Jan 062013

Photo by © Cokie Lepinski

Breaststrokers know the finicky nature of timing in that stroke. When it is on, your stroke feels incredibly smooth, powerful and almost effortless. When it is off, it feels absolutely horrible! Take time away from the stroke (say from a knee injury), and your timing definitely suffers upon your return.

From on deck, what I notice is that many masters swimmers struggle to find proper timing. One of the biggest questions I get about breaststroke is when to time the kick in relation to the pull. This is a bit tricky. Many a coach has been heard calling out from deck, “kick your hands forward”. While they mean well, the instruction is somewhat flawed. In fact, many of us initiate our kick too early in the stroke because of this misconception. Watch the best breaststrokers in the world of late, and you’ll notice that their kick takes place behind their arm action.

Two great posts are available for further information on how the best of the best time their kick. Check out this post by a Santa Clara swimmer, Russell Payne. He describes his struggle changing from an “accordion breaststroke” (where the kick starts with the catch and pull of the arms) to this more recent evolution. Then, check out this one by who he references in his post, Russell Mark, USA National Team Staff Member.

What Payne describes as accordion breaststroke, is what many masters swimmers do. They draw their hands in on the outsweep and feet up at the same time, exposing their entire frame as one unit of massive resistance. But, if you separate your kick just slightly from your pull, you lessen that resistance by getting the front half of your body into a streamline, allowing the kick to really propel you forward.

In a nutshell, you want to be very patient with your legs. Wait to draw your heels up until your arms “turn the corner” to your insweep from your outsweep. Two key elements to success here are 1) you need to have a very quick draw of your heels to your hips; and 2) on the shoot through recovery of the arms, you need to drive your body forward, pressing your chest down, fully extending those arms out front, and squeezing your ears with your biceps. Take a look at these two pictures that definitely illustrate this point.

Photo from SwimmingandMore.blogspot.com

Photo from SwimmingandMore.blogspot.com

In this first photo, Michael Phelps has drawn his heels up and by the time he gets the arms extended out front, he will be on the down kick with his legs.

Daniel Gyurta. Photo from http://coachjoshwilkinson.edublogs.org

Daniel Gyurta. Photo by Francois Xavier Marit, Getty Images. Obtained from http://coachjoshwilkinson.edublogs.org

This photo is of Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta. Here you can see that he is one step farther along in his stroke than the Phelps photo above. He has completed his recovery and his legs are on the down sweep. This allows him to minimize resistance and maximize his streamline.

How do you do it? Practice, practice, practice. Kicking without a board in a streamline position (as if you just ended a breaststroke pull) is one way to establish your feel for this. Then, give a try to the Pull Stop Kick Stop drill highlighted in this previous post on Breaststroke Timing – Part 2. By learning to separate the pull from the kick, and then gradually putting it back together, you’ll reset your timing and get back to feeling smooth and powerful with your breaststroke.

Give it a try and let me know how things are progressing.

Jun 172012

Ok, so we’ve been posting some drills to improve your timing on breaststroke. I’m doing some research for the USMS High Performance Camp that I’ll be coaching at in August (Greensboro, NC). I’m always on the hunt for new thoughts and ideas. While researching, I stumbled on this very challenging breaststroke drill for advanced level breaststrokers. I found this on SwimmingWorld. While it is dated 2004, it is still worthy of attempting!

Here’s a photo of Ed Moses doing the drill.

Here’s the write up from SwimmingWorld:

This is an advanced breaststroke drill, performed with only one arm and one leg. The drill will force you to use the proper timing of “Pull-Breathe-Kick-Stretch”. If you are not using the correct stroke timing – for example, you are not stretching long enough — you will receive immediate feedback from the stroke and go nowhere.

Begin the drill by holding your left foot with your right hand (or vice versa). Always begin a new stroke cycle in a streamline position, with your left arm extended out in front of you and your right leg straight. Pull as close to your normal pull pattern as possible. As you begin the insweep phase of the stroke, lift your head to breathe. During the breath, bend your kicking leg, bringing the heel of your foot toward your hip. During the power phase of the kick, place your head back down into the water, and straighten your leg into your “streamline”.

The timing of the stroke is a fundamental skill common of all successful breaststrokers. You will find this drill to be almost impossible to perform without proper timing.

Let me know how you fare. I’ve given it a go and can’t begin to master this – yet. My knee surgery has my right knee a bit challenged by that much bending back.

By the way, I had the pleasure of watching Ed Moses swim (and win) the 200 yard breaststroke at the USMS Nationals in Arizona May of 2011. He went out in a 24 on his first 50. Ahem, a 24?!?!?

Jun 102012

On May 20th, I wrote a post on a drill for breaststroke timing. You can read that here. That post also gave a link to an article by Swimming World on breaststroke timing. This week I show another application of the drill I call “Pull Stop – Kick Stop”. (If you need a review of what the Pull Stop, Kick Stop drill is, you’ll see that at the bottom of this post.)

This drill is relatively simple. Apply the Pull Stop Kick Stop drill to a 100 yard breaststroke. The idea is that you start with a big separation between the pull and kick on lap one, and then reduce that separation on lap two, further reduce it on lap 3, and then lap 4 is done as normal breaststroke. Try a series of 100 breaststrokes in this fasion.

Here are the specifics:

  1. On lap 1, count “1-2-3” after the pull, before you execute the kick. Make sure you are in full streamline before you start your count.
  2. On lap 2, count “1-2” after the pull (in full streamline) before you execute the kick.
  3. On lap 3, count “1” after the pull, before the kick
  4. On lap 4, swim normal breaststroke. It is important that you allow your body to fully extend after each stroke. Finish your kick quickly and firmly, bringing your feet AND your legs together, and pointing your toes at the end of that kick. Get those arms fully extended and finish them close together up front (but not overlapping).

Some key points:

  • Work your streamline each and every stroke! You want to achieve that same type of streamline that your coaches ask you to do when coming off the wall. Arms full extended (although not stacked on top of each other), and touch your biceps to your ears. Eyes should be looking at the pool bottom.
  • Get your hips to come up by pressing your chest down when you are fully extended. Be careful not to point your hands or head down – just press your chest down. Pressing your chest down helps your hips to rise. Getting your hips up sets you up for a more powerful kick.
  • Start each pull with your thumbs down and palms facing the sides of the pool.
  • Keep your knees fairly narrow on your kick. Your first action of the kick is to bring both heels up to the side of your buttocks. Your feet should separate slightly on the draw up (of feet to butt) in order to prevent your knees from going wide.


Drill: Pull Stop, Kick Stop

This is a drill that can help in establishing timing between the pull and the kick. It also promotes “riding the glide” in breaststroke, driving the head down between outstretched arms, and finishing the feet before starting the pull.  

• This is a breaststroke separation drill where we separate the pull from the kick. Do a single pull of breaststroke with no kick at all (legs just hang out). At the end of the pull, dive your head down between your biceps into a tight streamline and stop or freeze in this position for just a moment. Without lifting your head or taking a breath now execute a single breaststroke kick with arms remaining in the streamline position. Finish your feet firmly and glide in this streamline position for a moment. Repeat the cycle through the lap.
•It is important to make a distinct stop after each pull and each kick. After you practice this for awhile, it should feel quite rhythmical. Once you have this drill down, begin to narrow the gap between the stops and eventually work it into a regular breaststroke. An accomplished breaststroker actually has a slight separation between the pull and when the kick starts. You’ll see that they initiate the arm pull first and about the time they are turning the corner to the insweep (from the outsweep) they begin to draw their heels up to start the kick. This requires a compact and speedy kick with a very quick heel draw.