Breaststroke swimming from the hands down – think about it this way

Just a thought for all coaches, I think about breaststroke in this way, as every coach does things their own way and so what I learned is to take one thing and make it your own. To start the pull phase of the stroke.

Positioning of the hands

Ok, so let’s start with the obvious: fingers together but how? Thumbs to the top, fingers forward: obvious! But should they be bent or straight; well, a cup holds more water than a plate so there we go; then solves that problem but this is stressful for the fingers so a relaxed position is best neither forced together nor forced wide apart but relaxed.

Next, the most productive position for velocity and full use of the pull, the hands should be one on top of the other but this can be very stressful on shoulders and can interrupt the pull path and play havoc with the leveling of shoulders as you would have one hand below the other. So I advise my swimmers to adopt the prayer position: one thumb overlapping but not gripping the other thumb; this enables the forefingers to be together; the pitch of the hands would be as if you had your palms over the top of a soccer ball, not flat but not too overly curved. This for me is a faster way to adopt the initial catch of the water; why rotate the hands in a 180 when a 45 degree is shorter and faster.

As the shoulders relax the hands dip with thumbs down like breaking an egg from the prayer position, the hands still extending forward and outwards about 6 inches wider than the line of the shoulders, the elbows start to bend as if pulling yourself up on a wall, the elbows stay high but the hands stay in the peripheral vision to the point at which the hands are directly below the elbows, the forearms, hands and elbows come together in a fast sweeping motion, hands staying within the vision, meeting in the middle with elbows under the rib cage as close together as feels comfortable for the swimmer. It is important to stress that the elbows at this point should be within the frame of the body line. Producing the lift of the stroke at this point hands surge forward on or slightly above the surface of the water in the prayer position.

The breath should be taken on the way to the top of the stroke, to finish inhaling right at the highest point in the pull phase.

The Kick

Frogs legs? NO! The kick should be at widest 6 inches either side of shoulders, with the draw the feet up and outwards, making sure that the knees stay down; don’t bring them up below the stomach! Kick back and out, snap together, drive the feet to the surface in an upward butterfly motion.

When looking at a breaststroke swimmer from behind them you should be able to see a W leg formation with the middle of the W being the bottom and either outer stick of the W being the legs with the feet turned out and flexed towards your head. A good drill for this is kicking with the pull buoy.

To train Breaststroke

Think of it as two separate strokes – the kick and the pull. Break it down and train with a broken down stroke (for reasons explained later) with pull count 1,2 as you stretch, kick count 1,2 as you stretch, and continue to pull 1,2 then to kick 1,2.

Why break the stroke that way?

Well, if you train with an overlapping of the kick and pull, when it comes to sprinting that overlap becomes much smaller, creating a stop and go approach to the stroke where you lose all forward propulsion at 1 stage per leg and arm action, giving you a hopping motion like stroke stop stroke stop stroke stop. Meaning that your kick or pull is not being used, usually it’s the pull.

Training with a split stroke means that when you come to race and the gap between the pull and kick gets smaller, you are creating constant forward propulsion at all times. This makes your stroke look more fluid through the water and also make sure you are getting maximum propulsion from each pull and kick.

When turning in practice try to relax and count yourself through the process:

  • Push off the wall, 1, 2
  • Power pull down 1, 2
  • Bring arms forward 1
  • Break out 2

Remember that the first 3 strokes off the dive and turns are more important than any other stroke; they must be fast and very, very strong.

Have an opinion on breaststroke? Something you want to share with other coaches? Please leave a comment below and take part in this discussion about breaststroke swimming.

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Trevor Hall
Trevor Hall
2 years ago

It’s great that you explained how to do a breaststroke technique in really deep detail. I appreciate that you talked about keeping your elbows within the frame of your body. My kids really need to start participating in a sport so that they get used to living an active lifestyle and form good habits that will keep them happy.