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3 Dry Land Exercises to Improve Breaststroke Arms

Improve Breaststroke Arms

Breaststroke is the only major stroke that is mostly propelled by the legs. The arms aren’t just hanging around, though. They pull the upper body up and push forward to support breathing and the streamline position.

Like all of the competitive strokes, strong shoulders and arms help to power a good quality breaststroke. Unlike front crawl, breaststrokers don’t remain flat in the water. Instead, the upper body is higher than the legs during the breath. The legs and hips, meanwhile, stay just below the surface. To lift the head and shoulders in this fashion, swimmers need a strong back and chest. Here’s how it works:

  • Back – The trapezius is a flat muscle of the upper back, extending from the neck down to the middle of the spine. It also spans from shoulder blade to shoulder blade. Together with the latissimus dorsi (the lats), it’s largely responsible for that pulling motion in the breaststroke that gets the head up. Strength and flexibility all along the back are a necessity for this movement.
  • Chest – the pectorals and deltoids (tops of the shoulders) work together to provide stability when the upper body is out of the water. Then they push together to cut through the water into the streamline position.

We’ve got some dry land exercises that will help you build strength, but not bulk, in these muscle groups. Maintain flexibility and gain power with these three classics.

  • Crossover chest fly
  • Hip touch plank
  • Hindu press up

1. Crossover Chest Fly

Crossover Chest Band Fly

This resistance exercise has been a gym regular for decades. But it’s easily done at home as well. As with all resistance band training, start with a looser band and build up to a stronger one.

This particular exercise targets the pecs, which are crucial for a good streamline in the breaststroke. They keep the arms in close to the body during the pull and then give you the power thrust through the water during the kick. By crossing the arms over in front during the exercise, the muscle gets fully flexed.

  1. Anchor the bands at waist height behind you.
  2. Hold the bands with your arms out at shoulder height, elbows only slightly bent.
  3. Bring the arms together in front the body without bending, one fist on top of the other, and slowly retract to starting position.
  4. Repeat, alternating which fist is on top each time.

If you can do 30 reps easily, try the next strength resistance band.

Pectorals can get tight after exercise, and flexibility is important. Some light stretching can help maintain elasticity and prevent stiffness. An easy option is the corner stretch.

  1. Stand facing the corner of a wall.
  2. Place one forearm against each wall with the hand up and elbow down.
  3. Plant feet shoulder width apart and lean forward toward the corner to release tension in the pecs.

2. Hip touch plank

Hip touch plank

A basic plank is one of the best exercises for strengthening the core. By adding just a little movement, you can shift the strengthening focus upward to the shoulders (deltoids) and trapezius. It does this by creating instability and forcing you to compensate by securing the muscles.

The movement is simple for this one:

  1. Start in a plank on your hands instead of your elbows. Make sure your spine is neutral and not arched up or sagging down. Ensure your hands are directly below your shoulders.
  2. Lift one hand and move it under the body to touch the opposite hip. So if you lift your right hand, you will touch your left hip. Then return your hand to the floor.
  3. Repeat the movement with the same hand. Try to do 5 reps.
  4. Have a rest. Then get back into plank position and repeat with the other hand.

Try to do each movement slowly and in a controlled manner. Perform as many reps as you can while holding the plank steady. If you’re new to planking, it might only be a few before you break the plank. Try not to shift your weight dramatically from side to side each time, but support your weight over the centre as best you can with one arm and both legs.

3. Hindu Press Up

Hindu pushup

This variation on the pushup really works your entire upper body, including the lats. But it also gives your core a good workout as well. And it’s a flexibility dynamo.

  1. Start in downward facing dog, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your feet as close to flat on the floor as possible. Bend forward, and place your hands palm-down on the floor a bit wider than shoulder width. Place your head so that your ears are aligned with your shoulders and you’re looking back at your feet.
  2. Begin the movement of the press up. Bend your elbows and bring your forearms down to hover just above the floor.
  3. Continue to pull yourself forward, and bring your elbows up, drawing your head up to look forward. Your backside will drop down and forward at the same time, pushing your whole body forward. Only your feet and hands will remain in the same place.
  4. Push all the way forward until your are on your tiptoes, your hips are low to the ground and your arms are fully extended, supporting your upper body high up in front, the cobra yoga pose.

The move pauses here, which gives the chest and legs a good stretch. From there, you push back into downward facing dog and begin again. A significant bonus for swimmers: yoga flows necessarily incorporate breath control to get the most out of each move. Experiment with your breathing to change up this challenge.

If you really want to perfect your breaststroke, why not come along for some private lessons? Our coaches can pinpoint what you can do to take it to the next level. Get in touch here!

by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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