Of course you can! Many recreational swimmers do the breaststroke without putting their heads underwater. Doing so can enable you to swim with contacts, swim without goggles and maybe even keep your hair dry. While it's true that you won't look like Olympic champion Missy Franklin, or any other competitive swimmer, you can keep your head above water, enjoy the experience and get a decent workout. However, it's important to note that a head-out-of-water style can eventually cause neck or spine problems.
Benefits of the Breaststoke
If you are an inexperienced swimmer or fear the water, breaststroking with your head above the water might work swimmingly for you. As Oprah.com notes, the breaststroke is easy to learn and hard to mess up. It takes less energy than the freestyle or butterfly strokes. If you're comfortable with putting your head underwater, fhat's great. If you're not, "feel free to keep your head above water," says Oprah.com.
To swim with your head above water, you basically swim on your chest in an inclined position, according to the EnjoySwimming website. There are some good reasons to adopt this style -- you can breathe continuously and see what's in front of you, so you're unlikely to chip a tooth by smashing into the wall. On the downside, the angle of your body creates lots of drag, so you won't swim as fast.
Competitive swimmers submerge their heads during each stroke cycle, which requires them to synchronize their breathing. EnjoySwimming explains that you inhale during the in-sweep of your arms, as your head and shoulders rise out of the water. You exhale as your arms revert to the starting position, and your head and shoulders drop back into the water. The inhale phase, which begins when your mouth clears the water, is short. The exhale phase lasts as long as your face is in the water. Your face and eyes should be looking down, not ahead, during the stroke.
Breaststroking with your head out of the water on a regular basis, and over an extended period, can play havoc with your neck. According to the Swim City website, swimming with your head out of the water "puts undue strain on the muscles of the neck and back which can lead to damage of the spine's interior facet joints." So if you intend to make swimming the breaststroke a central part of your fitness routine, you should consider taking the plunge and adopting the style of competitive swimmers. If it proves too hard to master, you might try a partial head-out-of-water style by putting just the lower part of your head in the water as you stroke.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.