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How to Swim Breaststroke With Perfect Technique: The Ultimate Guide

Professional woman swimmer swim using breaststroke technique

Learning how to swim breaststroke is no easy feat.

Despite its reputation as the ‘easy’ stroke, quality breaststroke is actually no less technical or demanding as a good butterfly stroke.

Sure, lots of folks bob up and down the lane and call it breaststroke. But here at SwimNow we think things need to be done correctly.

To ensure you’re squeezing the most out of your swim session, you need to step things up and learn how to swim breaststroke properly.

If you’ve been struggling with your breaststroke, don’t worry. In this post, we’ll share everything you need to know to improve.

We’ll cover:

  • What makes breaststroke unique
  • How to ace your breaststroke body position
  • Tips to optimise your arm and leg movements
  • The keys to master breaststroke timing & breathing

So, no matter if you’re starting out and trying to get the basics down, or if you’re an advanced swimmer, there’ll be something in here for you.

Now, with the warm-up out of the way, let’s dive right in and start swimming.

How to Swim Breaststroke 101: What Makes it Unique

Before we talk about how to swim breaststroke, it’s important to understand the stroke and what differentiates it from other strokes. Let’s explore the unique characteristics of breaststroke and why they matter.

Breaststroke is a Short-axis Stroke

Breaststroke is a little bit different from both freestyle and backstroke in that it is what’s known as a short-axis stroke.

What defines whether a stroke is short-axis or long-axis is where the kinetic energy comes from to power the stroke.

There are two short-axis strokes. These are:

  • Breaststroke
  • Butterfly

In both of these strokes, the kinetic power originates from the hips. In breaststroke and butterfly you pivot your body around your mid-point, while your upper and lower body are moving up and down at opposite times

Long-axis strokes on the other hand mean that you’re rotating from side-to-side along the middle axis. The two long-axis strokes are:

  • Front Crawl
  • Backstroke

If you read our guide on how to swim backstroke, you’ll know that the primary source of kinetic energy and rhythm comes from the rotation of the body from side to side.

This side-to-side rotation creates less resistance, produces a more bio-mechanically advantageous position for the arms and drives the body forward.

Breaststroke is All About Body Position & Timing

The key thing when learning how to swim breaststroke (and the other short-axis strokes) is to understand how to coordinate your upper and lower body around your hips and dial in your timing.

For example, in front crawl and backstroke, if your rotation is on point, you can pretty much stop kicking at all and still swim fast. In fact, just 5-10% of an elite freestyle swimmer’s speed comes from their kick.

However, when it comes to breaststroke the interplay of the kick and the pull is absolutely vital. Mastering your kick, pull and the timing of each element is what determines your speed through the water.

Breaststroke Kick is Completely Unique

While the other strokes have cross-over when it comes to kicking skill, breaststroke’s kick is what makes it most truly unique. In butterfly, front crawl and backstroke, you kick with toes pointed and feet together. However, in breaststroke you use a frog kick with feet flexed at 90 degrees.

This unique kicking motion is intimately connected with both your body position and timing too. All three elements must work together for an efficient stroke.

We’ll cover the kick in detail further down the page, but for now let’s talk about body position.Let’s cover what position you need to swim breaststroke efficiently and how to achieve it.

How to Swim Breaststroke: The Body Position

Source: Huffington Post

Here’s a question: why is breaststroke the slowest stroke?

The answer is because it’s the stroke that generates the most drag. So, if we want to become better at breaststroke, our number one priority should be reducing drag, right?

Well, the best way to instantly reduce drag (across all strokes) is to master the correct body position.

Pro Tip:

In swimming, it’s so easy to get caught up in arm movements and leg movements that you’ve no attention left to focus on anything else.

But here’s something you need to understand: The foundation of every stroke (and especially breaststroke) starts with correct body positioning.

If you master your breaststroke body positioning, all other aspects fall into place more easily.

So, that raises the question – what is the correct body position for breaststroke?

Streamlining in Breaststroke

The first element of a great breaststroke body position is streamlining. This is because breaststroke is the only stroke that starts and ends in the full streamlined position (arms and legs fully outstretched)

In this position, you’re outstretched with hands together above your head and feet together with toes pointed.

