Minimising resistance and maximising propulsion in the breaststroke kick
Of all the 4 strokes breaststroke is the least streamlined. The stroke with the highest resistance coefficient and often the one that is considered an enigma. The basic principles of developing any stroke are minimising resistance and maximising propulsion. Breaststroke is no different.
The breaststroke kick is a skill that causes many swimmers an issue when learning to swim. The coordination of the movement pattern, coupled with the many counterproductive ways in which it is sometimes taught can be a recipe for a disaster resulting in a kick that can in some instances make you wince on sight. In this post we are going to break down the breaststroke kick, discuss how we can reduce resistance and maximise propulsion, with ideas for coaching these key points.
Recovery: It is important to remember the principle of minimising resistance during the recovery phase. Often the recovery of the feet and lower leg during breaststroke kick involves creating what can only be described as a giant aqua blade beneath the body. I am talking of course, about the knees and the thighs. This generates huge amounts of resistance that produce the illusion that the swimmer goes nowhere with their kick. To help reduce the level of drag created during the recovery phase, a useful coaching point is that swimmers should recover their feet to hips rather than knees forward. See the stick man diagrams below, resistance generated in diagram 1 will be far higher than in diagram 2.
Pre-propulsion Phase: Once the feet have recovered to the hips the focus is all on getting the feet and lower legs into a position to maximise propulsion. The universal way to do this is to turn the feet out at the ‘top’ of the kick whilst keeping the knees as narrow as possible allowing the feet to fall out in the turned-out position. Diagram 3 shows this. Having the lower limbs in this position allows for the feet and lower leg to wrap around the water during the propulsion phase. A great way to work on this is to lie prone on the floor with knees bent, cueing the swimmers to move from toes pointed up to the ceiling into ‘breaststroke toes’. Once the swimmer has mastered this on land it can then be transferred into the water with body pressed up against the wall, feet recovered transferring from breaststroke toes to pointed toes.
Propulsion Phase: Given that the recovery and the pre-propulsion phases have been executed well, the propulsion phase should be straight forward. Wrapping the feet and lower legs around the water and snapping the feet together at the end of the kick cycle. It is important to note that snapping the feet together is crucial to maximise the propulsion of the kick. At the end of the propulsion phase toes should be pointed backwards in plantar flexion to allow for minimal resistance. There are many swimmers who will execute the recovery, pre-propulsion phase and most of the propulsion phase well but then fail to finish the kick properly by snapping the feet together. The marginal difference in distance per kick provided by finishing the kick properly adds up to a significant margin over the course of a whole swim.
The breaststroke kick can be a part of the stroke that feels complicated and scary to approach when coaching. Hopefully this post provides some key ideas that will help coaches when approaching the breaststroke kick with swimmers.