Improving Your Swimming Strokes: Breaststroke Edition
27th March 2017.When you were first learning how to swim, which stroke formed the foundation for your education? If your experience was similar to the one most people have, you learned the breaststroke first. With it's easy to understand movements and ample opportunity for breathing, it's an excellent introduction to the world of swimming. However, the breaststroke also epitomises the phrase "easy to learn, difficult to master." Watching Olympic swimmers compete in the breaststroke highlights what a technical stroke the manoeuvre is in reality. Without the right form, it can be tough to gain or maintain speed. Are you satisfied with the current state of your breaststroke? Even if you are, there's always room for improvement. For those who feel like this is one of their weaker strokes, there are plenty of ways to focus on improving. Today we'll take an in-depth look at the breaststroke, its component elements, and how to effectively adapt your form to achieve faster times. We'll also think about ways you can prepare your body for success through preparations on land. After working on your backstroke and front crawl, improving your breaststroke is the natural next step. So, where should you begin when working out the kinks and improving your form?
Master the way you position your body in the water
Perhaps more than any other swimming stroke, the breaststroke requires very careful attention to the position of your body in the water. Without the right form, you will increase the amount of drag on your body substantially. Drag slows you down and wastes your energy while also having an adverse impact on your joints. To avoid putting too much stress on your body, finding the "streamline" position is imperative. This position is where your body is as hydrodynamic as possible, cutting through the water with each stroke. What are the elements of this correct breaststroke form? With your knees close together, keep your shoulders and legs nearly horizontal, but angle your body slightly, allowing you to reduce drag while keeping your kick underwater. Divide your stroke into three parts: first, the upward movement that brings your head out of the water. Next, the powerful leg kick to propel yourself forward. Finally, a glide, where you allow your momentum to carry you forward. After every kick, return yourself to the neutral position to enable your body to glide further. You can detect a poor form by the strain on your muscles, while also noting how the water responds to your body. Practice smooth movements to develop a consistent form.
Develop a powerful and streamlined kicking motion
Now let's zero in specifically on the kicking portion of the stroke. Because the kick forms almost the entire energetic component of the breaststroke, developing power and practised movements here is crucial. Begin with the knees; to keep them "close together" for the breaststroke should mean about the width of your hips. As you kick downward into the water, turn your feet outward. This movement accomplishes two things. First, you gain a little extra momentum with your kick overall. Second, it puts your feet in a prime position to sweep through a circular arc back into the ready position. Your legs should come back together simultaneously and in one smooth motion to reduce drag. Be sure to carefully time your kick with the sculling motion of your hands. If you begin to pull your hands back too soon, you will blunt some of the effects of the kick. Instead, wait until after you've expended the power of the kick to begin moving your hands. This, again, keeps your drag at a reasonable level. Be patient, and keep your head low to the water during the kicking phase. Too high and you will waste energy while straining the muscles in your neck and back unnecessarily.
Understanding the mechanics of the arm motion
We know that the timing of the arm motion is critical, but what are some tips for improving the "pull" phase of your breaststroke overall? First, consider a few of the key mistakes you might make that could hamper your swimming efficiency. Do your wrists move at all during the pull? That's causing excess friction underwater; imagine that you cannot move your hands independently of your arms at all. Keeping your hands in a steady position improves efficiency. You should also always be able to see your hands: keep them in front of you throughout the stroke. Remember that they perform a circular circuit in front of your body, but not below or to your side. Next, don't forget to keep your hands flat; this allows for a very smooth movement. Just as with your legs, simultaneous, synchronised movement between your arms is crucial to success. When your hands return to the ready position during the kick, imagine that you are gripping tiny balls. Keep your hands in the ideal fist shape before you flatten them out for the next pull. While it can seem awkward at first, practice will put you closer to perfection. Soon, it will become easy to find the movements solely by "feel."
Swimming drills to help improve breaststroke efficiency
With these elements considered, we can now look at some exercises to incorporate into your pool routine. These will help you develop some of the strength you need to be successful while also improving the skills necessary for the breaststroke. Consider this highly effective leg drill, for example: As you swim, kick with just one leg; on the next stroke, use the other leg. Finally, on each third stroke, do both together. Meanwhile, keep the non-moving leg straight and try to line your feet up at the end of each kick. This drill teaches you timing while displaying any slow spots in your kick. When you feel drag increase, you know you need to work on the kick more. Having trouble keeping your head steady and in place? Use your chin to hold a tennis ball to your chest while you practice the breaststroke. Though it sounds silly, it will teach you the right way to remain rigid. When practising the pull motions, combine it with a gentle flutter kick to maintain momentum. This flutter develops a feeling for how to use the glide to your advantage while also enabling consistent arm practice. These are just a few of the drills you might try; there are many others to explore, too.
Spend some time in the gym refining muscle groups
As with any form of swimming training, dry land training can become an integral component of your efforts. After spending some time practising the breaststroke, you will become very familiar with how much it challenges your core muscles. To fight fatigue and deliver more power during the stroke, begin with regular sets of push-ups. These work out important muscles in your upper body and your arms to yield improved stamina in the pool. Your biceps play a critical role in the breaststroke as well, especially during the pull. Grab some dumbbells and begin doing regular sets of bicep curls. Arm raises also effectively work out the biceps for the strength necessary for success in the water. When it comes to strengthening your back and holding the right position underwater, chin-ups will deliver the necessary gains. Don't forget to focus on your legs, either. In that area, you have many options. Regular cardio exercises, like running or cycling, can help develop the leg muscles necessary for a powerful kick. However, squats, presses, and leg lifts in the weight room can all serve to strengthen them as well. Overall, incorporating some weight training into your weekly routine is important for breaststroke success. You can drill in the pool as often as you like, but it won't deliver the same effectiveness as combining those efforts with a weight regimen.
Master the breaststroke through time and practice
Once you begin to understand the mechanical problems with your stroke, unlocking your potential speed becomes much easier. Refining your form, strengthening your muscles, and putting in the pool practice time will all help you become a much better swimmer. A properly executed breaststroke can make you tough to beat in a race. Don't forget to spend time honing your turning abilities; finding the streamlined position after the turn is a challenge for even some of the pros out there. While you may have learned the breaststroke first, it was just the beginning of a lifelong technical challenge. How much can you improve? Put your training to the test! Follow @SportNessUK