Sounds tricky, right? Now, swimming breaststroke in a wetsuit isn’t the same, but the comparison drives home a point.

The added buoyancy and restricted mobility can be surprising and potentially have a big impact on your swim time.

Practice makes perfect, so it’s essential to log in those wetsuit hours before race day, ensuring you’re comfortable and agile.

Improving Breaststroke Speed

If you simply don’t/can’t do freestyle, then it’s really about improving your breaststroke time.

This means refining your technique and building endurance.

You can’t turn into Aquaman overnight, but with targeted drills, feedback, and consistent speed workouts, you’ll see improvements.

Focus on streamline positioning, efficient pull, and powerful kicks. It’s a race against the clock, after all.

Your Goals

A question to ask yourself: What’s your endgame?

If your triathlon journey is more about the experience, the camaraderie, and just having a blast (while sweating buckets), then swim how you please!

However, if you’re eyeing that podium finish, evaluate how breaststroke fits into your overall race strategy.

It’s a balance of comfort vs. competition.

Your Strengths

Every athlete has a unique strength. If you feel like a fish in the water while doing the breaststroke and it gives you a mental and physical edge, then that’s your secret weapon.

Embrace it, but also train to minimize its potential downsides.

Adapting to Competition

Think of a triathlon like a Black Friday sale at your local shop… we all know there’s going to be chaos.

Being skilled in breaststroke is one thing; maneuvering it in a sea of swimmers is another.

Adaptability is crucial. Practice in crowded conditions. Understand when to push forward, when to glide, and when to switch strokes to avoid collisions.

Even if you prefer breaststroke, you may need to switch to freestyle or just tread water at certain times.

Open Water Conditions

The great outdoors isn’t always a calm, serene lake. We’re talking unpredictable waves, sneaky currents, and the occasional curious fish.

It’s definitely worth practicing swimming in open waters to familiarize yourself with these sorts of conditions. This type of “blue exercise” also comes with some serious benefits too, which can make your training more fun (check out our guide on the benefits of wild swimming).

Breaststroke requires a certain rhythm, which can be disrupted by open water challenges. Train in various water conditions, prepping yourself for the unpredictable.

Think of it as dancing… sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow the water’s rhythm.

Bottom Line

Yes, you can swim breaststroke in a triathlon, but, like navigating the tides, it comes with its ebbs and flows.

Breaststroke offers a unique perspective and rhythm, but challenges do await.

Whether you’re wrestling with a wetsuit or trying to turbocharge your speed, strategy is key.

Always weigh your goals against open water’s unpredictability.

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