Breaststroke Lessons Nov 2018

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    Mat Hudson

    First Session – Nov 26

    It was fun to start working on breaststroke with you today.

    The symmetrical movements are new to you, but you did better at this than you seemed to predict. I like that you were patient and kept the movements slower at first, so you could feel the sequence, rather than be focused on driving forward (yet). 

    I regret that we don’t have photos and tutorial videos on these other strokes, since demand for learning these has been so low, but you are prompting us to put these on our next video shoot day. I’ll do my best to describe the skills and drills in writing until then.


    Sections Of The Stroke

    We may divide the breaststroke into these main sections:

    • the streamline body position
    • the pull up from streamline and breathe
    • the kick and extension back into streamline

    The streamline position is the base position for the whole stroke, where you will experience the most forward motion. You want to develop a strong urge to stay in that position, pull to break from it very briefly to take a breath and then kick to slide back into it as quickly as possible.

    All three need to work in an overlapped sequence, but I had you practice just a pair of them at at time:

    1. Streamline and Pull up to breathe
    2. Kick into streamline

    Lastly, I had you work on a drill to put all three together in a segmented way (explained at the end of these notes)


    The spine is aligned, from tip of head to the tail. Eyes are looking straight down and the crown of the head is aimed straight ahead, down the lane in the direction of travel. The two arms are extended straight in front of the shoulder (unlike Superman Position where they are angled downward slightly), palms facing downward. Toes are pointed (comfortably) behind. The body is stretched out so that this tautness can conduct the wave of force forward, through the body into the leading edges.

    The Pull

    From streamline position, in the first part of the pull, the elbows slide outward as the forearm-and-hand (as one long paddle, don’t bend much at the wrists) angle downward to create a deep, vertical surface (a paddle) to grip the water with. You should feel pressure going up the forearm as you press against the water.

    In the second part of the pull, the elbows are wider than the hands. You are aiming to feel a grip on the water with the entire hand-forearm-elbow region, as the elbows come back along side your shoulders. From this point, you pull the shoulders toward the hips, feeling the chest and upper back muscles helping you pull those shoulders back. The last part of the pull, the hands do not past the nipple line of the chest, while the elbows squeeze water against your torso. You can feel the back muscles helping finish this squeeze. Your forearms, through the entire stroke, from streamline to pull to streamline, always stay in the front of your chest.

    Squeeze And Breathe

    That last squeeze comes from pulling the shoulders toward the hips. This action also feels like you are thrusting your neck ahead. This squeeze is how you thrust your head at a forward angle out of the water for the breath. You are thrusting the head at a forward angle out of the water than more than upward. The shoulders barely come out of the water, just enough, to bring the face out of the water – the face is still looking mostly downward, nose just inches from the surface, just enough for the mouth to be clear to inhale.

    At the same time, as you finish the squeeze, the hands immediately slide together gently in prayer (namaste), the shoulders squeeze up toward your ears. Your upper body becomes very narrow, like you are rolled up in a carpet with your hands in prayer. 

    At this same moment, as the elbows are squeezing, you pull the knees inward also – like cocking the hammer on a gun – and hold for must a micro-second…

    Kick Back Into Streamline

    And in this same moment, the head is thrust up to breathe. But gravity wants to pull it right back down, and you go back in with it. As the hands drive forward toward streamline position, the head quickly tucks in, ears between the shoulders, and you kick at the same time. This kick presses back against the water in such a way that you can drive your head and arms forward into streamline, and into forward motion.

    The whole aim is to slide the head and arms into streamline and receive the wave of force from the kick at the right moment so that the body slides forward more than the feet slide backward. Receive the wave into your lengthening body and ride it forward in streamline position.

    The kick requires the foot and legs be shaped in such a way as to push backward on the water. The feet need to be in strong dorsal flexion, so that the bottom of the feet are facing rearward as much as possible at the moment you press. This means the feet need to be below the surface about 6 inches to achieve that angle. If you pull the heels too close to your hips, the bottom of the feet will be too close to the surface and facing the surface – if you kick from that position your foot will catch air and slice through the water rather the press against it. So, keep the feet a bit deeper where you can feel better water resistance.

    When you pull (or cock) the knees, let the knees spread a bit, as if you were doing an air squat in the gym. This position will be a bit easier on the knees when you go to press back (to kick). 

    The kick legs angles outward slightly at the beginning, then the feet come back together. Don’t drive the legs out to the side widely. In the first part, you are feeling your feet press back against the water (as if you were jumping off the ground when standing up). In the second part, it may feel like you are squeezing water between the inner surface of your lower legs, as they pull back together into streamline. 



    We worked through a series of drills to examine each part:

    • Streamline (just push off the wall)
    • Standing rehearsal of Mini-Pull
    • Streamline plus Mini-Pull (with just the forearms)
    • Standing rehearsal of Full-Pull
    • Streamline plus Full-Pull
    • Standing rehearsal of kick
    • Hold the wall and practice kicking
    • Streamline plus Kick

    Then we put the three parts together, and I gave you this mantra to follow in slow-motion:

    • (from streamline) pull
    • squeeze elbows, pull the knees, and hands to prayer
    • kick back into streamline
    • then glide in streamline for a couple seconds before pulling again

    We did not get to work through all of these, but I gave you three steps you could work through, in order to gradually bring the breathing into the full action.

    1. Follow the mantra with head remaining neutral, underwater
    2. Add a little more power to the pull in order to have the back of the head break the surface
    3. Add a little more power to the pull in order to bring the face out of the water for a breath


    Two Different Pull Modes

    I explained how there are two different pull modes for this stroke:

    1. The half-body pull, during surface swimming down the lane.
    2. The single full-body pull, that you do on the push-off from the wall, completely underwater

    This second pull mode is what you would use for dynamic distance apnea swimming.

    I gave you a drill to break up the choreography of the surface stroke, which then puts you very close to the underwater stroke. For the surface stroke you would…

    • Streamline and pull with forearms (hands stop at nipple line)
    • Squeeze elbows into prayer and cock the knees at same time
    • Kick into streamline and glide

    This sequence will help you prepare for the surface stroke by separating the first part of the pull from the pulling (or ‘cocking’) of the knees, which needs to come just a moment later, as the hands come into prayer. 

    For the underwater stroke you would…

    • Streamline and pull with forearms and push all the way down your thighs
    • Glide for a moment with arms tucked along side
    • Slide forearms into prayer and cock the knees at same time
    • Kick into streamline and glide for another moment
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