Improving Your Breaststroke: Part Three of a Four-Part Stroke Improvement Series
If your goal is to improve your breaststroke technique, here are some tips to take your swim to the next level.
Many swimmers love doing breaststroke because it does not involve the use of body rotation, and the breathing pattern is less challenging than that of freestyle. Others love it because it can be done at a leisurely pace, without the necessity of submerging the face or head. Pros make it look easy, but several complex components need to be done well; the results are a carefully orchestrated and powerful breaststroke.
As a beginning swimmer, developing the basic components of breathing, frog kick, body position, pull, and glide without learning bad habits will allow for a strong breaststroke. At this stage, it’s all about drills where each component is practiced and perfected on its own. You may find that unlike backstroke or freestyle, breaststroke draws heavily on your chest muscles. Some find frog kick challenging to learn, as the power is driven from whipping the lower legs around from the knee.
If you have been doing breaststroke for a while and your stroke isn’t as effective as you would like, it’s time to shed those bad habits and return to the basics. Some of the more common negative habits may be slowing you down. For example, some breaststrokers do not take advantage of the glide phase as a key element of maintaining forward movement. Others do not emphasize the power that can be gained from a strong sculling hand action.
Let’s break down the stroke into its main parts with some tips for both beginner and experienced swimmers.
For Beginner Breaststrokers:
This is the time to develop consistently accurate breaststroke components before tying them together into the full breaststroke swim. The most challenging aspect of breaststroke is the timing; it is critical to have the stroke components done in the correct sequence in order to develop a smooth, rhythmic stroke. This means doing lots of drills focusing on each element individually thereby building competence in each part. Only then can the elements be tied together into the full stroke. For young or beginner swimmers, time spent focusing on perfecting the basics is key to future success with the stroke. Don’t rush the stroke; take the time to get each component dialed in, and then a fantastic breaststroke will emerge!
Getting the breathing down to a rhythmic, natural in and out without any breaks is important. Practice breathing by just doing the breathing, or “bobs” where you simply slowly submerge and breath out, surface and breath in, submerge and breath out, surface and breath in………bobbing up and down and just focusing on your breath.
Breaststroke has a fairly complicated pull/breathe/kick/glide pattern. This will be further complicated if you are not yet comfortable exhaling underwater. Develop this skill so that your focus can be on the other elements of the stroke.
Avoid nose plugging! We need two arms to swim, so one hand cannot be holding the nose closed. Practice breathing out both the nose and the mouth at the same time.
Be patient! We are not fish, so we don’t have gills! Breathing under the water is not natural, but with lots of practice, it will begin to seem like you do have gills after all!
Unlike freestyle, there is no need for complicated breathing styles such as bilateral breathing, or breathing in on a certain number of strokes. Breathe in as the hands and arms come together under your chest, breathe out during the glide phase.
#2. Frog Kick
Most of your forward movement, or propulsion, will come from your frog kick. Think about whipping your legs around with power, then extending your legs long, tight, and straight during the glide phase
Your feet will do a lot of work. Keep them flexed at the ankle for the whip phase, not loose or floppy.
Think about bringing your heels to your bottom every time. This will keep your body in better alignment. Avoid bringing your knees to your chest.
#3. Body Position
Your shoulders, hips, and legs should be kept as horizontal as you can, but do keep a slight slope downward which will allow for your kick to stay below the surface of the water.
Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, this will improve your arm action and reduce potential strain on your neck. Look downwards as you glide to avoid straining your neck.
During the glide phase of breaststroke its imperative to stretch the body into a streamlined, or hydrodynamic, position. Stretch! A long body will move through the water more easily. Reach for one end of the pool with your hands and the other end of the pool with your feet.
Skim through the water just below the surface…. don’t let your head or legs hang down toward the pool bottom
Cup your hands to fully pull the water. Practice the sculling action on its own by swimming on your front, and only using sculling as propulsion (no kick).
Avoid sweeping your arms out too wide, which will create drag. In this stroke, the propulsion comes mainly from the kick. However, by pulling the arms together with power, propulsion is provided so think about having strong chest and shoulders.
Grab that water with a slightly cupped hand and PULL yourself through the water, each stroke should pull you forward through the water.
For Experienced Breaststrokers:
If you have been swimming breaststroke for years, it may be that you have developed some inefficiencies in your stroke. Even an advanced swimmer can benefit from breaking their stroke down, focusing on the fundamentals, and having some constructive criticism from a swimming instructor.
Develop an even rhythmic cycle; avoid pausing for double or triple breaths in or out.
Rather than thinking about lifting your head out of the water to breathe, think about bringing your shoulders up, until our chin is just at the surface of the water.
Remember, you are exhaling against the resistance of the water, which takes force, especially when you are working your cardiovascular system hard, so breath control is vital. Exhale forcefully during the glide phase.
#2. Body Position
Slope your body slightly, so that your kick remains in the water.
Engage your core muscles to improve your body position and stabilize your torso for the pull and kick actions. A strong core will result in a more efficient glide phase.
#3. Timing/Stroke Pattern
As you swim, repeat the phrase PULL BREATHE KICK GLIDE. Try extending the glide phase to increase your comfort level with the arm and leg action. Holding in the glide phase will allow you to mentally regroup and prepare for the next pull breath kick cycle.
Dropping your hips and legs by kicking weakly increases the drag on your entire body, resulting in a slow stroke.
Keep your feet flexed at the ankle during the kick. Your knees should be slightly more than hip-width apart.
Concentrate on bringing your heels all the way around to your bottom. Do not pull knees down and in toward your chest.
The kick finishes with your legs pulled together, straight and streamlined. Hold this position with strength for the glide phase to remain hydrodynamic.
Improve Your Swim Technique At Steve Wallen Swim School in Roseville & El Dorado Hills, CA!
There is no better way to improve your swim technique than eyes on feedback. You can get this real-time “in the water” input from one of the highly skilled swimming instructors at Steve Wallen Swim School. This will give you the ability to implement what you have learned and make gains in your stroke performance.
Take part in a swim clinic or sign up for a private swim lesson. Interested in having your stroke recorded and then reviewed with a swimming instructor? By reviewing your breaststroke via video analysis you will see where your skills can be improved.
Seeing your stroke with your own eyes is an innovative approach to retooling and developing your stroke.
Coming up next: Improving Your Butterfly