The breaststroke is the oldest and the most challenging of the swimming strokes to conquer (yes, even trickier to master than the butterfly stroke I would argue). Being able to time the kicking and pulling motion is difficult enough, but then comes another barrage of concerns:
· Do you recover your hands and arms above the surface of the water?
· How wide should your knees be when you do the breaststroke kick?
· Should you pull down or out when doing the pull?
· When should you exhale when swimming breaststroke?
Here are some tips for how to swim better breaststroke:
The kind of pull you do depends on the distance you are swimming. There are two kinds of pulling motions that breaststrokers tend to perform. The first is a “Y”-shaped pull, where the hands scull slightly outwards before pulling downwards. The second is a straight push down motion, with the hands perpendicular to the bottom of the pool. The latter is most useful for very short races and short course racing, while the “Y”-pull is more suitable to longer short course events (200s and up) and long course swimming.
Your hands should recover just below the surface of the water. When you have initiated the pull movement, and you are bringing your hands around for the recovery, it’s common to do all manner of things from here. Some swimmers lunge their hands forward at shoulder width, some keep their hands under the water altogether, while others shoot their hands out of the water like a dolphin breaching at high speed. Ultimately, what you do will come down to what is most comfortable, but insure that what is most comfortable is most efficient. For most world class breaststrokers you will see that they bring their hands forward at the surface of the water, or just below.
Your knees should be around shoulder-width during the kick. Commonly you will see swimmers do the breaststroke kick with their knees and feet together. While your feet should come together at the end of each kicking motion, your knees should be approximately shoulder width apart. Turning your ankles at a 90 degree ankle requires insane hip and ankle flexibility that most swimmers simply do not have, and so you need your knees to be agape in order to be able to push the water backwards with the inside of your feet.
Blow out your breath right before you pick up your head to breathe. When you are swimming breaststroke the goal should be to stay high and straight in the water. This means being buoyant. Holding your breath until the last moment, until right before you have to pick your head up again to take another breathe allows you to float and “skim” across the top of the water. Those handful of moments holding your exhalation will keep your center of gravity nice and high in the water.
Swimming breaststroke is tough—I know I struggled with it for years (and continue to on the days when the timing isn’t there). But remember these simple tips the next time you hit the water and you will be well on your way to swimming better breaststroke.