There are some things really good breaststrokers can do that the rest of us struggle with
Most good breaststrokers have an anatomical commonality: They stand with their toes pointed out. Not necessarily in opposite directions, although many can do that on demand. For the straight-footed or pigeon-toed, things are different. The key difference is the push.
What is the push?
The push is very simple for natural-born breaststrokers. They can turn their feet out and, instead of wedging with their legs and pushing with their inner thighs (the old-style frog kick), they can grab the water with the inside edges of their feet and push back on the water for propulsive force. This keeps the drag profile or streamline very narrow while generating huge force. Since breaststroke is the only stroke where kick plays either an equal or dominant role, this is a significant advantage. So how do you know if you’re one of the chosen ones?
- On the deck—If you can stand comfortably with your heels together and your toes pointed out then you might be a natural. Even more so if your knees are still forward when your toes are pointed out.
- In the water—The best way to check is to find some deep water and put your belly button against the wall and your legs straight down, keeping your knees on the wall. Using one leg at a time, draw your heel up to your butt the point the toes out and sweep down. If you feel the pressure on the inside of your foot and calf, then you have the makings of a really great breaststroke kick.
- Propulsive force—This means that you can actually make it go. With your hands at your sides for balance, kick breaststroke on your back, being careful to keep the knees inside of the ankles throughout the kick. If you can kick your hands, which are near your thighs, you’re likely on target. And don’t let the knees come out of the water. If you can do this without discomfort, you might be a natural breaststroker.
What if you can’t do this?
The natural born have the advantage of both the skeletal architecture and the muscular support since birth that makes the breaststroke kick easier. The good news is that most people can stretch and develop flexibility to be able to turn their feet out and push. So long as you don’t experience pain in the hips, knees, or ankles while learning, you can improve your breaststroke kick.
If you lack the flexibility to use the inside edges of your feet and need to use a wider kick by drawing your knees out first, be careful how much effort you put into your kick—this can lead to groin injury if done aggressively.
In addition, look for other ways to maximize speed, such as by focusing on your pull. Some coaches say that breaststroke is 50 percent kick and 50 percent pull, but this isn’t always the case. The reason breaststrokers come in so many different sizes and shapes is that there are a lot of different ways to do it well.
Adjusting the percentage to more pull than kick will be addressed in a future article.
- Technique and Training