The breastroke is a critical skill for swimmers who want to compete. However, because it is such a complex stroke, many swimmers have a tough time doing the breastroke efficiently. If you can learn to do so, you will soon be swimming a faster breastroke, beating your times, winning more races and having more fun.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure you are doing the breastroke correctly. Check with a certified swimming instructor or coach to make sure you are doing the moves properly. He or she can point out the tiny errors that could be holding you back.
Emily is a 16-year-old competitive swimmer in Michigan. She holds the school record in the 100 meter breastroke. She said many swimmers are a bit sloppy in their movements.
“In the pull, they need to keep the elbows out to the side,” Emily said. “When the arms are in to the chest, keep those elbows out there. It will give you the momentum to push forward with the next stroke.” At this point your shoulders should be out of the water.
Likewise, Emily said intermediate breastrokers can get a little lazy with the feet.
“With the kick, you need to get your ankles to your hips so your legs can come up to the side of you,” she said. “The better you do this, the faster you will be.”
The power to move forward in the breastroke comes from the glide. The glide comes at the end of each stroke and at that point your arms and legs should be tight together. In order to have a more powerful glide, it is essential to strengthen the legs for a more powerful breastroke kick. Emily said a great way to strengthen the legs is to stretch them.
“Stand and pull your leg up higher,” she said. “Hold it for 10 seconds and then release it to do the other leg. Every time you do it, try to get it higher.”
Another trick to increase your speed is to use stretch bands. Wrap them around your legs and perform stretching exercises. For example, tie the ends of the band together and then wrap it around the ankles. If working outside the pool, sit down and try stretching your legs apart. Repeat as long as it feels comfortable to you.
You can use the bands in the water too. Again, tie the ends together and wrap it either around your ankles or around your thighs. Use a kickboard to practice the leg motion. The beauty of doing these exercises in the water is that not only will they strengthen your legs; it will also help you perfect your kick.
When you are learning the breastroke a wide kick is good so that your legs learn the motion properly. However, a wide kick is not so good for competitive swimmers because the wide leg provides resistance to the next stroke. By narrowing the kick, there is less resistance and so you will go further on each stroke.
As Emily said, leg strength is very important in improving your breastroke. Another exercise you can do to strengthen the legs is the lunge. Stand tall, then lunge forward with your right leg and lower your body down so your right knee is at a 90 degree angle. Pause, rise up and bring your legs together into a standing position. Repeat on your left leg. Many swim coaches recommend doing these three times each week, working up to 25 lunges per leg. Follow with leg stretches.
Emily also recommends stretching and strengthening the arms, especially the triceps. Triceps dips are excellent exercises to do just that: Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. Lean back, extending your arms behind you so that you are resting on your hands. Use your arms to lift your seat off the floor. Hold for a count of 10 and release.
Of course the best way to improve your breastroke is to just do it. Emily practices swimming with her high school swim team two hours each day, one hour of which is devoted to the breastroke. The more you do anything, the better you will be at it, she said. You can break down your practice to concentrate on various components. For example, try doing 10 length of just the kick (using a kickboard) or four lengths of the breastroke pull (the arms) can help strengthen weak spots while giving the other extremity a rest.
One aspect that Emily and other competitive racers focus on is the breastroke turn at the end of each length. For the breastroke, it is critical that both hands and both legs touch the wall. Once they have, immediately pull one arm back in the opposite direction as you push off the wall. When that push-off happens, hold your body as straight and streamlined as possible for a more powerful breastroke glide.
However, too much of anything is not good for you. There are countless stories of swimmers who injured their knees from overdoing it on the breastroke. This is because the force of the kick occurs on the outer side of the knees. Thus competitive swimmers, such as Emily, learn to listen to their bodies: If it starts to hurt, it’s time to take a break from the breastroke for a while, even a month or two. In the interim, do stretches and strengthening exercises. There are always other swimming strokes to focus on.
In the excitement of a race, it is essential to concentrate on your own efforts. Make sure you stretch before the race and try to stay relaxed and confident. Once you’re in the water, don’t pay attention to what’s going on elsewhere. Concentrate on your own race and above all don’t turn your head to see where the other racers are.
Improving your breastroke is largely a matter of practicing the fundamentals as efficiently as possible. By practicing them wisely and taking breaks when your body tells you to, you will be well on your way to an advanced breastroke.