Curing Breaststroke Problems

We must strip away old ideas about competitive breaststroke. We want a series of explosions with as much streamlining between the explosion for the legs and the explosion for the in-sweep scull. The only pull the swimmers should know about is the underwater pull-down.

The best way to coach breaststroke is to warm up using drills every day. This reinforces how to swim breaststroke. We always start with easy kicking to gently warm up the legs and the knees. We might start with 100 kick on the surface, then go to kicking two kicks underwater and one at the surface to breathe. Never use a conventional kick-board for kicking breaststroke, they will cause your butt to sink. We want the butt as high in the water as possible to allow recovery of the knees with as little resistance as possible. Our hands are locked together straight-armed during these kicks, with the head looking down. Never miss an opportunity to practice streamlining.

We progress to kicking with the arms straight, but sculling out and in 6 inches, for two lengths. Do not bend the arms. Continue the drill by sculling out and in about 12 inches from the centerline of the swimmer. Again the arms are as straight as possible; emphasizing to the swimmer there is NO PULL BACK in the modern breaststroke. Tell your swimmers the water is harder at to surface, scull about 1 inch under the waters surface for the out-scull and 8-12 inches under for the in-sweep scull.

Next we swim competitive style breaststroke, sculling out just past shoulder width; strength determining how wide the swimmer can scull. My eight-year-old girls are sculling a hand width past the outside of the shoulders, the strong 15-16 year old boys approximately 10-14 inches past. The criteria is that they must be able to scull out and have the arm and shoulder strength to explode the in-sweep, to get the arms into the streamlined position each stroke.

Streamline, streamline, streamline is what I tell my swimmers every set. They know to explode the arms so that when they kick they are already going into the streamline. They know the proper streamline is with the head looking down, hands together and the body straight as an arrow, with the head just under the water surface. The palms of the hands can be together in the prayer position or one on top of each other. To reinforce this exploding kick into a streamline they do a one and a two second drill. After each kick they hold their hands out in front in the streamline position for either one or two seconds. I tell them to feel the speed of the water over their heads. Once in a while I make them swim with their heads held up the way we used to swim back in the 60ís and 70ís. After a few laps like this they are happy to return to the streamline breaststroke. Sometimes we race breaststroke using the one-second drill. The swimmers look good and usually go very close to their best times.

The most important factor in breaststroke is a strong, explosive kick. The legs are brought up very fast to the buttocks, the feet angle out to catch the water, then instantly explode down and backwards until the soles of the feet crash together. The feet and toes should be pointing at the bottom of the pool when crashing together, and then for a milli-second you can point them backwards. This is not necessary though as the feet are now within the wall of water the swimmer has just swum through and they are not causing extra resistance. I have my swimmers use a narrow kick, so that the legs are within the width of the shoulders and just the feet stick out past this water to catch fresh water and explode backwards.

I use the two hunch system, my swimmers hunch their shoulders outwards on the out-scull and a narrowing hunch at the end of the in-scull.

The first hunch begins with the hands together in the streamline after the kick. As the hands reach full front-wards extension, the hands are in a prayer position with the thumbs up. Now hunch the shoulders outwards and the elbows rotate 90 degrees. The thumbs will be pointing to the bottom of the pool, cock the wrists so they are 40-45 degrees from being straight. We do lots of sculling drills, the swimmers soon learn they go much faster and easier with the wrists cocked instead of straight. This first hunch when done correctly will put you in a butterfly position and will utilize the large latissimus muscles of the back. These muscles are stronger and have more endurance than the forearm muscles.

The second hunch begins as soon as the insweep begins. As the hands scull inwards under the face, the shoulders hunch up to narrow the body as the kick begins, and the swimmer stretches out into the streamlined position. There are two styles of insweep scull. The wave style uses the hands and forearms as "windshield wiper blades" using the hands and forearms together. The flat style uses the hands to scoop out the inside of a large bowl. Remember three things, you must be able to see the hands in front of you, the elbows never touch the body or chest, and hand speed is critical to get into the streamline.

Timing is what wins and loses races. I tell my swimmers kick, streamline and fast scull. They know the faster they kick and the faster they scull the more time they have in the streamline position. Hence the one-second drills where they explode the kick, streamline one-second and rest, then explode the scull insweep. But I also tell them that during a race the hands are actually beginning to scull outwards during the streamline and first hunch. This is called overlap timing and is used by all championship breaststrokers.

Breathing should be done during the in-scull. The force of the hands coming inwards lifts the body up out of the water. If you keep the head in line with the spine, you will have plenty of time at the peak of the in-sweep to breathe. The lower you keep your head while breathing the higher your hips will stay, thus making recovery of the legs with less resistance and more time into the streamline.

These progressive drills will help any breaststroke swimmer from six to over 60.

Wayne McCauley

ASCA Level 5

Masters All-American