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Correct form for the breaststroke

By Lori Thein Brody and Paula Richley Geigle

Body Motion

The breaststroke is a prone stroke with symmetric movement of the arms and symmetric movement of the legs.

Glide Position

The glide position is prone and streamlined. The hips and knees are extended, and the ankles are plantarflexed. The arms are flexed overhead and about 6 to 8 in. (15 to 20 cm) below the surface of the water. The hands are close together, and the wrists are pronated so that the palms are down. The head is positioned so that the waterline is near the hairline of the forehead (American Red Cross 1992). The trunk should be in a neutral position, nearly horizontal to the arms and legs.

Arm Power Phase

From the glide position the shoulders internally rotate and the wrists pronate so that the palms turn outward at a 45° angle to the surface of the water (American Red Cross 1992). With the elbow extended, the shoulder is adducted to press the palms laterally until the hands are spread wider than the shoulders. From this position, the elbows flex and press the hands caudally and laterally until they pass near the elbows, with the forearms vertical. At this point, the wrists are supinated and the palms are circumducted medially and cephalad until the palms are below the chin and facing each other, almost touching. Throughout the power phase, the elbows should point laterally and be higher than the hands and lower than the shoulders.

Arm Recovery Phase

Immediately after the power phase, the shoulders adduct horizontally, squeezing the elbows together so that the palms face each other. Then the arms reach overhead and the wrists pronate so that the palms face down and end in the glide position.

Whip Kick: Leg Recovery Phase

The recovery begins with hip and knee flexion and slight hip abduction. This motion brings the heels toward the buttocks, and the knees are hip-width apart or slightly wider (depending on the swimmer’s preference) (Styer-Acevedo and Charness 1985). At the end of the recovery, the ankle dorsiflexes and everts. The ankles are just below the surface of the water at the end of the recovery, and the hip is flexed to roughly 125° (American Red Cross 1992). The trunk remains in roughly the same position as it is in the glide.

Whip Kick: Leg Power Phase

From the end of the recovery phase, the whipping motion is initiated by internally rotating the hip so that the feet end up lateral to the knees. Then the plantar surface of the foot and the medial lower leg engage the water, while the knee and hip extend, rotate, and adduct toward the glide position. The knee is almost fully extended when the feet are a few inches (centimeters) apart, and the ankle finishes in plantarflexion (Styer-Acevedo and Charness 1985). The ankle forms a circular motion with this kick, and the legs should be under the surface of the water for the entire power phase. The therapist may choose to modify the whip kick to the frog kick for most clients because the frog kick is easier to teach and places less stress on the knee, hip, and low back.

Frog Kick: Leg Recovery Phase

The recovery begins with knee and hip flexion, and hip external rotation and abduction. This motion brings the knees hip-width apart or wider, while the heels draw down together toward the buttocks. At the end of the recovery, the ankles dorsiflex and evert, ending just below the surface of the water with the hips flexed. The trunk remains in the same position as it is in the glide.

Frog Kick: Leg Power Phase

From the end of the recovery, the hip internally rotates toward neutral rotation. The plantar surface of the foot and the medial lower leg then engage the water as the knee extends, the hip adducts, and the ankles plantarflex and invert, drawing the legs together. The legs finish in the glide position.


The swimmer lifts the head to breathe during the arm power phase. As the arms recover, the swimmer lowers the face into the water and should slowly exhale bubbles through the mouth. At the end of the arm recovery phase, the swimmer explosively exhales the last of the breath and starts lifting the head for the next breath.

Stroke Coordination

The arm power phase starts from the glide position. At the end of the arm power phase, the swimmer lifts the head to breathe and starts to recover the legs. After the swimmer has taken a breath, she or he should immediately lower the face into the water and start to recover the arms while the legs are finishing the recovery (American Red Cross 1992). The arms reach full overhead flexion just before the legs finish the kick. The swimmer should glide briefly and start the next stroke before losing momentum.

Level of Difficulty and Client Considerations

  • More difficult stroke, more difficult breathing pattern
  • May be stressful on neck and back injuries that do not tolerate spinal extension (although modification by using mask and snorkel can reduce strain on back, neck, and shoulder with breathing technique)
  • May be stressful on shoulder injures that do not tolerate repetitive motions
  • Can increase strain on low back and knees for clients with tight hip rotators who have difficulty with the whip kick
  • Requires coordination, may be challenging for clients with no previous experience with this stroke
  • Need body awareness and trunk stabilization strength, especially with extension forces

Treatment Goals

  • Upper- and lower-extremity strengthening and active stretching
  • Trunk stabilization
  • Endurance training
  • Breathing control

Typical problems Corrections or modifications
Poor coordination with arms or legs, causing difficulty with breathing technique and poor forward propulsion Give the cue for the arms to “push down, around, up, and then glide.” Explain that the arms will draw an upside-down heart.
Give the cue for the legs to move “up, out, together, and glide.” Give the cue to start the stroke with the arms and finish with the legs: “Pull and breathe, kick and glide.”
Too little glide time inhibiting forward propulsion of stroke and causing early fatigue Stress the importance of gliding to prevent slowing of forward momentum.
Poor strength or propulsion with whip kick Can work on hip rotator stretching followed by motor planning and strengthening with the Bad Ragaz ring method lower-extremity pattern (bilateral symmetric hip flexion–abduction–internal rotation to reverse; see chapter 6).

This is an excerpt from Aquatic Exercise for Rehabilitation and Training.

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