Breastroke swimming learn the technical aspects of the stoke and apply it to yourself, find the faults and causes to prefect your stroke

Breastroke swimming/ Introduction

Breastroke swimming is one of the oldest of the four competitive strokes as well as being the slowest. This stroke is easy to learn as back stroke and front crawl. It is very popular with adults and I always teach adults Breastroke first if they cannot swim at all.

Breastroke swimming has two variations. The first one is the flat stroke, this is when the swimmer swims with shoulders stay in the for most of the stroke as well as the body staying in a fairly flat and stable position.

The second variation is a high lift stroke, this where the shoulders are lifted high out of the water in an upward and forward motion as the insweep of the arms stroke is made.

Breastroke swimming in more detail/ body position

Your body should be as flat and streamlined as you can as well as being horizontal allowing enough inclination from the head to the feet to allow recovery of the leg to take place without bringing the lower part of the legs out of the water. This description is good for someone swimming the flat stroke but someone swimming the high lift stroke will need to be on a more inclined position at the front of your body during the lifting part of the stroke. When you swim the latter technique have good lower back flexibility and can keep hips and legs in a streamlined position during the lifting movement.

Points to note:

When in the propulsive phase of the stroke your hips should be as close to the surface of the water as possible keeping the legs in line with the body.

The upper part of the body and face should be in the water and streamline during the propulsive kick back of the legs. Remember that when one end of the body is providing propulsion the other end should stay as streamlined as possible. For example when the arm are in the propulsive stage then the legs should be straight gliding through the water. When the legs are at their propulsive stage then the arms should be straight in front of you streamlined and gliding through the water.

Breastroke swimming/ Leg action

The narrow , backward, around and downward kick is the most popular leg action when breastroke swimming it is called the whip kick. The wider sweeping kick is not now used in competitive swimming but is still greatly used with recreational swimmers because it is relaxing. It is also used in leisure centers for lifesaving. Unlike other strokes like front crawl and backstroke where the legs keep you balanced and give little propulsion the legs in breastroke swimming are propulsive. The effectiveness of the propulsive stage all depends on the power, speed of leg movement and sweeping action of the feet on the water. The only danger you need to be aware of is that after your propulsive leg phase that the recovery of the legs does not create any drag. The swimmer must insure that when breastroke swimming the recovery of the legs is streamlined as well as the same time putting them back in the correct position to start the kick again which is called the propulsive phase. Insure a powerful kick back to give a powerful and accelerating movement.

Breastroke swimming/ leg recovery

After the initial kick back the legs should be straight, extended and together. The recovery starts with the lowering of the hips which corresponds with the finish of the insweep of the arm stroke. At this point the upper body is lifting as the breastroke swimmer breathes. The hips will now naturally go down. The knees and hips are relaxed and the upper legs are then brought forward and slightly outwards by flexion of the knees and flexion and outward rotation of the hips. The feet should at this time should be pointing backwards and plantarflexed and should slightly turn in (in-toe) so to reduce drag. As you feet approach you buttocks they should turn up and out so the flat of your foot is facing the water in preparation for the propulsive phase. It is best if you do not bring the upper legs too far forward. Rather, they move the upper legs minimally and bring the lower legs up which gives a far more streamlined position and still yet places the feet in an excellent position to kick back. The width of the knees on recovery all depends on the individual, but a too wide position of the knees would be detrimental to the stroke.

