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by Luca De Matteis

October 31, 2011

There is another way

The breaststroke pullout consists of three phases: the glide phase, the pull-down phase, and the recovery/kick phase. Properly executed, the phases of the pullout are combined to produce maximum efficiency and speed. As the swimmer begins the first stroke at the surface, the distance and speed gained from the pullout will define the power of that breakout stroke. Excluding or insufficient emphasis on any phase will decrease velocity and put the swimmer at a disadvantage before the first stroke at the surface.

In the traditional long pullout phase one, or the gliding phase, sets up the swimmer to begin phase two, the pull-down phase. The pull-down consists of a single arm stroke that finishes at the legs, and can include a single dolphin kick after the initiation of the arm stroke. This aids with momentum as the swimmer approaches phase three, or the recovery/kick phase, which prepares the swimmer to exit the pullout with maximum speed and distance.

The long pullout has been the traditional way to begin each length. However, it is not the only form of pullout. In fact, one does not even have to do any sort of pullout before breaking the surface of the water to begin the first stroke. (101.2.2: “After the start and after each turn, the swimmer may take one arm stroke completely back to the legs…”)

Recent studies and trials with Olympian and American Record holder Mike Alexandrov show that a shortened underwater arm stroke, one that does not take the hands back to the legs, and a dolphin kick followed by a breaststroke kick, prior to the breakout stroke can be an effective pullout.

Alexandrov performed this short pullout at USA Nationals in December 2010 in Columbus, Ohio in the prelims of the 100 breaststroke. That night at finals, he performed exactly one second better than the prelim. The technique used during the prelim included an identical phase one, yet different techniques for phases two and three.

The first phase of the short pullout is the same as the first phase of the long pullout. It begins with a glide and body tilt of five to 10 degrees. The second phase of the short pullout is where the difference starts. Instead of a full arm pull to the legs, phase two uses an underwater breaststroke pull—just like a regular breaststroke pull, only performed underwater—accompanied by a single dolphin kick, which is initiated after the hands begin the pull.

Phase three is the breaststroke kick that must follow the dolphin kick, in simultaneous motion with the arm recovery forward, which is followed by the head breaking the surface before the hands turn in at the widest part of the breakout stroke. (101.2).

The difference between the two pullouts is the distance gained. If performing a short pullout, the swimmer emerges about one meter shorter than the long pullout. Even though the swimmer emerges with greater speed, the distance gained from the wall is less with the short pullout. This means that an extra stroke or two is necessary to complete the length.

With many trials and experimentation, it is safe to say that for right now, the long pullout is the most efficient way to begin each length when swimming breaststroke. More experimentation and testing is planned to develop the best approach possible.

As an elite swimmer and one of the best breaststrokers in the world, Alexandrov says, “I see a lot of potential in the short pullout, in particular at the beginning of a swimmer's career and for adult swimmers.”

He thinks that allowing a swimmer to break the surface earlier will allow the swimmers who don’t possess a great underwater pullout to come out of the water faster and preserve needed air. The key element is the extra momentum the swimmer gains.

The trials and experimentations that were done with elite athletes showed that the long pullout is the most efficient for them, but results obtained with younger swimmers and with some Masters swimmers were a bit different; most of the trials resulted in times that were a little bit faster than those with the traditional pullout, or just as fast.

There is no doubt that the short pullout technique can be a benefit for swimmers who don’t possess the right tools and years of experience with the long pullout. A poorly executed long pullout can waste energy, reduce speed and deplete needed lung capacity.


  • Technique and Training


  • Breaststroke
  • Underwaters
  • Stroke Technique