|Breaststroke glide - Needs a bit more work :)|
On my masters swim team in Finland, I have one very capable breaststroker (Johanna) who is a multiple national record holder in her age category and was second in all her breaststroke events in the 2011 European Masters Championships in Yalta. Very impressive results, however, there is always room for improvement right? :) And furthermore, one should never stop striving to be better otherwise we'd never evolve.
Since Johanna is an advanced swimmer, she masters all the common beginner breaststroke mistakes, so we need to look at her stroke from different angles. One of the approaches is to streamline her stroke with the focus on converting all her power and energy to help her go forward by minimalizing any other movement which would cause her body to slow down in the dense water. This may seem a simple concept, but it is not as easy to achieve as one might think.
We made an underwater video of her breaststroke swim and looked at different ways (not all) to make her body glide through the water smoother. Here are just a couple of pointers which you can take away from the analysis:
1) Streamline off the wall and on the underwater pullout: It is very important to keep the body in a long tight streamline when coming off the wall or off the start. Since you have a great momentum from your push off, your speed is the fastest during this part of the swim, therefore you need to take as much of an advantage of this as possible by making sure your body is as smooth as an arrow. (btw, this does not pertain to only breaststroke). After the initial streamlined glide, you will need to do the underwater pull with a breakout which consists of one double arm pull, one double leg kick and another double arm pull to get you swimming at the surface. Even if your off the wall streamline is as smooth as a javelin, a lot can go wrong during this arm pull and leg kick sequence. Any movement of your arms and legs which deviates from your body line or goes against the direction you are going in is a hindrance, so eliminating as much of any unnecessary big movements is a key.
a) On your initial arm pull, make sure to pull water backwards and not lift your body one or two steps up in the water column. Very common mistake indeed. Many swimmers, are very excited and try to make the initial underwater pull as large as possible not realizing that while doing so, their entire body is bending under the exerted arm pressure and instead of going smoothly forward, they travel upwards in a very abrupt jump. This first breaststroke pull is nothing else then anchoring your arms in the early vertical forearm stage and moving your body around those anchors forward. It cannot be rushed otherwise you will miss out on finding the proper initial catch. Hint: after you finished your catch and are gliding through the water in head first position, try shrugging your shoulders, you will be amazed at the effect:).
c) The breaststroke kick that comes after the recovery can also cause you to slow down. (this does not only pertain to underwater breaststroke, but to breaststroke as a whole). If you think about it, when you are loading your legs by bringing them closer to your body, the motion is against the direction where you are going. So ideally, the kick will be quite narrow staying within the constrains of the hole our body already made through the water. Obviously this is impossible as we have to bend the legs, but we can get very close. First, do not bring your knees forward, keep them back and think of it more as bringing your heels to your butt (practicing breaststroke kick on your back while keeping your knees under water is very good drill for this). Second, when you do the actual kick, do not concentrate on pressing out with your legs, but push the water backwards as if there was an imaginary wall and you are using your outer rotated ankles and shins to push off of it. Finally, don't forget to squeeze your legs together. Use those butt cheeks and inner thighs at the end of every one of your kicks to squeeze the soles of your feet together at the end of the kick. This will make sure your body is nicely streamlined during the glide phase of breaststroke. Word of caution here though, this squeezing part of the stroke, as simple as it sounds, is actually quite tiring on your body and on your mind, so introduce it into your stroke gradually. Perhaps, you can utilize this techniqe every other lap and see how you get on, before you add it to your stroke permanently. Just a reminder, don't forget the dolphin kick during the breaststroke underwater pullout phase.
|Inch your way to breaststroke success by just_a_name_thingie|
Johanna, the masters swimmer I mentioned at the beginning of this breaststroke streamlining post, has been working very hard to optimise her stroke in the last few months, so it will be very interesting to watch, what the little tiny improvements she has made to her stroke will do to her swims at the 2012 World Masters Championships in Riccione. So far, it has been quite exciting as she has been breaking one record after another to cause any disturbance in forward motion.
The above pointers are quite advanced when it comes to learning the correct breaststroke technique as they are tedious details, however, no matter what your breaststroke skill level is, you can take away the fact that swimming is not as simple sport as one might thing. The truth is actually the opposite, since water is so much denser than air to optimise a swimming movement, one must really pay attention to everything a body does, be it better streamline or less up and down motion etc. So if you are frustrated with your swimming skill level, don't worry, even the top swimmers in the world are battling little tiny details. So, be patient, mindful, and go out there and optimise your breaststroke :).