 

Video: Swimming Basics: Streamline

Having a solid streamline position is critical in breaststroke because it allows you to maximise the power you generate via your kick and pull cycles.

Streamlining is a skill that’ll cross-over to every stroke you swim – it’s the fundamental body position with the least resistance from the water – so it’s worth spending time mastering it.

The Importance of Keeping Things Horizontal

In the short-axis strokes, the second most important thing after streamlining is to minimise excessive sinking of your hips.

Staying as flat as you can in the water is key. This means keeping your shoulders, hips and legs as horizontal as possible.

Doing so reduces the amount of frontal drag on your body and helps you slip through the water with greater ease.

If you look at the best breaststroke swimmers in the world, they’re all able to keep their hips high in the water. The idea is to keep your legs behind you, not beneath you.

So, if you’re taking a massive breath by lifting your head high, it’s likely that your hips are sinking, your legs are dragging in the water, and you’re not swimming as smoothly as you could be.

If your hips are sinking, try ‘leading’ your stroke with your forehead. Tuck your chin and keep your eyes focused at a 45 degree angle in front of you. In many cases this small tweak can help rebalance the stroke and fix hips sagging in the water

Combining streamlining with a flat hip position will ensure you’re in the optimal body position to capitalise on the propulsive phase of your stroke. Speaking of propulsion, let’s now talk about the breaststroke arm movement.

How To Master Breaststroke Arm Movement

The breaststroke arm movement can be broken down into three distinct phases:

  • The Catch
  • The Pull
  • The Recovery

Let’s quickly run through what you need to know about each phase:

The Breaststroke Catch

The catch starts from the glide (or streamlined) position. From here, roll your thumbs down towards the bottom of the pool so your palms are pitched slightly away from each other.

Next, sweep your arms outward, focusing on catching as much water as possible. Imagine that you’re trying to part the water in front of you to drive your head through the hole.

Pro Tip:

For a better catch on all strokes, imagine that you’re catching the water with your whole forearm.

Most folks just use their hands to catch the water. But using your whole forearm gives you a bigger ‘paddle’ to catch more water with – an easy way to drive your body forward with more efficiency and power.

The Breaststroke Pull

Once your arms have swept out to a 35-45 degree angle from your shoulder, you’ve entered the pull phase of the stroke.

The most important thing for a powerful pull is to keep your elbows high. What we mean is that your elbow needs to stay close to the surface of the water. While your forearms sweep out and down.

Keeping your elbows high puts you in the most favourable mechanical position to recruit the big powerful latissimus dorsi muscles on your back. Bigger muscles = more power.

Communicating a high elbow is difficult via text, so take a look at this drill progression to help you get a handle on the technique.

Video: Breaststroke High Elbow Progression | Minecraft “Villager Drill” | Pull Strength Drill

With a high elbow, you want to accelerate your arms backwards, maintaining your catch on the water. Then sweep your hands and arms inwards towards your upper chest.

For the pull phase, it’s important that you don’t sweep your arms too wide. Going too wide will increase frontal drag and reduce the amount of force you can apply to the water.

Remember that, unlike other strokes, lots of your power is going to come from your kick – as opposed to your arms.

The Breaststroke Arm Recovery

With your elbows tucked in, and your meeting in front of your chest,  extend your arms forwards to enter a streamlined position. Dip your head in between your arms and glide forwards as your kick finishes behind you.

Keep your hands as close together as possible and hug your arms to your ears – the tighter the streamline the more mileage you’ll get out of your kick.

Once you’ve finished your kick and streamlined through the water, sweep your hands outwards again to start your next stroke.

Breaststroke Arm Drill

Okay, at this point you might be thinking there’s a lot that goes into honing your breaststroke arm action.

To help you concentrate on mastering the arm action, try swimming breaststroke, but with a dolphin kick.

This allows you to focus more on generating power with your arms. Plus, it’s a useful drill to help you dial in your timing and produce force from your hips.

Here’s former world record holder Rebecca Soni demonstrating how to perform the dril:

Link: Swimisodes – Rebecca Soni – Dolphin Kick Breaststroke

How to Master The Breaststroke Kick

As we mentioned earlier, in breaststroke the bulk of your propulsion comes from your kick. So, if you’re looking to up your speed and efficiency, building a powerful kick is key.

