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Breaststroke is usually one of the first strokes taught to beginners since it allows newbie swimmers to swim with their heads above the water easily. But swimming breaststroke fast and efficiently is a whole different ball game than swimming it to stay afloat.
If we take a look at breaststroke from a purely technical aspect it’s definitely one of the harder strokes to master- it’s the slowest of the 4 competitive strokes, you have to swim with a lower body-position which creates drag, and it can be downright exhausting, to say the least.
On the other spectrum of things, breaststroke is definitely one of the funnest and coolest looking strokes, and if you do learn to master it, you’ll look like a real pro swimmer.
So are you ready? Because in this article we’ll be covering everything you need to know about swimming fast and efficient breaststroke.
Something I want to bring to your attention is that there is a lot of detail in each paragraph. So take your time to thoroughly read it through in order to ensure your understanding everything properly. This will only benefit your own swimming.
How to swim breaststroke efficiently: 5 crucial technique aspects
To kick things off, we’ll be looking at the most important technique aspects of swimming breaststroke efficiently. When it comes to swimming, there are a 1000 little details that go into every swimming stroke, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t first learn to master the basic and important parts that will ultimately have the biggest effect on your speed in the water.
Narrow and powerful kick
The legs play a very important role when it comes to swimming breaststroke and learning to use them properly can make a massive difference in your speed, efficiency, and power when swimming.
Remember, some of the biggest muscles in your body are located in your legs- the quadriceps, the hamstrings, and the glutes. These are like bundles of power waiting to explode and help you to swim fast and efficiently- you just have to learn to use them to your maximum advantage.
With breaststroke, you naturally have a lower body position in the water and thus the legs need to work harder to keep you moving forward, unlike in other strokes where you have a higher body position.
So how do we do this? Well, in order to push the most water, you want to turn your feet out and have your toes pointing to the sides. Also, try to grab and push water using your shins, but make sure not to lose your grip in the water when doing this- you’ll understand what I mean when you get in the pool.
Once you are maximizing the amount of water you can push using your legs, you want to reduce your resistance. This can easily and effectively be done by using a narrow kick with your legs not extending much more than hip-width and pulling directly back on your hamstrings, almost like a hamstring curl.
Think of it as your legs hiding behind your thighs if it helps.
This motion will make the breaststroke kick feel really powerful, almost like a butterfly kick, and will reduce your resistance a lot. In fact- this is how some of the best breaststroke swimmers in the world are swimming right now, including Adam Peaty- the current world record holder in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke events.
I actually also had the opportunity to swim with Cameron Van Der Burgh, the former 50m and 100m breaststroke world record holder, and this is exactly how he told the guys attending the camp to swim.
Drill: There is an easy drill that you can do to practice this. It involved doing breaststroke kicking on your back with your arms at your side. You should focus on pushing back as much as possible and getting your legs back in position as fast as you can.
Using a wider pull is the best way to maximize your power and efficiency in the water by allowing you to engage large muscle groups like the lats, chest, and upper back.
The pull is made up out of a definitive out sweep where your palms will face out. It should go just outside of the shoulder width and will set up the shape for the inward catch where your hands will carve down and in.
Your elbows should stay high and above your hands when near the surface, this is where you’ll take your breath, which we will also cover in more detail later on.
The shape of your pull is also important and can determine how well you maintain speed and propulsion. To maximize your pull efficiency you want to form a round shape with your hand when pulling (obviously doesn’t have to be a perfect circle). Avoid any sharp corners as it doesn’t create any pushing force in the water.
The breaststroke pull plays an important role and has 3 main purposes in the stroke- 1) Generating propulsion and speed 2) Setting up your body to shoot into streamline position 3) Helping with setting up timing and rhythm.
The reason I mention this is because it’s possible to pull both too much and too little when swimming breaststroke. If you pull too much, you can break body position and lower your speed. And if you pull too little your propulsion will suffer. Aim for a good balance, where you can get a good glide and strong pull. Don’t glide too long, but also not too short.
High body line
Trying to stay as high as possible in the water is always going to be important, no matter the stroke, and no matter whether or not the stroke is naturally lower in the water or not. You just have to do your best to stay as high as possible. This will ensure the least amount of drag and will help you to swim as efficiently as possible while using the least amount of energy and effort.
In breaststroke, just like in any other stroke, your body position stretches from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes. Your head needs to sit between the arms, and your hips need to be high, but just under the surface of the water, slightly popping out every time you complete a kick.
When it comes to maintaining a good body position in breaststroke, you need to shift your attention towards your hands seeing as your body will follow your hands. Focus on pushing your hands forward and straight at the surface of the water to maintain the best body position.
Pushing them too deep under water will cause a dip in body position, and pushing them out too high will cause you to lose grip as well as using more energy while swimming.
A lot of what we’ve discussed so far involves power. Breaststroke swimmers have to be powerful to be efficient. One of the easiest ways to do this is to increase your strength outside of the pool, check out my article where I cover the best dry-land exercises for breaststroke swimmers.
Believe it or not, but your head position actually plays a pretty big role in swimming breaststroke efficiently. You see, your body always follows your head and if your head position isn’t right you can create body position and timing issues which will lower your efficiency and speed.
So with that said, the first thing to avoid would be starting out your stroke with a lift of your head to take an early breath as this can cause timing issues in your stroke. You shouldn’t be able to see your hands moving from the I to Y position, your head should still be facing down during this part of your stroke.
To do things correctly, you want to start exhaling during the out sweep of your stroke as you move from the catch phase and prepare to enter the power phase.
