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by Scott Bay

May 31, 2016

Tips to improve your breaststroke, especially if you’re not a breaststroker

Although breaststroke can be extraordinarily frustrating for those of us who struggle with the stroke, you can’t simply blame it on your shape or size, because the best breaststrokers defy description. Breaststrokers come in all shapes, sizes, and techniques. So while it’s tempting to blame a lack of success with breaststroke on being too tall and willowy or too short and stocky, the the bottom line is that body type isn’t the issue. Good breaststrokers do things that most people don’t and more importantly, they know what works for them. All great breaststrokers have these things in common:

  • They know how much of their speed comes from the kick and how much comes from the pull. You may be able to muscle through other strokes with a weak kick, but not in breaststroke.
  • They push with the kick rather than wedge the legs together. This means they can feel the pressure on the water on the instep of the foot and the inside of the calves.
  • They bring the heels to the buttocks and not the knees to the chest.
  • They may be scullers or sweepers, but they know where the pitch of the hand is on the pull every time.

So how do you make the most out of what you have as a breaststroker?

Find Your Strength

Breaststroke is the only stroke that relies on a lateral kick. Freestyle and backstroke use an up-and-down flutter kick and butterfly has an up and down dolphin kick. Breaststroke relies on your ability to stay flat while generating propulsion with the legs in a horizontal plane.

Similarly, the modern breaststroke pull is the only one that sweeps out and is separate from the kick. Since the two motions are both propulsive, how much of one and how much of the other you do largely depend on whether your kick or pull is stronger.

Developing the Kick

Here are some dos and don’ts to help improve your breaststroke kick.

  • Start by standing facing a wall with your hips and knees touching the wall. If you’re standing in a shallow pool, put your elbows on the pool deck and push yourself up a bit vertically.
  • Starting one leg at a time, pull your heel up to your buttocks, push your heel away from the centerline of your body, and point your toes out to the side of the pool.
  • With the lower leg and foot in an ‘L’ shape, sweep the foot down towards the other foot.
  • You should feel the pressure on the inside of your calf and the instep of your foot.
  • Repeat this kicking motion with the other leg, and then try it using both legs at the same time.
  • Remember to push the water rather than wedge your legs together.
  • Don’t let your knees extend beyond your feet.
  • Don’t kick to the side.
  • Don’t try to overpower the water.

Developing the Pull

Here are some dos and don’ts to help improve your breaststroke pull.

  • Do start by placing a pull buoy between your legs to assist your floating. Then, put your head down into the water with your hands out in front.
  • Do sweep the hands out and pitch the fingers down.
  • Do experiment with the width of the outsweep and the pitch of the hands
  • Do find how wide and what hand pitch works best for you by timing yourself.
  • Don’t let your hands extend past your shoulders.
  • Don’t push down on the water.
  • Don’t try to overpower the water.

Timing is Everything

Breaststroke timing is critical. Try these tricks to help you find your rhythm:

  • Count two hippopotamus. Kick, then wait in a streamline position for a count of two. It’s helpful to think in your head “one hippopotamus, two hippopotamus,” to give yourself a full two seconds of time to glide.
  • Pay close attention to when you kick. Make sure you’re stretched out in a streamlined position before you push with the instep of the feet.
  • Be patient. When you feel like you’re not going anywhere, avoid the urge to move all of your body parts. It takes time to feel where the water is and put pressure on it. Rushing only makes things more frustrating.


Try the following drills to improve your breaststroke.

  • Breaststroke kick on your back. This drill starts from the wall. Push off on your back with your hands at your sides for balance. Kick without letting your knees come out of the water. The purpose of this drill is to make sure you’re drawing the heels to the buttocks rather than pulling the knees up. As you kick your way down the pool remember to let the water carry you.
  • Right, left, together. This drill also starts from the wall. Whether you use a pull-out or not is up to you, but keep the hands front as you come off the wall. Once you start to slow down, pull with just your right hand first. Then take a stroke with just your left hand. Finally, take a full stroke with both hands. This drill isolates your hand movements so you can concentrate on the pitch of your hands and feel for the water. Additionally, it helps keep tension in the core so you can harness that power.

Putting it all together

The most important takeaway from these drills is finding what works for you. In addition to natural timing, natural-born breaststrokers have lots of flexibility in their hips, knees, and ankles. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a good breaststroker if you don’t have these things, but you have to experiment. Do you need a wider pull? A narrower pull? A narrower kick? A wider kick? An adjustment in body position? Extra work on the rhythm? All good questions. There are many things that work for some but not for others, so have fun trying new things and finding where your breaststroke is best.


  • Technique and Training