They say that Breaststroke was the first stroke that primitive man swam when he took humanity’s inaugural dip.
That’d give you the impression that it’s an easy stroke to master. But as anyone who’s ever tried to swim a few lengths of breaststroke will tell you, that just ain’t true.
Breaststroke is without a doubt the most misunderstood of the four competitive strokes in modern swimming and it’s arguably the most demanding too.
Sure, the butterfly is exhausting, but the breaststroke, despite its seemingly simple nature requires intricate timing, powerful kicking and precise pulling that’s very challenging to get the hang of.
When people say that swimming breaststroke is easy, they mean that swimming breaststroke with poor technique is easy. And that’s a problem because not only is using bad technique going to slow you down and make you work harder, but it also increases your risk of injury too.
Obviously private swimming lessons would help, but if you want a head start then you should keep reading.
Today we’re going to cover 4 tips that’ll help us to become great breaststrokers and take your swimming game to the next level.
So, get your togs on and let’s dive in!
1. Power-up That Kick
Having a beastly kick is the number one asset of any aspiring breaststroker. While other strokes gain a fractional advantage by having a great kick, breaststrokers live and die by the power of their hindquarters.
If the world’s best breaststrokers were cars, they’d be rear-wheel-drive. Just take a look at this study from the Journal of Human Kinetics. Using motion analysis, the researchers showed that the kick is the fastest (and most important) stage of the stroke.
So, how do we upgrade our kicking game? Well, there are two aspects to consider: Technique and Power.
First things first, a rock-solid technique is the foundation upon which everything else is built. And that applies to just about everything in swimming. So, dialing in your skill always comes before developing your power.
Good breaststroke kick minimizes drag and maximizes propulsion. To minimize your frontal drag think about bringing your feet towards your bum, rather than your knees towards your chest.
Then as you initiate your kick, turn your feet out. This will allow your ankles, knees, and hips to externally rotate as you begin your kick, helping you to ‘catch’ the maximum amount of water, driving you forward. It’ll also help you avoid catching an unwanted case of the dreaded breaststroker’s knee, which is no fun for anybody.
Once you’ve completed your kick, bring your feet together and point your toes to complete your streamlined position for super-charged gliding. Take a look at this video to get a better idea what we’re talking about:
Video Drill – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmB4khwURN4
Lastly, watch out for screw-kicking. This is a common fault where your legs don’t move in tandem. You can self-diagnose a screw-kick by swimming alongside a wall on both sides, but usually, it’s best to seek the help of a good teacher or coach.
2. Upgrade Your Pull
Because the other strokes are arm-dominant, many swimmers make the mistake of putting their heart and soul into a huge arm pull on breaststroke.
As we talked about in the last point – you don’t need it because your legs will take care of 70-80% of your propulsion. Expending huge amounts of energy using your arms adds little extra speed, but buckets of extra fatigue.
However, that doesn’t mean we can just forget about our pull. Good pulling is vital to get right for perfect breathing, proper balance, and precise timing. Just don’t go trying to pull the life out of the water.
Top breaststrokers are all masters of ‘the catch’. The catch is the moment when you start to pull the water after your previous glide and your hand ‘grip’ the water. To get a better catch, sculling drills are your biggest ally.
Visualize your hand scooping the inside of a bowl – keeping your elbows the width of your shoulders. Play this video to get a better idea of how to isolate the initial arm movement of your pull:
Video Drill – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIhyw-uAXfo
At the same time, you want to recruit the larger muscles of your back instead of relying on your smaller arm muscles. Imagine your arms as extensions from your back – this will help engage the powerful latissimus dorsi muscles for a more efficient stroke.
To initiate the pull, sweep your arms out and back – and make sure to keep your elbows higher than your hands at all times. This will place you in a biomechanically advantageous position and keep you ‘powered-on’ throughout the entire pull.
Lastly, to slice through the water like a hot knife through butter, you want to ensure you get those hands together in a streamlined position after your kick. Remember, no car set the world record for speed with its doors open.
3. Dial-in Your Timing
The breaststroke timing trips up many otherwise proficient swimmers. It’s essential to get right because your timing is the glue that brings your pull and your kick together.
Mastering breaststroke timing is an art because there’s a fine line between ending your glide too early and waiting until you’ve lost too much momentum – both of which will kill your speed.
The best day to develop a stroke that runs like clockwork is to practice using progression drills like this one:
Video Drill – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GADP9PhrWE
Time your pulling and kicking so that, apart from the glide phase, one of them is always propelling you through the water.
An excellent mantra to have in your head to help nail your timing is ‘pull, kick, glide’. With a little effort and patience, you’ll soon find the natural rhythm of the stroke that lets you power through the water with ease.
4. Balance Your Body Positioning
Proper body positioning is essential in all strokes, but it’s especially important in breaststroke because you spend longer gliding in a streamlined position.
Learning to get your body balanced as flat as possible in the water is the foundation of efficient swimming. Even just a small angle from your head to your feet can result in massive increases in drag.
The secret to a great swimming position always starts with the head. When you are gliding, have your eyes looking at 45-degree angle forwards, and your head tucked in between your arms. This will help bring the rest of your body naturally into alignment
When you breathe, avoid lifting your head too high as it will have a knock-on effect down the kinetic chain causing your hips to sink – which means you’ll slow right down. So, think about keeping your chin on the surface of the water which will keep your body position nice and efficient.
Video Drill – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aofS2pF6A0
Lastly, a common mistake is to lift the face and eyes to look forward when you breathe. Avoid this and instead keep your head dead-steady and locked in position.
If you find your hips are sinking too deep and slowing you down, visualize that yourself swimming downhill, i.e. leaning forwards putting pressure on your upper chest. This will help reposition your body for more efficient breaststroke swimming.
Improving your breaststroke takes hard work, dedication, and buckets of practice. If getting a top-class breaststroke was easy, everyone would be ‘pull, kick and gliding’ their way up and down the pool with ease.
By committing to improving your kick, enhancing your pull, working on your timing and nailing your body positioning, you’ll be on the road to super fast, effortless breaststroke in no time.
Got any questions? Leave them below in the comments and we’ll get back to. Don’t forget to share this article with a fellow swimmer if you’ve found it helpful.
Guest post by Alistair Mills