Breaststroke is an easy stroke to swim but an extremely difficult one to master. Northbrook resident Jim Tuchler has spent his life mastering it.
Tuchler, a two-time Olympic Trials qualifier and current United States Masters Swimming All-American, began swimming at 7 years old and is the first to admit that he learned most of his technical knowledge of the stroke from his brother, Dave.
Both Tuchler's stroke and his personal training regimen have undergone big changes since the grueling high-yardage old days of swimming. "Back in teens and college, the training emphasis was on yardage and endurance more than technique nuances," Tuchler says. "Today I train considerably less, but I do more cross training like running and weight lifting." The father of four trains an average of three times a week with Deerfield's COHO Masters. "Our workouts combine a great mix of endurance and sprint work," Tuchler says. "Best of all is butterfly day-bring on the piano."
As far back as Tuchler can remember he has always been a favorite of the 200-yard breaststroke. "I love the rhythm of it and the role that a good glide plays in the race," Tuchler says. "I think I am less suited to the 50. I am not as much of a fast-twitch sprint guy."
Tuchler thinks that many breaststrokers underemphasize the role of starts and turns including pullouts. "Although you are able to breathe every stroke, the underwater pullout off of the turns can get you very winded," Tuchler says. "In my practices, I try to get to the halfway mark of a short-course pool in every underwater pullout."
During his 200 breaststroke, Tuchler says he usually glides a 50, builds a 50, works a 50 and then finishes his last 50 hard. "I should focus more of my 200-yard training toward taking the first half of my race out much faster," Tuchler says. "I'm usually well within my comfort zone and that needs to change."
Tuchler says that he plans to keep swimming at the masters level well into the future. "I hope to still be at it and feel like I train at a pace that is not too intense that I'd burn out," Tuchler says. "I'd like to have another five to 10 years of successful masters swimming behind me-and with luck, a national record or two."
Jim Tuchler's Breaststroke Drills
When Tuchler was an age-group swimmer in the late 1970s and early 1980s at the Curl-Burke Swim Club in Washington D.C., one of his coaches, Jeff King, told the teenager to position his body as if he were swimming down an incline. "You feel like you're moving faster and actually pulling your hands through deeper (and less turbulent) water," Tuchler says. To do it, extend your arms slightly downward on recovery, sweep your hands out to the side, then drop them and keep your elbows high for the power part of the pull.
Drill the Kick
Tuchler says that the kick is even more important when it comes to the breaststroke. He says it makes up for 70 percent of the overall stroke and should be practiced with diligence and patience. One of his favorite kicking drills can be done in just a few laps of the pool. "I do the breaststroke kick-either on my back or front with my arms at my sides," Tuchler says. "I grab my feet during the upsweep part of the kick and try to extend my range of motion by pulling my feet forward, then releasing and completing the kick." This drill will help ensure a full range of motion on the kick.
Mark Urban swims for the Mt. Greenwood Masters team. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.