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by Cokie Lepinski

October 27, 2020

Get into a good rhythm and develop proper timing to swim breaststroke quickly and efficiently

Because of its unusual timing as compared to other strokes, breaststroke presents unique opportunities for drag to creep in. Establishing a good rhythm and proper timing will help you be efficient and quick.

Here are five ways to improve your breaststroke.

Tip 1: The Straight Line Reigns Supreme

Breaststroke isn’t so much about how hard you pull or how hard you kick. It’s about how fast you get into a streamlined position after every stroke.

The one-pull, two-kick drill is helpful for finding your streamlined position. Put on a snorkel, and drive your upper torso down and forward at the end of your stroke. Doing breaststroke kick with your arms ahead of you, thumbs linked, is also helpful.

In both drills, make sure to keep your eyes down and your arms directly ahead of your shoulders, and finish your kick by bringing your feet together.

Tip 2: Compact Your Arm Pull

There are four parts to a proper breaststroke pull.

“I” Position: When you begin your stroke, your arms should be fully extended in the shape of an “I,” with your hands slightly separated.

“Y” Position: Turn your palms out and, while keeping your arms straight, push out to the “Y” position, until your arms are just outside shoulder width.

Scoop: You don’t receive any propulsion in the “I” and “Y” positions. That comes from the scoop portion of your stroke. The scoop is tricky.

From the “Y” position, press your palms down with a tip of your wrists, so that your fingertips point toward the bottom of the pool. Your elbows should stay in place, near the surface of the water. Bring your hands back to just in front of your chin to complete this phase—the power (or propulsion) phase of your stroke.

Don’t pull too far back. If your elbows slide too far backward behind your shoulders, you’ll have trouble recovering your arms to the start position.

Shoot: Bring your elbows in and shoot your hands forward and back into the “I” position. Don’t pause while doing the scoop and shoot movements. You should take a breath toward the end of your scoop movement, and put your head back under at the start of the shoot movement. Shoot your hands forward at or just below the surface of the water.

You can do breaststroke pull sets with a pull buoy or use a light flutter kick while doing breaststroke pull to work on your pull. Discover what allows for maximum propulsion but also allows you to return to the “I” position as quickly as possible.

Tip 3: Fire Your Hips

Although the hip action in breaststroke seems more subtle than in other strokes, your hips are equally important to an efficient breaststroke.

During the scoop phase of your stroke, your hips should slide forward ever so slightly. This is a good time for a shoulder shrug that keeps your body as small as possible in what can be a major drag position. Then, as you go through the shoot motion, you should feel your hips pop right back to the surface. Your hips should travel only a small distance just below the surface.

Try doing breaststroke with a dolphin kick to work on your timing and hip action.

Tip 4: Trim Your Kick Width

A wide kick that’s far outside your bodyline creates major drag. You might feel your kick is strong, but your power is negated by the drag you’ve created. It’s the same impact of your arms pulling too far back or under you.

A wide kick also throws off your tempo, as you have to wait for your kick to finish before you can start your next stroke. Your stroke rate is going to suffer.

Instead, learn to hide your kick inside your bodyline. Hinge at your knees with your kick, and limit the amount of distance your thighs have to go. Drive your heels to the outside of your hips.

Two things help with this. Try wearing a band or rubber tubing just above your knees, and do some breaststroke kicking. Or wear a pull buoy high up on your thighs and kick. Only do one or two 25s at a time, and then remove the device and try to emulate that kick.

To learn to hinge at your knees, hold onto the side of a pool, pull your body vertically up to the wall (while bracing your arms on the deck or gutter), and do breaststroke kicks slowly, trying to keep your thighs and hips near the wall. Your thighs will move forward some, but your goal is to learn to hinge at your knees and draw your heels up, instead of hinging at your hips and drawing your thighs forward.

Tip 5: Timing

This is a critical element in breaststroke. You don’t want to pull against your kick or kick against your arms. What goes where?

The “I,” “Y,” and scoop movements take place while your legs are in a streamlined position. As you finish the scoop movement, draw your heels up, get your breath, shoot your arms forward, and finish your kick in the “I” position. It’s really important to finish your kick and close your feet together before starting your next arm stroke.

Remember that returning to the line is the foundation of your stroke. In a 50 breaststroke, you immediately go into your next stroke after finding the line. In a 100, you might hold that line for a short count, and that hold could be another count or so longer in a 200.


  • Technique and Training


  • Breaststroke