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Common Breaststroke Mistakes

Most swimmers consider breaststroke to be a slow, leisurely stroke. This is valid. Heck, sometimes you can even feel like you’re moving backwards! If it seems like frogs are swimming past you, this guide should help highlight important aspects of the stroke to keep an eye on. You’ll also learn helpful, simple ways to work on any issues you’re having.

Most Popular Breaststrokers

  1. Kitsuke Kitajima
  2. Leisel Jones
  3. Amanda Beard
  4. Brendan Hansen
  5. Rebecca Soni

1. Head Position: Look Forward

When learning breaststroke, you were probably taught to breathe forward, and look in front of you. This isn’t necessarily the best way to breathe. Breathing like this drops your hips low in the water. This body alignment pushes you upward rather than forward. Since you’re trying to reach the other end of the pool — and not the sky — it’s important to adjust your head position.

How to Fix

When looking straight down, it may seem impossible to breathe. Play around with your head position. If you can look toward the water at about a 45 degree angle, this will help lift your hips up.

The best way to practice you head position is to swim regular freestyle. You can certainly adjust your head position while kicking or pulling. You might change your head position when you switch to regular freestyle, though.

When first testing it out, you might feel like there’s water in your face as you attempt to breathe. Keep working with the angle your neck makes in relation to the water. With some adjustments, you’ll find a pocket of air without water going in your mouth. You’ll start to feel yourself jetting forward, instead of bobbing up and down in the same place.

After you breathe, make sure you tuck your head between your arms on your glide. Look straight down toward the bottom of the pool. Take advantage of the glide part of the stroke. You’ll move straight forward with your body on top of the water, instead of pushing yourself mostly upward.

2. Body Position: Drop Your Hips

Once you get your eyes down, it’ll be much easier to keep your hips up. You want your body to be completely horizontal on top of the water. This will ensure that you jet forward on each pull and each kick, instead of pushing yourself upward. With your hips low, your body becomes vertical in the water. You exert the same amount of effort without moving very far.

How to Fix

First, get your eyes down. Second, think about where your hips are. If it still feels like they’re sinking, think about what your back is doing. If your back is arched, your hips will drop down. Instead, tighten your core to make sure your back isn’t curved. Raise your spine near the surface of the water.

Try kicking breaststroke in a streamline. Notice if your spine is straight and near the surface of the water. If you’re still sinking, tuck a noodle under your hips. Try a few laps with the noodle, and concentrate on lifting your hips near the surface.

3. Legs: Kicking Too Wide

Most swimmers kick wide in breaststroke. This is in attempt to kick as much water as possible. Despite what instincts might tell you, this is not the best way to kick. Pointing your knees outward toward the lane ropes angles your shin in a way that doesn’t allow you to grip the water well. You’re not creating much surface area with which to kick the water.

Even though you feel a lot of water between your legs, you’re pushing the water in toward itself. In order to push the water back and propel yourself forward, you need to change your leg angle.

How to Fix

Point your knees down toward the bottom of the pool. Practice with a kickboard. As you bring you legs apart for the kick, try to keep the distance between your knees short. Pay attention to your knees: Notice if it feels like they’re pointing toward the bottom of the pool or if they’re pointing outward.

Hot Tip: Practice on the Wall
If you’re having trouble staying afloat while kicking on your back, practice on the wall. Turn your back to the wall, and prop your arms up on the deck. Then swing your feet up near the surface and begin kicking. Watch your knees to see if they’re pointing upward or to the side.
If it’s hard to tell where your knees are pointing, kick on your back. Push off the wall with your arms at your sides. As you kick, glance down at your knees. Look to see if they’re pointing outward, or if they’re pointing up toward the sky. If you can see yourself, it will be much easier to change.

4. Arms: Pulling Too Wide

Pulling wide is very similar to kicking too big. Pulling wide does not help you pull more water, despite how it may seem. Sure, you’re scooping a whole lot of water, but the water outside of your shoulder-width is not the best water to be pulling. That water is so far away from your body. Instead of pulling the water past you, you’re sweeping the water out to the sides. This takes a whole lot of effort, and yields very little results.

How to Fix

Focus on small scoops. As you pull, point your fingertips downward and stiffen your wrists. Try to turn your hand and arm into a paddle. Pull the water past you, instead of away from you. While pulling, don’t let your hands sweep out much further than shoulder-width apart. This way, you scoop the water near your body. You’ll only spend time and effort pulling water that propels you forward.

To practice, stick a pull buoy between your thighs. This allows you to focus solely on the pull without being distracted with the kick. This will also help you feel if the pull is propelling you forward. Play around with the angle of your arms, and the size of your pull. With some adjustments, you’ll be able to find the most efficient pull for you.

5. Timing: Pulling & Kicking Simultaneously

A common misconception with breaststroke is that pull and the kick happen simultaneously. That is, your arms and legs move in a circular motion at the same time. Although you’ll still travel down the pool like this, there’s a better, faster way of doing it.

How to Fix

Separating the pull from the kick will allow you to move further on each stroke. To get the maximum out of every pull and kick, try the “pull-glide-kick-glide” drill. To do the drill: Lie on your stomach in a streamline. With your legs floating behind you, perform one pull. Return to a streamline once you’ve completed the arm stroke. Glide for a moment, and then perform one kick. After the kick, hold the streamline and glide for another moment. Repeat this cycle a few times.

At first, this drill might be tricky. As you get the hang of it, though, you’ll feel yourself move forward on both the pull and the kick. You should feel the power of the pull and kick separately.

After a few laps of this drill, try shortening the glide between the pull and the kick. It’s ok for the two to overlap, but they shouldn’t be performed at the exact same time.

Small Changes, Big Difference

Breaststroke might be a slower stroke. With some adjustments, though, your breaststroke can become considerably faster. Small changes can make a significant difference. And who knows: This leisurely stroke might become one of your fastest!

If you're wondering how to improve your breaststroke, this guide has some great tips for you. It points out what to look out for and how to fix them while swimming.
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