Breastroke swimming/ The propulsive phase

During the propulsive phase of the leg kick the breastroke swimmer is trying to move his/her feet in an outward, backward and eventually downward direction so that the feet have the best opportunity to fix on the water in a sweeping and driving action. At the end of leg recovery the hips and knees are flexed and the feet are close to the buttocks in a dorsiflexed and averted position. The kick will start with the feet moving in an outward and backward direction in a sweeping movement. Your hips and knees will extend as force is applied during the sweeping movement of the feet. Towards the end of the knee and hip extension the path of the kick changes to not only a backward sweep but also an inward and downward sweep. The kick is near completion when your legs are fully extended. some swimmers will finish with the feet touching at this point, but most finish with a space between the feet which can almost be hip width. The swimmer who finishes in this position will then bring the feet together in a strong, insweeping action, and it is important to impress on the swimmer the need for acceleration throughout the propulsive phase of the leg action. The feet start the kick slowly through 'catch' and then there is a progressive acceleration through the rest of the kick, eventually finishing in a whip-like action. Once the feet are together the muscular effort in the legs is relaxed and the legs are now fully extended with the feet plantarflexed once more. They are then allowed to rise to the same level as the hips in a streamlined position.

Breastroke swimming/ arm action

The purpose of the arm action is to create as much propulsion as possible by using the hands in in a sweeping type movement against the water. The sweeping path of the hands should be in a outwards, downwards and inwards. After these arm movements have been made the arms are stretched forward into the recover action.

Breastroke swimming/ outsweep-catch-downsweep

After the recovery the arms should be in a relaxed, fully extended position. The thumbs should be touching with the fingers pointing forward and the inside of the elbows close together. The first movement by the swimmer is to 'pitch the hands'. This will vary slightly from swimmer to swimmer but, generally the hands turn so that the thumbs are lower than the rest of the hand and the palms are facing diagonally downwards and outwards. The swimmer next starts to sweep the hands outwards, at first with very little pressure, so that the hands can feel the water. As the this action progresses the pressure and speed of the movement increases. The outward sweeping action continues until 'catch' is reached and the hands fix on the water. From here the propulsive phase proper commences. The exact point of the catch can vary from swimmer to swimmer but, generally, it takes place when the hands are approximately shoulder width apart. As the hands have also been moving diagonally downwards they will be about 15-22cms below the surface at this point. At catch several things happen which are fundamental to good technique. Firstly, the hands change pitch so they are pressing outwards, downwards and backwards. Secondly the arms start to bend and thirdly, the shoulders rotate inwards. These changes give the swimmer the high elbow position needed in all prone strokes for truly efficient swimming. Eventually the hands are pointing downwards and the hands reach the deepest point in their downward sweeping action.

Breastroke swimming/ Inswwep

The circular motion the hands changes from sweeping downwards to sweeping inwards as they approach their deepest point. The hands sweep inwards, upwards and slightly backwards as the acceleration throughout the stroke is maintained. The inward sweeping action provides a considerable amount of propulsion, so the maintenance of the pressure on the hands and their acceleration is important. The path of the elbows will follow that made by the hands, but generally they should be brought inwards towards the chest wall. As the hands near the end of the inward sweeping action the elbows should not be allowed to pull back behind the line of the shoulder. If this occurred it would cause a loss of propulsive force and more importantly, an i increase in resistance.

Breastroke swimming/ recovery

The completion of the insweep brings the hands together under the chin. The hands have been accelerating all the time up to this point and the breastroke swimmer needs to control the first part of the recovery actionso that a smooth transition from the end of the insweepto the start of the recovery is achieved. The arms and hands are generally stretched forwards in the most streamlined fashion possible, and the pitch of the hands is altered once more so that they face palm downwards by the time the action is completed. At the end of the action the arms should be in a relaxed and fully extended position.

Breastroke swimming/ breathing

reathing in breastroke swimming is not normally too much of a problem once the general stroke is achieved. The head is clear of the water at the time the hands finish the insweep and are directly under the chin. All breastroke swimmers should breathe in at this point, as the arms recover the head is lowered into the water. During the underwater sweeping action of the arm stroke the aim is to gradually exhale so that the final exhalation of air is made as the mouth breaks the surface of the water.