The Basics of Breaststroke Kick

To perform your kick from a streamline position:

  • Start by bringing your heels up to your bottom – almost like a frog (avoid the common mistake of bringing your knees to your chest)
  • Flex your feet, pulling your toes towards your shins.
  • Turn your feet outwards (this is the most important thing people get wrong)
  • Sweep your legs backward in a circular motion with stiff ankles
  • Your legs should come together behind you in a long streamlined position with pointed toes.

Breaststroke kick can be a challenging skill to master, but it makes all the difference to your stroke. Here’s a great visualisation of the above points from Swim England.

Video Link: Breaststroke Kicking | Improve Your Swimming Technique

Keep Your Breaststroke Kick Narrow

It’s important to keep your kick relatively narrow. A very wide kick is one of the most common breaststroke faults. Sure, a wide kick produces more power – but it also produces much more drag and acts as a speed break.

So, you need to find the sweet spot in the middle – which for most people is a kick where your knees are at about shoulder width apart at the widest point.

Okay, now that we’ve talked about pulling and kicking for breaststroke – let’s talk about how you can bring those together with proper timing.

Breaststroke Timing: How to Dial in Your Stroke

Timing is incredibly important for efficient breaststroke. The 3 phases in breaststroke timing are:

  • Pull
  • Kick
  • Glide

As you swim breaststroke – you should repeat this mantra to yourself over and over. Pull. Kick. Glide.

The key is to coordinate your pull and your kick so one of them is always propelling you through the water.

As your hands start to sweep inwards, you want to initiate your kick. This way, when your pull is over, you can drive forcefully through the water into your streamline glide position.

Put another way, your arms are the power source while your legs are recovering, and your legs are the power source while your arms are recovering.

Now, what about the glide? Well, when gliding there’ll be a trade off between gliding for too long and not gliding long enough.

How long you hold the glide depends on what kind of race you’re swimming. Your stroke tempo will vary depending on if you’re sprinting or doing longer distances.

But every stroke you want to be shooting for maximum distance per stroke. You want to get as far as possible, as fast as possible on every stroke.

Here’s a great video with 5 useful drills to help you sharpen your breaststroke timing:

Video Link: Breaststroke Timing Progression Drill in 5 Easy Steps!

Breaststroke Breathing: How to Breathe Efficiently

A solid breaststroke breathing technique delivers oxygen to your working muscles and allows you to swim further with less effort.

As your arms start the pull phase, lift your chin ever so slightly and breathe in through your mouth. It’s important to keep your neck and shoulders free from tension as you do this.

Now, while we suggest lifting your chin slightly, it’s critical not to raise your head too high either. Lifting your face to look forward will cause your hips to sink. Just a small chin tilt is all that’s needed to make sure you don’t get a mouthful of water.

As you begin your kick, lower your head into the water and exhale through your mouth and nose. Exhale at a rate that allows you to get sufficient ‘used’ air out of your system so you can breathe in fresh air on your next stroke cycle.

Here’s an excellent video that’ll walk you through the ins and outs of optimal breathing for breaststroke:

Video Link: How To Breathe Properly While Swimming Breaststroke!

How to Swim Breaststroke Wrap-Up

Learning how to swim perfect breaststroke takes a good chunk of time and dedication.

If it was easy, every swimmer in the pool would be knocking out lengths of flawless breaststroke. That said, with a healthy dose of perseverance and consistency, everyone can improve their swimming ability.

Going solo and improving on your own can work. But there is one factor that can expedite the learning process and allow you to improve at a much faster pace: private lessons.

At the heart of all improvement is feedback and analysis. A quality swimming coach can quickly address your biggest stroke flaws and show you exactly how to fix them.

The advice we shared in this article is an amazing start for most swimmers. And we truly hope it can help you take your breaststroke to the next level.

But if you’re serious about becoming a better swimmer, then we can’t recommend highly enough that you enlist the expertise of a professional coach.

You’ll get personalised advice and drills that’ll help you achieve your goals and become the best swimmer you can be, in the least amount of time.

From all of us here at SwimNow – best of luck!

Alistair Mills
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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