May 062012

So what exactly does really good breaststroke look like? Let’s check out U.S. Olympic swimmer Jessica Hardy – a very, very fast breaststroker. What makes her so efficient in the water? GoSwim has a nice short video segment to a new breaststroke DVD:

Jessica has a very efficient front end of her stroke.  Notice how, as she ends the streamline and prepares for the next stroke, she points her thumbs down and faces her palms out to the side of the pool. If you tend to leave your palms facing the bottom of the pool when you start the breaststroke pull, you won’t keep tension on your palm and will wind up massaging the water.

  • First tip: Try to start each pull with the thumbs down position. If you do that, you’ll have even more grab on that first part of the stroke. It is challenging when you first start this, but worth it!
  • Put it to work: Try some 25s where you do breaststroke pull with either a flutter kick or dolphin kick. Take it slow and make sure each stroke begins with thumbs down, palms out. The Wide Y Sculling Drill covered in an earlier posting on our website is an excellent drill to establish this position.

Let’s look at Jessica’s outsweep. Jessica has a wide outsweep, but notice how she “turns the corner ” into her catch as her hands reach her head. That “corner” position is key. Many swimmers bring their hands well behind their head and that is what causes their elbows to get caught behind and beneath them. This is a death blow to the front end of breaststroke as you expose too much of your chest and shoulders to the water (creating resistance) and it is tough to get your hands back under you to shoot them forward quickly.

  • Second tip: Feel free to pull wide in your breaststroke, but understand that where you turn the corner from outsweep to insweep is at or near your head. Don’t let your elbows go back behind your shoulders. Keep the elbows high (near the water’s surface) on the outsweep and insweep before shooting your hands forward.
  • Put it to work: Take those same 25s from the first tip and concentrate on feeling exactly where you switch from outsweep to insweep. Work to keep those elbows high!

Now let’s look at her kick. She does a great job of bringing her ankles up close to her rear end. She finishes each kick nicely and she has incredible ankle flexibility. Her knees may seem wide (as they are drawing outside her hip line), but when you look at the width of her shoulders, she is within the line of her shoulders,. The idea is to try and keep your knees no wider than your hips or shoulders. We do that to minimize resistance by minimizing how much we are extending our limbs outside our cylinder. (See my post on Cylinder Freestyle.) I try to think of pigeon toeing my knees as I draw my feet up. You certainly don’t want to keep your knees locked together! But many swimmers struggling with breaststroke kick simply allow their knees to separate too far.

  • Third tip: The first action in your breaststroke kick is to draw your ankles to your rear end. When you draw your feet up, it is okay to allow your feet to separate – you don’t try to draw them up tight together because your knees will drift apart. Finish the feet together at the end of your kick, and allow them to separate as you draw them up. Here’s the danger. If you try to go as wide as Jessica does with her feet, there is a chance that you’ll use your knees to separate first, and then try to draw your feet up. That is a death blow to breaststroke as you present your entire thigh to the water, creating enormous resistance. As long as you always think “Draw ankles to butt” as your first action in the breast kick, you should be fine.
  • Put it to workTry some 25s kicking breaststroke first with a board, and then do some 25s kicking in a superman position on your stomach. Make that first action to draw your ankles up and try not to let the thighs move forward of your body line. If you are struggling with your draw, a drill that might help is Wall Kicks (below). You can also try doing some breaststroke kicking wearing a pull buoy between your thighs. This will really narrow your kick!

Drill – Wall Kicks                                                         

This drill teaches you to use the muscles in the back of your legs and in your hips to recover your heels rather than using your knees.

  • In the water, position yourself at the edge of a pool – deep enough that your feet do not touch the bottom. If the pool has a gutter, position your arms in the gutter. If there is no gutter, position your arms on the pool deck. The object is to “hug” the pool as closely as possible with your face, chest, hips and knees initially touching the wall. Point your toes. Recover your heels toward your hips without letting your hips come off the wall. It is close too impossible! But, the more you narrow the gap between your hips and the wall, the more successful you will be at breaststroke kick. Note which muscle groups need to fire up to make this successful. Low back muscles and your abdominal muscles play a big role in the short axis strokes of breast and butterfly.

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