Breaststroker, protect your knees!

Fitness & Wellness
Written by: arena coaches at 16 September '15 0
You are reading: Breaststroker, protect your knees!

The breaststroke is one of the most complicated swim strokes to learn and requires a completely different technique than the other three styles.

One of the differences between this style and the others lies in the distribution of forward propulsion. In fact 70% of  the propulsion comes from the legs  and the remaining 30% from the arms.

Due to its peculiarity in terms of propulsion, the use of the legs in the breaststroke is more important than in  the other strokes.

The most popular technique is the so-called ‘whip’ motion. This technique involves bending your legs towards your thighs and your thighs towards your hips at an angle of approximately 120°, with your feet almost at the surface of the water and your knees quite close together. Your feet then begin to sweep outwards to get into the right position to push against the water. You push with the inside of your feet performing an energetic out-and-in ‘whipping’ motion. Having completed this phase your feet will be together and completely relaxed.

The legs play a key role throughout the entire stroke, particularly the position of your knees. That is why the knees are a breaststroker’s real weak point.

So what kind of problems can arise from performing the movement incorrectly?

1. Mechanical alignment and stability problems connected with the kneecap. A kneecap is a flat and round-shaped bone at the front of the knee. It articulates with a similar-shaped socket at the bottom of the thigh bone (femur).

  • One of the most common causes of kneecap injuries comes from balancing difficulties. The most serious form occurs when the kneecap coves out of its sockets and needs to physically be put back in place.

2. Problems related to articular surfaces. The front of the knee is extremely vulnerable to injuries and this can cause damage to the articular surfaces of the femur-kneecap joint.

  • Suddenly injuries may be due to the kneecap not being properly aligned in its socket. This is a very frequent and extremely serious cause of injury. It builds up slowly over a number of years.

There may also be hidden causes of damage to the kneecap. The secondary effects deriving from a hidden cause are, however, quite common and only make things worse. The most important of these is the wearing away of the quadricep muscle in the front part of the knee, which controls the movement and strength of the joint. A painful knee can quickly lead to the wearing away and weakening of this muscle causing further stability and control problems.

To prevent or reduce the aforementioned problems, here are three exercises we suggest including in your weekly training plan:

Exercise 1: the squat. Stand with your heels slightly wider apart than your shoulders, making sure your toes are pointing outwards at an angle of approximately 30°. Move your hips back slightly so that you can feel the pressure on your thigh muscles; slowly bend your legs as you lower your body, without dipping down suddenly, keeping your muscles tense and avoiding any lateral movements of your knees. Bend at the knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground or, if you prefer, until your hips are the same height as your knees.

  • Begin without using any weights. Perform the movements slowly, focusing on the muscles in the front of your thighs. Begin by performing 3 sets of 12 repetitions.


Exercise 2: step-ups. Find some steps, stand in front of them and then step up onto the second step with your right leg and then bring your left foot up to join it. Return to the starting position moving your right foot first followed by your left. Begin by performing 3 sets of 20 reps for each leg.

Exercise 3: Isometric wall squat. Rest your back against a wall and then bend your legs to form an angle of 90° between your back and thighs and between your knees and tibia. Make sure your back is straight and your legs bent. Try and hold the position for 30”followed by 45” rest. Perform three sets.


Photo credit: Pentaphoto


Written by:

arena coaches

Swim coaches, trainers and experts will give you all kinds of tips for performing at your best in both training and races. Meet the coaches