Breastroke swimming/ timing of the stroke (co-ordination)

The timing of the stroke put simply is that when the legs are kicking back, the front of the body is as streamlined as possible. When the arms are providing propulsion the back end of the body is as streamlined as possable. There are certain variations in timing occur based on the swimmers individuality, some swimmers have a glide orientated stroke whilst others have a stroke with a much faster tempo. Both techniques of breastroke swimming are based on the same principles above the only difference is the amount of time they keep their bodies in a streamlined position. Beginners and young usually start by learning the glide type of timing as they become more experienced, they can develop their own tempo based by trial and error.

Remember pull, breathe, kick and glide do this and you can't go wrong, honest!

Breastroke swimming/ Variations in technique

There are a few variations in breastroke swimming for competitive and recreational swimming they are as follows:

Swimming breastroke with your head above the water it is basically the breastroke without the breathing. This method is usually taught before introducing the breathing. Some breatroke swimmers choose to swim like this whilst having a conversation with a friend swimming across the pool. Because the head is high it causes more resistance and is less streamlined.

Early breathing, some breastroke swimmers lift their heads to breathe while the hands are in the glide position. This is quite an old way of breathing and it is not taught any more but you will still see people swimming this way.

Undulating breastroke, this is the best and most common way of breathing. It is useful for great speed because of the improved body position. The term undulating means dolphin type action. The points to create good undulating are;

Keep your body in a streamlined position

Keeping your eyes looking downwards when you glide as well as your body completely under the water

Kick your legs hard on leg kick acceleration and wide angle of body to upper leg

Try to keep an emphasis on the downsweep in the kick to help with your dolphin action

The outsweep of the arms often wide of the shoulders with your hands and elbows accelerate inwards and forwards

You can either recover your hands over or on the water

During recovery the breastroke swimmer will drive the arms downhill during the recovery

Tilt your head forwards and downwards when taking a breath

There is a full extension but almost no glide

These little swimming tips will guide you in the correct direction for an undulating dolphin style but you yourself must work and develop your own personal style to suit your own needs, this can only come from you, good luck!

You may need kick board and floats for corrective practices if you need information about these floats please have a look at my page about swimming equipment. click here to veiw my page about equipment If you already know what a kick board is and swimming floats you can click onto this link to buy floats online Breastroke swimming/ click here to go to a swim shop for your kick boards and other swimming equipment

Breastroke swimming/ faults and causes

When breastroke swimming you can sometimes have various problems with your stroke which sometimes needs correcting. It can be easy to know what the fault is but a little more difficult to know the cause and the remedy to help. So have a look at my faults and causes you may not even know you have a fault until you read this.

Fault, head high with low hips. This would cause quite a lot of resistance because you could be almost swimming vertical.

Cause, this could be caused by a few thing maybe not enough power in your stroke to give your speed and lift, or perhaps you are not very confident and have a fear of getting your legs too high. This could lead to a fear of putting the face in the water causing the hips to be too low.

Corrective practices, confidence building exercises would be a great start along with leg action practices to increase power in the legs. Also breathing practices would be a great help to you.


Fault, uneven leg action this could be a few different types of uneven leg action. You could have knees that turn inwards, or feet that turn inwards or maybe legs kicking at different levels. All these would be classed as faults.

Cause, the cause of these faults is mainly the shoulders not being level believe it or not. Think about it your shoulders are not level so this means that the rest of your body is not level in the water so your leg kick will be uneven. The other cause could be simply that you have on hip lower than the other.

Corrective practices, Simply body positioning exercises push and glides and leg practices to get your legs even. Look at what your legs are doing get a float lie on your back and look what your legs are doing the try it back on your front until you get it right.


