Develop your breaststroke technique with Karen Pickering

Visit your local pool and you are more likely to see recreational swimmers using this stroke than any other. Its timing is relatively easy to master, the position of the arms and legs means balance is good and the stroke is gentle but effective at working a range of muscles. However, if you choose breaststroke because you want to keep your hair dry or chlorine out of your eyes, then the chances are that you aren’t doing it justice …

Body position: Aim for as small and flat a position in the water as possible. Timing is key in breaststroke and the arm and leg actions should never be done at the same tie – you could end up going nowhere. If you find coordination of the stroke tricky at first, practice the kick on your back so that you can perfect its symmetry. Strong core muscles are crucial as they are engaged prior to every kick.

Head: As the hands are squeezed together, lift your head – but not too high – to breathe in. Your chin should be resting on the surface of the water. As you glide, your eyes should look downwards – do not strain your neck by lifting your gaze too high. Craning your head out of the water will compress the neck, possibly leading to back pain. For every inch you lift your head, your hips drop about two inches, adding resistance.

Breathing: Work with the water rather than against it. Breathe out beneath the water during the glide phase. As you move your arms, the head is automatically raised clear of the water allowing you to inhale through the mouth, not the nose.

Arms: Keeping the neck and shoulders relaxed can help you to perform a good arm movement. Don’t try to pull your arms too wide – your elbows should never come past your shoulders. Imagine you are scooping the inside of a bowl, not creating a huge sweeping circle. Squeeze your hands together in front of your chest.

Legs and feet: In contrast to front crawl, up to 80% of the propulsion in breaststroke comes from the legs which is why technique for the lower body is particularly important. This is the only stroke in which the ankles should be flexed rather than floppy. Start with the feet turned outwards so that the ankles, knees and hips can rotate externally. Try to bring the feet towards your bottom rather than your knees towards your chest – focus on your legs being behind you rather than beneath you. Push the feet forcefully back and out to straighten the legs. When the knees are straight, turn and point the feet before drawing the feet together to glide forwards in a streamlined position. Above all, your body should be symmetrical. A screw-kick – when two legs are doing different things simultaneously – is a common mistake.

How to dive in like the pros

Most swimmers use a grab-start to get their race underway, but it is not confined to use in competition. It is a great way to get into the water smoothly – although you should never dive into water less than 1.5-metres deep. Bill Furniss, head coach of Nova Centurion Swimming Club in Nottingham and coach to Rebecca Adlington, talks us through the perfect entry dive.

1. Start with your toes curled over the edge of the pool or blocks and knees slightly bent. Feet should be about hip width apart. Lift your hips as high as possible, but try not to push them back. Keep your head tucked in close to your knees. Stretch your arms forwards and downwards. Fingers should be pointing towards the floor with hands against the side of the blocks or wall of the pool.

2. Push off from the feet with as much power as possible. Look up momentarily as you push off so that your body is inclined to follow your head. As your feet leave the floor, tuck your head in, push your hips upwards and try to streamline your body.

3. Don’t think you have to dive as far forward as possible. If you watch a top swimmer, you will see that they perform quite a flat dive over a relatively comfortable distance. Dive too far and it will flatten your body, causing increased resistance that will slow you down.

4. Elite swimmers spend a lot of time trying to perfect the art of passing their body through the same hole in the water that their hands made. This should be your aim.

5. Try to hold the hands in a streamlined position until you have almost resurfaced and are ready to begin swimming.

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