Introducing the 3-peak Backstroke

Backstroke is one of the more popular strokes to train in. It's similarities to Freestyle allow swimmers to cover significant distances at a greater speed. The ease of breathing attracts a lot of new swimmers to this particular stroke since you always have your face out of the water. However, did you know that not all backstroke is the same? I would like to introduce you to 3-peak Backstroke. 

What is 3-peak Backstroke

An example of 3-peak Backstroke stroke cycle. Image originally posted in  Swimming Fastest  By Ernest W. Maglischo

An example of 3-peak Backstroke stroke cycle. Image originally posted in Swimming Fastest By Ernest W. Maglischo

3-peak Backstroke is the completion of one full stroke cycle with 3 propulsive peaks produced during each arm stroke. These 3 peaks come from three different movements of the pull - the upsweep, the downsweep and the final upsweep or inward scull. These movements represent increases in the swimmer's velocity. When it was first discovered that swimmers were using this 3-peak backstroke, many coaches believed it was a stroke error. However, these athletes were making Olympics and breaking World Records. Coaches and sports experts developed a propulsion graph system to measure the propulsive force during the athletes stroke cycle. They found significant increases in the propulsion and forward velocity during the three mentioned movements. 

The difference between the 3-peak Backstroke and traditional Backstroke is that with traditional Backstroke only has 2-peaks during each stroke cycle. One during the upsweep and the second during the second downsweep. In the traditional style, swimmers stop pushing back against the water and begin to recover sooner than swimmers executing the 3-peak method. Both styles of Backstroke are currently present in Olympic competition. From looking at racing footage, many coaches believe that athletes Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte, Matt Grevers, and Aaron Peirsol are all currently racing using the 3-peak method. At this point, it is still difficult to determine if one method makes a significantly bigger impact to overall speed or performance. However, some of the world's fastest times have come from the four mentioned names above.

A center of mass forward velocity graph of one arm stroke. 

A center of mass forward velocity graph of one arm stroke. 

Possible Advantages

There are three possible advantages to teaching a swimmer to use the 3-peak method in their stroke.

  1. Both a swimmer's stroke rate and their stroke length can increase. This means that you can take fewer strokes per lap than using the traditional method and you can also increase the speed of those strokes.
  2. The average velocity of each stroke cycle will be greater. In one study, it was found that the swimmer's change in velocity was up to .4 m/s. That may not seem like a huge difference but when you are talking in short distances that change in velocity can add up quickly.
  3. Swimmers are likely to see less deceleration between arm strokes. Within the same study mentioned above, researchers saw a difference of .20 seconds of deceleration time between traditional 2-peak Backstroke and 3-peak Backstroke. This means that in 2-peak Backstroke the swimmer slowed down by .20 seconds more than a swimmer executing a 3-peak method. 

Wrapping Up!

The big question to contend with though is whether coaches should be teaching swimmers how to use the 3-peak method over the traditional method. At this point, the result is inconclusive. As many coaches and trainers find it difficult to distinguish between both methods without the help of analysis equipment, it is hard to know if a swimmer is already executing this technique. Swimmers should test this difference in their strokes and see which feels stronger, faster and more efficient for them.