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by Matt Donovan

November 23, 2018

Here’s how to master one of the most difficult things about breaststroke

The most difficult aspect of breaststroke to master is the timing. Even the most skilled swimmers in the world struggle with this from time to time. It’s something that many athletes feel they lose over the course of a long season or career. Don’t get frustrated if it happens. Try these three drills to help get your timing back on track.

One Pull, Three Kicks With A Small Front Scull

After doing your out-sweep, start your in-sweep and first kick and go into your recovery, (sometimes called the glide). Don’t force your hands or throw your body weight forward. Rather, think of it as University of Southern California Coach Dave Salo would say: Kick the shoulders forward to full extension.

When you’re extended, your biceps should be as close to your temples as possible. This is where the second and third kicks should be done. Instead of staying in a perfect streamline during this phase of the drill, do a small sculling motion (or mini out-sweep) to try and find the catch point of your stroke. This is the hardest and most discussed concept in swimming: feel for the water.

This drill should be repeated consistently throughout the season. Many swimmers like to do it during meet warm-up. After a while, this drill can seem a bit too slow. At that point, you can switch to doing a one pull, two kicks drill.

Try using a center-mount snorkel. Eliminating your need to pick your head up to breathe will ensure that your kicks aren’t rushed.

Three Spin-Three Smooth, Two Spin-Two Smooth, One Spin-One Smooth

You should swim at two completely different speeds in this drill.

The spin stroke should be done at a rate much faster than at any point in any swim, practice or meet. Stroke efficiency, catch, pull, and any technical part of your stroke aren’t important when spinning—the focus here is all about getting through the stroke cycle as fast as possible.

The smooth strokes are long and exaggerated, similar to a true drill pace or tempo you might do in warm-up or cool-down. In this portion of the drill, you should be doing near-perfect technique with your stroke as long as possible. Your body should be in streamline at the end of your recovery, and you should be focusing on pointing your toes and flexing your leg muscles, especially your glutes and quadriceps.

The goal is for your stroke to eventually come together somewhere between the two drill speeds. It can be drastically different from person to person. If you look at any heat of breaststroke in any meet, you’re likely to see four to five different tempos in an eight-lane pool. Although some swimmers, such as world record-holder Adam Peaty, currently favor a fast turnover, there are many swimmers who are successful with a longer, more traditional stroke. Keep your blinders on and don’t worry about what the swimmer next to you is doing. Find a tempo that works best for you.

This drill is ideal in a 50-meter pool and can be repeated multiple times within the 50 or, after the first round, you can swim your normal stroke to the wall.

Breaststroke With a Flutter or Dolphin Kick

Breaststroke with a flutter kick is great for working on hand speed and elevating your trunk out of the water during the in-sweep. The key on this drill is to maintain your flutter kick throughout the entirety of your stroke cycle. Pausing your kick can lead to a hitch.

Breaststroke with a dolphin kick is great for working on your short-axis undulation. Remember: When doing breaststroke with a dolphin kick, it’s one kick per stroke cycle. This is a breaststroke drill, not a butterfly drill.

Both of these drills are excellent with fins, and they’re also great because they take a lot of pressure off of your knees.

One Last Thought

One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard about breaststroke is from former Rutgers coach, Chuck Warner: “Sometimes the best way to work on breaststroke is to stop working on breaststroke.” If you feel like you’ve been in a rut for a long time, take a break from trying to improve your breaststroke. Focusing on other things in and out of the pool might be just what you need. Trust your body. It’ll tell you when a break is needed and also when it’s time to return.


  • Technique and Training


  • Breaststroke
  • Stroke Technique