Once you’re here, the propulsion generated by your hands combined with the forward slide of your hips, as you prepare to kick, will create a motion that allows your head to exit the water and ride the wave above the water, where you’ll be able to effectively grab a breath. Make sure that your head is always moving more forward than up and down. It should come naturally and not be forced.
Then after you’ve taken the breath, snap your head back into alignment as your hands shoot back forward into the streamline recovery and glide position and your legs snap back into a straight line.
Remember, this entire movement is simultaneous and fast. You don’t have to get it right the first time or even do it quickly. Just slowly work your way through it focusing on the key points until you are comfortable doing it without stopping.
Fast recovery of ankles and arms
If you want to be fast and efficient you’re going to have to be able to get your legs and arms into the right positions quickly after each and every stroke and kick. This will enable you to build a lot of propulsion and speed as you swim- whether it be in training or in competition.
Developing this “quickness” isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight or even happen at all by just training at standard speeds. There is simply no little tweak or tip that I can give you to do this. If you want to develop these quick motions you need to train them by swimming fast.
When you have a kick set make sure to recover quickly on every kick and when you are sprinting make sure to shoot your arms out in front of you as fast as possible so that you can be ready to start the next pull when the time comes. This is the only way to develop this speed.
How to swim efficient breaststroke: 3 other highly important aspects
Now that we’ve covered some of the most important technique aspects as well as ways on how you can improve on them, let’s have a look at some other factors that aren’t necessarily directly part of breaststroke technique, but can make a huge difference when it comes to swimming breaststroke efficiently.
In breaststroke swimming, timing is everything. It’s what separates the good from the great by allowing them to execute each kick and stroke with maximal force and propulsion while ensuring maximized energy efficiency.
Breaststroke timing consists of 4 main phases, namely the pull, breath, kick, and glide.
A simple trick that will help you to master your breaststroke timing is this- the arms are propulsive while the legs recover, and the legs are propulsive while the arms recover.
Let’s put that into words-
You should start out with the pulling phase of the breaststroke. During this phase, you will catch the water and start the inward motion which will cause your elbows to exit the water, where you’ll take your breath. This is known as the power phase of the pull.
At the same time, you’ll pull your legs in and towards your butt, which is the recovery phase of the kick. (See they are opposite here, which is what we want).
Once you’ve taken the breath, shoot forward with your arms, and as soon as your arms have entered the streamline position (which is the recovery portion of the pull) complete the kick by snapping your legs back into a straight position (the power phase of the kick) so that your entire body is now in a streamline position. (Once again- they are opposite.)
Once you are in this streamline position you have entered the gliding phase. The length of this phase will vary depending on the distance you’re swimming. If you are swimming shorter distances like a 50, your glide will also be shorter, and if you swim longer distances like a 200, your glide will be longer and more stretched out.
Perfecting this motion takes time and effort. So stay patient and work at it every day until you’ve finally mastered the timing.
Below is a little video extract of Adam Peaty swimming the 100 breaststroke, here it’s quite hard to see the timing since he swims so fast, but if you study the motion, you’ll clearly see how he is entering the recovery phase with his arms as he goes into the power phase with his kick (and the opposite)-
Low stroke count
Nothing screams efficient breaststroke as much as a low stroke count. If we take a look at some of the best breaststroke swimmers we’ll quickly notice how they only take about 5 or 6 strokes per length in a 25m pool, which is quite crazy.
Lowering your stroke count also takes a lot of time and there is no one way to do it. The best way to ensure that you are making progress to lowering your stroke count is to actually count and monitor your strokes while you swim.
With breaststroke this is, luckily, quite easy. Make sure to count your strokes on every length and try to lower it as you experiment with different styles of breaststroke swimming and different gliding phases and so on.
The key is to find a stroke count where you can swim as fast as possible with minimal energy cost. Remember, you may have a lower stroke count, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s faster.
Your stroke count will also naturally decrease as you work on improving your technique, increasing kick power, and optimizing your timing. It takes time, but is something really quite worthwhile to work on if you want to swim breaststroke efficiently.
Remember, it isn’t necessarily the low stroke count that makes you efficient. But the fact that you are able to swim with a low stroke count means that you are efficient in the water and this is a great way to measure yourself.
Instantly increase your breaststroke speed and efficiency– further increase your breaststroke performance by wearing a breaststroke tech suit, check out my article on the 8 best breaststroke tech suits for the maximum advantage in the pool.
Powerful pullouts and underwaters
Something that swimmers are focusing on more and more nowadays is underwaters. A good underwater can be the difference between winning and losing a race and it’s a really easy way to get a head start on your competitors and everyone else in the pool without actually even taking a single stroke.
To achieve a good breaststroke pullout you need to maintain a rigid body position and streamline underwater. This will help you to exert maximum force when you do the dolphin kick. Something to remember with the dolphin kick is that a bigger kick isn’t necessarily always better as you’ll create more drag. You want to use the kick size that generates the most power, not the biggest kick size.
Another key point is to bring the hands in as close to your chest as possible after the initial dolhin kick as you prepare to exit the water. This will further minimize any possible resistance in the water.
Remember to always place the utmost emphasis on your pull outs and not to slack back on them. Doing them with a lot of effort will make a difference, will allow you to swim more efficient breaststroke, and can be the difference between winning and losing.
Swimming breaststroke efficiently can be a challenge and will definitely take time to master, but if you consistently practice these aspects mentioned in this article you will make progress and learn to swim a really efficient breaststroke, you just have to stay patient with it.
So with that said, I hope that you found this article helpful. If you’d like to read about more technique aspects of swimming consider checking out my blog where I cover a ton of different swimming-related topics. See you there!
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