Breaststroke is often regarded as one of the more difficult strokes to master. It’s slow, your body position is low in the water, and if you’re not gifted with out-ward pointing breaststroke feet, it can be real struggle.
Check out our tips for how to swim faster breaststroke!
Breaststroke is definitely the most inefficient stroke.
Breaststroke also has the largest variance in technique amongst the fastest swimmers, compared to the other three competitive strokes. Despite these challenges, there are still stroke characteristics that the best swimmers have in common.
Before we get into our tips, we recommend you watch these two videos:
Lily King’s 100y Breaststroke
Lily King is a machine! At the 2019 NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas, she swam the 100 yard breaststroke in 55.73 breaking her own U.S. Open Record in the event that she set a month earlier at the Big 10 Championships.
Adam Peaty’s 100m Breaststroke
Check out our analysis on Adam Peaty‘s epic 100m Breaststroke at the 2018 European Championships!
Now, check out 8 things the world’s best breaststrokers share:
1) A Strong Kick
Because you’re so low in the water while swimming breaststroke, your legs have to do more work to keep your body moving forward. To push the most water back, the feet turn out and the toes point to the side. The feet should not extend past the width of the knees. The kick will naturally extend downward.
Pro Tip: The key is to push back as much as possible and get the legs up and in line as quickly as possible. Kicking on your back in streamline and with your arms at your side is a great way to improve your breaststroke kicking technique.
2) Fast Recovery of Ankles and Arms
The best breaststrokers have the most speed when they extend into streamline. The best breaststrokers also have the most speed at the peak of their stroke/breath: just before extending into line, and they slow down the least at that point. Speed is the name of the game! Below is a animated gif of World Record holder Adam Peaty (In real speed):
Pro Tip: Train Fast!! The only way to improve this is to train the movement at the speed you want it to be executed. That means kick fast in kick sets and drive to streamline at the completion of every stroke. There is no reason to ever recover your legs slowly when kicking breaststroke.
3) Narrow Kick
The best kickers have a very narrow profile with their legs, yet good ankle flexibility to grab water. If the kick becomes too wide, there will be too much drag. The best swimmers have a balance between generating propulsion and decreasing drag by keeping their profile narrow in the water.
Pro Tip: When you kick on your back, focus on keeping your knees under the surface of the water and keep your knees narrower than your shoulders at their widest point. If your knees come outside your body line or above the water it means you’re creating too much drag.
4) Wider Pull
If you watch the best breaststrokers, their pull sweeps outward first, then in towards the body. The breaststroke pull has two purposes: 1) Generate propulsion and 2) Set up the body to shoot into the line. It is possible to pull too much in breaststroke. This can compromise body and hip position and decrease speed. Pulling too little so you’re not getting stuck doesn’t help propulsion either. It’s a balance.
The shape of the pull dictates how well you maintain forward speed. It unlocks the body surge. The hands need to make a round shape. No sharp corners. There is technically no direct backward force applied to the water.
The pull itself has a distinct out sweep where the palms face the side of the pool. It’s generally just outside of shoulder width and not necessarily propulsive. This part of the pull sets the shape for the inward “catch”. During the catch, the hands carve down and inward. The elbows stay high; near the surface, and above the hands. This is where the breath occurs.
The Pull: Common Mistakes
There are three major mistakes swimmers make when pulling breaststroke:
- Elbows go too far back; body gets upright
- Elbows get too narrow; gets in way of body
- Sharp corners; round shape transfers speed forward
5) High Body Line
It’s very important to maintain a very high body position even at the lowest points of the stroke (the breath). The breaststroke line is finger tips to toes. The head needs to hide between the arms and the hips are high and just under the surface of the water.
Pro Tip: Focus on driving your hands forward at the surface of the water on the recovery part of the stroke. Your body will follow your hands, so lifting your hands above the water or deep below the surface will lead your body in that direction.
6) Low Stroke Count
If you’ve ever seen a world class breaststroker in person, it’s amazing to see how few strokes they take per length. Male or female, the best swimmers literally only five or six strokes per length in a short course (25m) pool. To do this, focus on keeping your hands on the same vector as the plane of the water during the recovery of the stroke. Limit recovery time, and keep the pull out of the way of the kick.
Pro Tip: Count your strokes on every length of a set. Breaststroke is the easiest stroke to do this with because you take the least number per length. Focus on keeping your count consistent and over time lowering the number of strokes you take per length.
Related: IM Training Tips
Nailing a low stroke count comes with a perfect timing. The knees bend to bring the heels up at the end of the inward catch as the arms transition forward. The heels need to be FAST. Especially since it’s so late and non-propulsive.
Pro Tip: Think fast hips = fast hands. Ride the line after the kid as long as it can be held fast and breath as the hands come around the corner.
“Best breaststrokers spend more time in streamline than anyone else” – Ray Looze
8) Amazing Pullouts
In the video above, you can see Will Licon travel nearly 15m underwater off each wall during the underwater pullout in the 200 breaststroke. He takes just 5 strokes per length. The most important thing to focus on in the pullout is maintaining a rigid bodyline underwater. It’s an absolute priority.
For most people, the one dolphin kick happens after the hands separate before the pull down. A bigger dolphin kick doesn’t necessarily benefit you the most. This is because the increase in drag caused by the larger amount of water you’ll displace.
Pro Tip: Pullouts should be done at maximum effort and focus all the time. If you have an easy pullout, it’s a bad pullout, you’ll be beat!
Breaststroke is won in the spaces between the strokes. The best pull keeps the body leaning and moving forward over the water. It can be a challenge, but by focusing on technique and maximizing efficiency, breaststroke can become an enjoyable (or less terrifying) stroke to swim.
Insights pulled from USA Swimming’s National Team High Performance Consultant Russell Mark’s presentation that’s viewable here and Indiana University’s head coach Ray Looze‘s 2017 presentation at the American Swim Coaches Association World Clinic in Washington D.C.!