Fault, feet turned in during propulsion, my favorite. If I had a penny for every time some one struggled on this I would be a millionaire. It is the most common fault in breatroke swimming. I come across this all the time when teaching adults to swim the breatroke. The leg action is perfect but they struggle on pointing the feet out which is the basis of the propulsive phase and should never be over looked. I tell my learner swimmers that untill they master this part of the leg kick there is no point in learning the arm stroke. A lot of breatroke swimmers and I mean a lot do not point out their feet when breatroke swimming and have done so for years but do not realize. The reason why they move is that the arms are compensating for the legs. Give them a float and ask them to kick legs and they will not move at all. Get a friend and watch each other’s legs to see if you are doing it right because you may not be aware you are doing it incorrectly. Another way of telling that you are not pointing you feet out is that you may feel tired swimming a small distance or you may feel strain on your upper arms because they have been doing all the work.

Cause, beginning kick with feet turned in.

Corrective practices, leg practice over and over again. You may find this boring but it is essential you practice until you get it right. If you do not you will always swim breatroke with your feet turned in. Try doing breatroke legs on your back so you can see what you are doing wrong then once you can do it on your back turn it onto your front. You will know when you have done this correctly you will feel the kick and the propulsion from it.


Fault, legs not extended at the end of the kick.

Cause, this could be caused by a poor insweep or possibly beginning the next leg kick too early before the previous one has finished. Without the legs extended at the end of the kick you are not streamlined in the water and you are not allowing glide because you are kicking again before you have finished. They should come together then pause.

Corrective practice, practice your legs with a kick board or float and then kick bring legs together and pause allow for the glide. Then kick again, once you have mastered this try full stroke with arms and remember to pause with your legs and bring them together. The act of bring your legs together is part of the stroke when the feet whip and touch. Remember pull, breathe, kick and glide.


Fault, legs kicking wide on outsweep.

Cause, Your feet may not be following a circular path.

Corrective practice, try leg action practices first on the back looking at your legs then on your front until your feet are moving in a circular motion.


Fault, pulling your arms beyond shoulder line, this again is a common fault. Because you have pulled your arms too far back you create resistance bringing your arms forward.

Cause, you may have pulled your arms (outsweep) wide of your shoulders or you may have no insweep in your arm action.

Corrective practice, arm action practices bring your arms in tuck your elbows into your sides keeping them high on the downsweep. Imagine you are swimming through a tunnel make yourself as narrow as you can.


Fault, no arm extension at the end of your arm cycle.

Cause, an incomplete recovery action may be to blame or you are starting your next arm action too early.

Corrective practice, arm action practices try to relax and slow the arm action and exaggerate the glide with the arms and legs.


Fault, incorrect timing of arms and legs. If you do not know you are doing this try looking at the waves you are making when swimming because the timing is out you will create more resistance arms against legs which in turn will create waves. You will also know if you are not gliding across the water and feel out of breath because you are doing the arms and legs more or less at the same time.

Cause, not completing arm action or leg action lack of knowledge of timing.

Corrective practices, timing practices think about doing your arms and legs separately when swimming breastroke. Push off the side and begin with an arm stroke and finish with your arms straight, together and in front of you just under the water then kick your legs with arms straight being streamlined through the water. Then arms pull with leg straight. So you are doing arms then legs arms then legs. Or one and two legs being one arms being two or the other way round whatever you prefer. Then when you have this introduce the breathing slow it down and concentrate on what you are doing.


Fault, breathing too early in arm cycle.

Cause, this is because you are lifting your head during the downsweep.

Corrective practice, do some breathing practices using a kick board one stroke one breath. The head goes down as the feet come up to the buttocks then you breathe out. As the legs kick your head will rise to take another breath. Carry on until you feel happy with it and then try it with the arms remembering that the head comes up as the arms are on the downsweep. Then as the legs kick and the arms come forward you breathe out ready for the downsweep when the head comes back up. Again remember pull, breathe, kick and glide. Try to let your head drop down naturally rather than putting your head in the water. Click here to look at my page all about breastroke drills to improve your faults and general technique


I hope you have enjoyed this page as much as I have writing it, I also hope you have learned something that you can take away with you and use. Most of all I hope you have fun improving your stroke remember it's a journey not a destination you never stop learning.

Thank you, Dale Dudley

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