How to swim Breaststroke with perfect technique

Breaststroke requires a level of skill and coordination that’s challenging to master. To swim fast, you have to balance power with ease, gliding through the water in the most streamlined, efficient way possible.

We’re breaking down 6 key elements of breaststroke technique to help you swim faster with less effort, whether you are just learning the stroke or you’re more advanced and want to take a couple tenths off your best time!

Remember: Everyone in the world can improve, even the best swimmers in the world. Adam Peaty and Lilly King keep getting faster, and if they can do it, you can too!

What Makes Breaststroke Different?

When it comes to breaststroke, there’s often a split among swimmers. Some people pick it up very easily, while others struggle with the stroke mechanics. There are 3 main differences between breaststroke and the other competitive strokes:

  • Short Axis Stroke: Similar to butterfly, you move more up and down rather than rotating on a long axis like you would in freestyle and backstroke.
  • Timing: Breaststroke requires perfect coordination of your pull and kick to go fast.
  • Kick: In breaststroke, you kick with your feet flexed.

6 Elements of Good Breaststroke

1. Body Position

The streamline is essential for breaststroke. Each stroke always starts and ends in a streamline position. The more quickly you can get to your streamline position, the more efficient your stroke will be.

A good streamline consists of proper head position (looking straight down) and proper hip position (hips high). It’s important to keep your hips up at all times to reduce drag, especially when you lift your head up to breathe. 

2. Pull

In breaststroke, you initiate your pull from the streamline position. Pull your hands apart and create a large triangle of space, eventually driving your hands forward and back to the streamline position.

When you initiate your pull, press your hands outward with your pinkies up. When your hands are just wider than your shoulders, begin to pull down with a strong Early Vertical Forearm to catch the water. At this point you’ll lift your head to breathe.

When you drop your head back down, your arms should explode forward. This is the slowest part of the stroke, so it’s important to maximize your power here. Avoid diving down — that’s not as efficient!

3. Kick

Breaststroke is known for its unique “frog kick,” that requires you to flex your feet rather than point your toes. If you’re new to breaststroke, you can break down the kick as follows:

Up: Pull your heel up to your butt. This is the highest point of resistance in your kick, so work on strengthening your hamstrings to get your heel to your butt faster and increase your tempo.

Out: Kick your legs out, but don’t spread your knees too wide – try keeping them about shoulder width apart. A wide kick creates more resistance.

Around: Sweep your legs around, beginning to pull your feet back together.

Together: Squeeze your legs together, returning to your starting streamline position!

4. Timing

Timing is arguably the most important aspect of breaststroke. At a basic level, there are 3 phases to breaststroke:

Pull: You start with your pull. You take your breath here. 

Kick: As you begin to drive your hands forward, kick to enhance your momentum.

Glide: Gliding in a proper streamline helps you maximize distance per stroke. The duration of your glide depends on the event you’re swimming. Longer events can allow for longer glides.

If we compare the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke, we’ll find differences in tempo and timing. The 50 calls for fast tempo, but you’ll still find elite swimmers holding their glide for a split second. In the 100, tempo is still high, but there’s more opportunity to glide.

The 200 breaststroke is a little different. You’ll see elite swimmers adjusting their tempo throughout the race! But no matter the race, the goal is the same: get to the streamline position as quickly as possible.

5. Pullout

You complete a pullout after your start and off each wall. You’re allowed one pullout per length. We can break the pullout into 4 steps:

  • Begin in streamline. Hold it for 2-3 seconds, or until you feel yourself slowing down.
  • Pull down with your arms, sending your body forward.
  • You’re allowed one underwater breaststroke kick to bring your hands back to the starting position.
  • If you’re more advanced, you can also add one small or medium-sized dolphin kick at any point during or after your arms pull down.

In your pullout, it’s important to maintain the integrity of your streamline. A big dolphin kick can cause more drag and requires you to reset your body position before beginning your regular stroke.

6. Training

For short axis strokes, training should heavily focus on race specificity and technique, specifically swimming high in the water.

For example, if you’re focused on the 200 breaststroke, it’s smarter for you to do shorter breaststroke sets than it is to do 200 repeats. It’s easier to maintain technique for a 25 or a 50 than it is for a 200, and repeatedly fatiguing yourself will train your body to swim in a less advantageous position.

Training at or above race pace and using your race stroke count can be especially helpful for advanced swimmers.

Short Course vs. Long Course Swimming

Pool length plays a role in how you’ll swim and race breaststroke.

  • Short Course = 25 yard or 25 meter pool
  • Long Course = 50 meter (Olympic size) pool

In short course swimming, it’s easier to maintain distance per stroke and tempo. You have more turns, and more pull-outs to maximize your glide.

Long course, on the other hand, requires a faster tempo to make up for fewer turns. Many elite swimmers will increase their tempo over the course of a race to maintain their body position and maximize their distance per stroke. 

Drills to Improve Your Breaststroke

Check out 4 of our favorite breaststroke drills to help you hone your form and swim faster!

Streamline Kick on Back

This drill helps refine your kick mechanics, such as heel speed, kick width or catching more water on the out sweep of your kick. Keep your knees under the water for the duration of this drill.

2 Kicks, 1 Pull

Work on your timing with this drill. Begin in streamline and complete 2 full kicks under the surface before doing a pull. Doing this elongates your stroke and encourages you to focus on your glide.  

Freestyle Kick, Breaststroke Pull

Try this drill to work on your power, specifically with your hands. Try to accelerate your arms through the catch phase and drive your arms forward, rather than bobbing up and down. We recommend wearing fins for this one!

Breaststroke Countdown

This set challenges your stroke count, timing, distance per stroke and power! More advanced breaststrokers know their typical stroke count for one length of the pool. Complete 8×25, broken down as follows:

  • 1×25 @ your usual stroke count
  • 1×25 @ stroke count -1
  • 1×25 @ stroke count -2
  • 1×25 @ stroke count -3
  • 1×25 @ stroke count -3
  • 1×25 @ stroke count -2
  • 1×25 @ stroke count -1
  • 1×25 @ your usual stroke count

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