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Secrets to learning the breaststroke

By David Thomas

It is often much easier to learn the breaststroke kick in the inverted position because it is easier to see the foot and leg movements when you’re on your back. The breaststroke kick is a completely unique motion. You should avoid vigorous practice of the kick until your muscles have had time to adjust. Its efficiency depends on the flexibility of your knees and ankles.

In the introduction, The Sport of Swimming, I mentioned that swimmers can use any combination of movements that will get them where they want to go in the water, but that some movements are more efficient and therefore are packaged into recognized strokes. The breaststroke kick is one of the recognized package movements because of its ease and efficiency. It is efficient not for its use of energy, but for its conservation of energy. We have minimized the importance of the kick in some of the strokes introduced to this point, but in strokes that use the breaststroke kick, the kick produces as much propulsion as the arms.

Learn the breaststroke kick in the inverted position. Assume a back-float position with your arms above your head. Keep your hips straight, but drop your heels down behind you as far as you can. Hook your ankles sharply, and turn your feet so that the toes point out. Move your feet out, press back on the water with the insides of your ankles, and squeeze until your feet come together with legs fully stretched. Point your toes, streamline your body, and glide.

One foot turns in and you engage the water with the top of the foot.

Kicking this way is illegal. Practice hooking the foot and turning the toes out.

Breaststroke Kick
Drill 1.

Inverted Breaststroke Kick

In shallow water, place your back against the pool wall. Reach back and out to place your arms and elbows on the edge of the pool. Bend 90 degrees at the waist and hold your feet out in front of you. With knees about 4 inches apart, stay bent at the hips but bend your knees and drop both heels toward the bottom of the pool. Hook your ankles as your heels drop. Keep your ankles hooked and turn your toes out as far as they will go. Catch the water with the insides of your feet and push it in a circle--out, around, back, and together--as your knees straighten. Point your toes at the very last moment and try to put the soles of your feet together. Try to prolong the kick with your toes and the soles of your feet. Your feet must move outward before your knees at the beginning of the kick. Make 10 kicks that tend to push you against the wall.

To Increase Difficulty

  • Let your feet lead your knees out and around.
  • Make 20 kicks, but not too hard (go easy on your groin muscles).

To Decrease Difficulty

  • If your pool has a high edge, use the overflow trough or a ladder at water level.

Success Check

  • Keep your back against the wall and legs straight out in front, and hook your ankles.
  • Drop your heels straight down behind you.
  • Keep your knees close and turn your toes out.
  • Move your feet out, parting the knees.
  • Thrust directly back with the insides of your ankles.
  • Squeeze with the knees straight and toes pointed.

Score Your Success

Score 2 points if your instructor says, “You’ve got it.” Score 2 more points if it is still correct after 20 kicks.
Your score ___


Breaststroke Kick
Drill 2.

Inverted Breaststroke Kick Against Pressure

Repeat breaststroke kick drill 1. Ask your instructor to stand in front of you and place one hand against the inside of each foot, fingers under the arch. Press out, around, and squeeze in against the hands.

Press very lightly--these are weak muscles! This should give you the feeling of pressing against the water. Three trials should be enough.

To Increase Difficulty

  • Ask your instructor to increase the pressure gradually.
  • After the drill, let go of the side of the pool, drop your heels slowly, then kick quickly against the water.

Success Check

  • Follow the instructions for breaststroke kick drill 1.
  • Point the toes as you squeeze.

Score Your Success
Knees are close when heels drop = 1 point
Feet are hooked and turned out = 1 point
Toes are pointed at end of kick = 1 point
Your score ___

This is an excerpt from Swimming: Steps to Success.

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