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.
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.
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.