The breaststroke is one of the most complicated strokes to learn. Technically speaking, it is completely different from all the others, even in terms of where your forward thrust comes from, which, in the case of the breaststroke, is mainly from the legs (70% legs and 30% arms)
The breaststroke is believed to be the oldest stroke and the first to be swum competitively. Captain Matthew Webb was the first man to swim across the English Channel – from Dover to Calais – swimming the breaststroke for 21 hours 45 minutes without stopping on 24th-25th August 1875.
Keep your body horizontal, in line with the surface of the water; your head should cut through the water to allow you to breathe frontwards.
The leg action is a backwards kick with both legs simultaneously after drawing your heels up towards your buttocks by bending your knees. Your feet should face outwards during the kick phase to that you can sweep them outwards and then back together again at the end of the kick. The right time to perform the leg kick is at the end of the breathing cycle.
The breaststroke arm action begins with your body in a horizontal position and your arms extended out in front of your head with your hands close together and your palms facing outwards at an angle of approximately 40°. At the beginning of the pull phase keep your arms extended and pull almost exclusively outwards with your hands until they reach shoulder level, then bend your elbows and simultaneously rotate your arms so that your hands no longer sweep out in a circular movement but are turned inwards until they come together beneath your chest. Keep your elbows tucked in during the hand recovery phase, which should take place underwater.
Breathe frontwards: raise your chest while you are pulling with your arms and then finish by pushing downwards with your chest until you are back in a perfectly horizontal position, so as to exploit the forward thrust coming from the leg kick that then follows.
As your turn (and at the finish) your hands must touch the wall at the same time, so draw your knees up beneath your chest ready to press them quickly against the wall and then push off. During the underwater phase you can perform one complete arm stroke until your hands are along your sides, making one breaststroke leg kick and one butterfly leg kick.
The fact that the breaststroke is so different from the other strokes means that a breaststroker is very often an unusual kind of swimmer and sometimes not particularly talented at the other strokes. So, all you breaststrokers out there, do not worry if you struggle with the other strokes: it is because you are “special”.
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