Breaststroke looks easy but it is difficult to master. Here are six breaststroke drills that will help you build a faster and more efficient breaststroke.
Breaststroke might be the slowest of the four strokes, but it is the hardest to master. Nailing the timing, body position, and most efficient drag profile takes a lot of time. The timing, in particular, is something that I have struggled with over the years, and is often the key to swimming faster breaststroke.
That’s where breaststroke drills come in.
Done properly, the right breaststroke drill helps you over-emphasize a part of your stroke so that you can improve your overall swimming.
If you struggle with the timing in breaststroke, need help hitting race pace tempo, or want to clean up your breaststroke pull, here are some of the top breaststrokers and coaches on the planet with their favorite drills for improving your breaststroke.
1. Breaststroke Arms with Flutter Kick
Most breaststrokers struggle with maintaining a steady speed in the water. They stop and start too much. A big part of this comes down to not recovering the arms fast enough, and that is exactly what this drill addresses.
Flutter kicking with breaststroke arms is a popular drill for improving arm recovery speed (butterflyers also rely on a variation of this drill–see more on butterfly arms and flutter kick here) and maintaining an aggressive diving motion into the catch.
In the video below, swimmers from the Santa Barbara Swim Club perform 25m of regular breaststroke and 25m of breaststroke arms with flutter kick. Note how much more aggressive the arm recovery becomes when the kick transitions to flutter kick.
2. Windshield Wiper Drill
Below, two-time Olympian and US Open record holder in the 100-meter breaststroke demonstrates the Windshield Wiper Breaststroke Drill. It is designed to target the out-sweep portion of the pulling motion, and is the first drill in a three-part drill sequence designed to help improve your breaststroke pull.
“Try to work on balance and keeping the feet up by tightening the body’s back core muscles,” says Alexandrov, who cites this drill as his favorite. “The main part of the drill is to work on the out-sweep of the forearms, and then float the forearms back together in front of you.”
If you struggle to maintain proper body position (picking your head up so much that your hips sink), strap on your favorite swimmer’s snorkel to maintain high hips and a straight spine.
3. In-Sweep Drill
The In-Sweep Breaststroke Drill is another sculling drill, and is effective at improving timing and flow in your breaststroke. Jeff Julian, head coach at Rose Bowl Aquatics, loves using this drill to help his swimmers shorten the gap in momentum that happens when breaststrokers don’t recover quickly enough.
Here are Coach Julian’s notes and tips for executing the drill properly:
- Start with your hand and in a Y position, hands just outside the elbows.
- The swimmer only does the catch phase of the pull; ensure that the elbows stay up and reach the position that he would normally start the pulling motion.
- Hands then slide back out front.
- Perform 3 cycles of the sculling motion and then launch into a full stroke cycle.
- This drill can be either done strictly pull “with or without a pull buoy to force more core connection or with a slight flutter kick to keep it as more of a teaching drill.”
4. Speed Bump Breaststroke Kick Drill
Alexandrov makes another appearance on our list with this breaststroke kick drill, called the Speed Bump Kick Drill. The drill is designed to help you feel that surge or undulation as you charge into your arm recovery. On your front, your hands dangle beside your hips, and bring your heels up to your knuckles and kick powerfully, as though you are kicking yourself over a speed bump.
The goal is to “feel the thrust of the hips forward as the heels are coming up to the gluteus.”
In the second video below, you will see Alexandrov do the drill for half-a-lap with his arms at his side, and then closing out the lap with his hands and arms in a glide position while still maintaining the exaggerated hip thrust motion.
5. 1 Up, 1 Down Breaststroke Drill
Swimming faster breaststroke means being able to “hit your line” as you swim up and down the length of the pool. A popular breaststroke drill for helping swimmers accomplish this is the 1-up, 1-down drill.
The drill is exactly as it sounds: Do one stroke above the water, followed by one stroke under the water. (Not to be confused with the 1-stroke, 1-pullout variation where a swimmer alternates a full stroke on the surface of the water with an underwater pull out below the surface.)
Tony Batis, head coach of Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics, has some notes and performance points on how to do this drill correctly:
- Perform 1 regular stroke above the water, and then 1 stroke below the water.
- The down strokes are not to be done as pull-outs, but with the regular arm motion.
- Variations include 2/2, 3/3, and 4/4; it’s not limited to just doing one stroke up and one stroke down.
- Easier to do it long course, but as Batis notes, the drill can also be done in a short course pool as well.
- To make it more challenging use flip-turns instead of open turns and go on an interval; as Batis adds, “This drill can be very aerobic in nature if you want.”
Here is a swimmer from SwimMAC doing a 2-up, 2-down variation of this drill:
6. 1-Arm, 1-leg Breaststroke Drill
This advanced breaststroke drill isn’t so much for technique, but to help you develop and sustain a high-end race tempo, and as such, is better suited to more experienced swimmers who are looking to fine-tune their race-day performance.
The goal of this drill is hitting race pace tempo. The drill is a favorite of Quicksilver Swimming’s head coach Andre-Salles Cunha, who won a pair of PAC-10 titles in the 100 breaststroke while swimming for Stanford. He credits this drill and “a healthy dose of sculling” for his success at the collegiate level.
Here’s how to do it:
- Swim breaststroke, grabbing one leg with the opposite arm in a quad stretch.
- Release at the 15m mark and continue swimming with the same tempo held during the drill.
- It will likely feel awkward the first time you do it, but remember the goal is a quick arm and kick motion and then carrying that tempo over into your full swimming.
More Stuff Like This:
How to Fix and Prevent Breaststroker’s Knee. Everything you have ever wanted to know about staying injury-free, and what to do if you fall victim to this common injury.
How to Improve Your Breaststroke Kick. Unlike the other three strokes, the kick is the main propulsive force in the stroke. And it’s also the hardest to master. Here are two breaststroke kick drills from 2-time Olympian Mike Alexandrov to help you improve your kick.