How to Breaststroke Correctly: Step-by-Step Instructions

The breaststroke is often considered the most comfortable of the four competitive swimming strokes, but that’s only true if you can master its timing.

Here are some tips to help you learn how to breaststroke and improve your stroke.

Breaststroke overview

The most fundamental aspect of breaststroke is understanding and learning the timing of its basic elements.

If you can remember a basic mantra – pull, breathe, kick, glide – then you’re off to a great start.

The breaststroke is unique in that it is the only one of the four competitive swimming strokes in which the recovery (ie, the non-propulsive setup portion of the stroke) occurs underwater.

As a result, it has more drag than any other stroke and is the slowest of them all — and can be the most forgiving in terms of technique.

This is why understanding how to swim the breaststroke and how to stroke with proper form is so important.

How to breaststroke

Learning how to perfect the breaststroke becomes significantly easier once you understand the basic elements of the stroke.

Here’s a breakdown of the different parts that make up the breaststroke.

Glide technique for breaststroke

The glide is the start and end position of the stroke cycle and is the basis of breaststroke swimming: your body is in a straight line with your legs and arms extended, your face is in the water and your body is prone.

Pulling techniques for breaststroke

There are four parts to the breaststroke arm pull: glide, outsweep, insweep, recovery.

  • Glide: Begin by extending your arms fully in front of your body with your palms facing down and fingertips pointing forward (the sides of your thumbs should touch). Hands together in front of your chest in prayer position with your fingertips pointing away from your body. Then drive your arms forward and extend your arms fully in front of your body.
  • Outsweep: Turn your palms slightly outward (so that your thumbs point slightly downward) and, keeping your arms straight, sweep your arms out to your sides until they form a “Y” shape with your body.
  • Insweep: Bend your elbows and move your arms down and back as you pull your hands together in front of your chest in a prayer position. This is the all-important phase of pulling the breaststroke, as it acts as the force that propels your body forward. This is the stage where you lift your head out of the water to take a breath.
  • Recovery: Extend your arms just below the surface to enter the glide phase and start the cycle again.

Kicking Techniques for Breaststroke

Unlike freestyle and backstroke, breaststroke does not use a flutter kick. Instead, it simulates a frog’s kick:

  • Start with your legs straight and together.
  • Bend your knees so they point out to the side while keeping your feet together. Your legs should come towards your torso.
  • Keeping your knees where they are, spread your legs apart to extend your legs straight up into a diagonal “V” shape, and then quickly squeeze your legs together to return to the starting position. This step should be quick and fluid.

“Your kick timing should be fairly normal,” says USA Masters Swimming coach Chris Georges. “Your kick should begin with your head and shoulders rising to breathe, and it should end with a strong extension of your knees and a strike of your feet together as your arms move forward to extend into a glide position with your face in the water.”

Another way that the breaststroke kick differs from other strokes is that there are moments of stillness rather than constant movement.

“When you’re gliding, your hands are touching each other, your feet are touching each other and you’re not doing anything else,” says Coach Georges. “Always glide over every stroke.”

Breaststroke turns

The breaststroke turn is significantly easier than the flip turn associated with freestyle and backstroke, as it does not involve flipping underwater.

  • As you approach the wall, try to time it so that your arms are fully extended. In competition, both hands must touch the wall at the same time and be at the same height.
  • Swing your body and legs under you, bring your feet to the wall, and roll your body to the side, so you’re coming back to the way you’re swimming.
  • Leave the wall and use your legs to push up into a streamline position: arms fully extended, biceps, core tight, legs straight and heels pressed to your ears.
  • Do a full arm stroke and leg kick underwater before surfacing and taking your first stroke.

Common breaststroke mistakes

A common mistake made by beginners when swimming the breaststroke is to extend your arms too far.

“This creates greater resistance, because the more the arms are pulled back, the more distance they have to recover underwater to return to the glide position, creating more drag,” Georges explains.

As you sweep your arms out to the sides, you should stop when your arms make a “Y” shape as they reach out to the sides.

Then, bend your arms to pull your hands to the center of your chest. “No part of the arm or hand should come back behind your shoulder,” says Georges.

A good drill to fix this common mistake involves a simple foam noodle.

“Lie across the noodle so it goes across the upper chest and under both armpits, and then swim your breaststroke,” says Georges. “The noodle will help you stop pulling your arms back too far and keep them in front of you, where they belong.”

And although swimming has a relatively low risk of injury compared to most sports, there are many elements of swimming stroke technique that go wrong and over time you can run the risk of swimmer’s shoulder.

Swimming workout

Incorporating breaststroke into your swim workout is a great way to add variety to your swim routine and improve your feel for the water, which, in turn, can help improve your freestyle.

Swimming is one of the biggest ways to improve your aerobic endurance while being very low impact compared to running or cycling.

It’s a great way to burn calories! Check out our must-do swim workouts to help you get more motivated.

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