How to Improve Breaststroke Technique

Team USA's Rebecca Soni sets her world record in the breaststroke at the London Olympics.
i Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

You don’t have to be as good as Rebecca Soni -- the blazing world record-setter from Plainsboro, New Jersey -- to enjoy the breaststroke. But it helps to emulate her fine technique -- shoulders up, fingers together and feet kicking out. Even if you don’t want to cover 200 meters in just under 2:20, as Soni did in the London Olympics for gold, the breaststroke can be the perfect Nestie swimming stroke. It’s the slowest and most relaxed stroke, conducive to distance work. But at the same time, the breaststroke requires sharp coordination and solid technique.

Step 1

Glide away from the wall, with your body straight, your arms pointing ahead, legs together and your face in the water. Lift your shoulders and chest as your arms make a circular sculling motion, and kick down in the water with your toes extended and parallel.

Step 2

Bend your knees slightly in preparation for your frog kick, keeping your feet slightly apart, and bring your feet toward your glutes. Bring your hands together pointed neatly forward and your head up, and take a breath. Lower your head and repeat the sculling motion and the frog kick. Continue taking a breath with every stroke. Breathe once per stroke regardless of your race distance, as this aids both your oxygen supply and your leg recovery, which requires the head and trunk to be elevated.

Step 3

Look for a happy medium between undulating too little and too much. Your body is undulating too much if your head and shoulders go up more than forward, if your hips rise more than a few inches above the water during your kick back or if your hands and head dip more than a few inches underwater during your forward stretch, notes college swimming coach Ernest W. Maglischo in “Swimming Fastest.” While you don’t want to undulate as much as a butterfly specialist, you do need to undulate more if your shoulders do not come out of the water when you breathe.

Step 4

Experiment with your technique if you are looking to seriously increase your speed. Soni, for example, sweeps her arms swiftly during her sculling motion, swishing the water “like a washing machine agitator,” “The New York Times” notes. Her kick is more like a snapping trap than a frog kick; she keeps her head still while she jerks her shoulders up and forward. Much of her unique technique stems from exceptional core strength honed by Pilates and yoga, so add these to your training to help your swimming.

Step 5

Kick two times per one pull as a drill to work on your first stroke, your timing and your body positioning as you come out of your glide. And work at the wall on your kick, placing your hands against the wall and kicking repeatedly, turning your feet outward to catch more water and moving your feet in symmetric half-circles. Keep your knees no more than hip-width apart as you kick.

the nest