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by Scott Bay

December 14, 2020

Swimming breaststroke is complicated, but here’s how to improve your technique

No stroke has been overhauled more in the past several decades than breaststroke. Rule changes and our understanding of biomechanics have given swimmers and coaches a huge opportunity to experiment with how to go faster. This led to an explosion of different styles, stroke rates, pullouts, and other variations.

There are as many ways to swim fast breaststroke as there are stars in the sky. It just depends on your background and where you are on your journey.

Here are a few tweaks that you can try to coax a bit of extra speed out of each part of your swim.

The Pullout

Doing a dolphin kick during the pullout used to be grounds for disqualification. It’s legal now, but there’s disagreement on when to do the kick. There have also been adaptations to the hand movements executed during the pullout.

  • Dolphin kick. Where do you put it? Some of the fastest swimmers do a big one just off the wall. Is this right for you? Maybe. If you’re an amazing dolphin kicker, then give it a go. If this is a weak spot, maybe you should do it during your pulldown to get through the progression a little quicker.
  • Pulldown. In the past, you simply pulled down with your hands going to the sides of your thighs. Some swimmers are experiencing faster times and better pullouts by pulling down to their “front pockets.” This means they’re pulling down to the front of their thighs and curling their shoulders in to reduce their drag profile and not lose speed.
  • Transition. It’s critical to keep your elbows in and slide your hands up very close to your body. This is through the boundary layer of water close to you, which is turbulent and easier to move through without creating more drag.

Stroke and Stroke Timing

This is really the big deal when it comes to being a better breaststroker. This stroke has two parts, a kick and a pull, like all strokes. What makes it unique is how they fit together, and which is emphasized more and when. If you’re pulling and kicking at the same time, you’re working at 100 percent capacity for 50 percent efficiency.

Here are some tips and tricks for figuring out what works best for you.

  • Two Hippopotami. Try this drill to slow everything down, work on your timing, and find your dead spots. Kick once in a streamlined position and then count in your head “one hippopotamus, two hippopotamus,” then pull and breathe. Little adjustments help you learn how to maximize your kick and tell whether it’s the best or worst part of your stroke. If you do this drill slowly, you may find that your ideal timing is 1 hippopotamus or less or somewhere in between 1 and 2.
  • Tiny hands or big hands. Is the front end of your stroke better or worse than the back end? Grab a pull buoy and pull breaststroke, experimenting with the pitch of your hands, how wide you pull, and where you let go of the water to start your recovery.
  • Kicking with a purpose. There are a bunch of articles on on breaststroke kick. In essence, you must push the water back, rather than wedging it with your legs. What does that mean? As you point your toes out and grab the water with the inside of your foot, you want to push the water back rather than bring your feet together. Many coaches describe this as finishing the kick, but it really means keeping your knees inside of where your feet are and pushing back rather than wedging in.
  • Change is good. To put it all together, go slow—change only one thing at a time and give yourself a chance to get proficient at the change before rejecting it.

Your Rhythm

Stroke rate, sequencing on the pullout, and strokes per length of the pool are all variables of the rhythm of breaststroke. If you look at the elite breaststrokers, you’ll see all of the different things described here along with wonderous variations.

Great breaststrokers come in all shapes and sizes, but the common denominator is that they all experimented with what maximizes speed. Take time to figure out what works best for you and enjoy the journey.


  • Technique and Training


  • Breaststroke