How To Master The Breaststroke

December 4, 2020

As the slowest stroke, you might assume that breaststroke would be the easiest to master. According to CA swim coach, Carl Barr, however, the breaststroke actually tends to be the most challenging — which is why understanding the mechanics is extremely helpful. 

So, what makes this one a toughie in the first place? For one, it’s the most technical. It’s also the only stroke where the kick plays a super dominant role. The nature of this kick can make it difficult to maintain a horizontal body position and keep your center of balance. 

Plus, all of the major muscle groups are used, but in a different synchrony than long axis strokes like the freestyle or backstroke. Breaststroke is a short axis stroke, which means the power that drives the body forward comes from the hips rather than body rotation. Without proper technique, short axis strokes are much harder to perform over long distances. Oh, and did we mention the need for outward facing feet?

The breaststroke can be a challenge, but with a few pro tips that focus on maximizing your efficiency, you’ll be on your way to mastery and maybe even enjoying yourself.


Body Position 

If you’ve been keeping up with the CA Swim blog, you know by now that proper body position is a key element to efficient swimming. 

For the breaststroke, your head faces forward in line with your body. It’s important to keep your head and nose pointed at a 45 degree angle with the water. Keeping the body as flat and streamlined as possible, with leg recovery taking place under water, is key to your success.

Throughout the duration of the stroke, you’ll want to consciously keep your hands and head forward to keep your center of balance towards the front. Relax your neck and shoulders as much as possible, and look downwards to avoid straining your neck. 


Arms & Hands

According to Columbia Clippers coach Kelsey Lord, arm movements that are short and quick are essential. You’ll want your arms to be as extended as possible. 

  • Start with your arms out straight in front of you. 
  • Turn your palms out and scoop around and in toward your chest. 
  • Once your hands meet back together, shoot your arms back forward to straight out front.
  • To breathe, lift your head and inhale as your arms scoop around to your chest. As your arms shoot forward, put your face back into the water and exhale. 

A young swimmer at the Columbia Swim Center demos the breaststroke. Note how her arms are close to her body like a chicken wing 🙂


Legs & Feet 

The breaststroke is the only stroke that relies significantly more on the legs than the upper body…which is why it’s so important for your kick to be effective! This one is unique, with both heels coming to the butt at the same time and the toes aiming to the sides (the ankles drop just outside shoulder width apart). 

Here’s how to pull it off:

  • Start with your legs straight together. 
  • Bend your knees bringing your heels back toward your bottom, then separate your legs with your feet flexed moving your feet out and around toward the sides squeezing your legs back together to finish your kick. 
  • Think to yourself…up, out, around, together. Both legs should move at the same time and mirror one another.

Essentially, you want to drive your feet back to keep your body moving forward, which means you are using the insides of your feet to push off the spot where you dropped your ankles to the side.

“To help with efficiency, we want to be in a good streamline when we release our kick so we are driving a torpedo through the water, not an ice cream truck,” said Barr. “Ice cream trucks don’t swim well. Our pull takes place between kicks and is mostly a sculling motion where both arms move at the same time in an attempt to pull the hips forward while allowing the head to break the surface for a breath. Then we streamline, and kick. Repeat.”


Coordination Between The Arms & Legs 

Timing is everything…especially when it comes to short axis strokes like the breaststroke. 

For the breaststroke, each pull should be accompanied by one kick with a glide or pause in between each pull-kick cycle. This is how we maximize the distance traveled in the water with each pull-kick cycle,” said Lord. “Start to scoop your hands, start your kick, then squeeze your legs together and shoot your arms forward at the same time. Think to yourself…pull, kick, glide!”


Master The Breaststroke With CA

Like any skill, the breaststroke gets easier with practice. CA’s coaches and swim lesson instructors are here to help. CA offers one-on-one swim lessons for all ages and skill levels. Learn more here.

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