Working With the Right Tools
If you are interested in getting your breaststroke clicking, you had better build a strong breaststroke kick. That process starts with having the tools to kick fast; external rotation of the hip, dorsiflexion of the ankle and extension of the lumbar (lower) spine. I estimate that for every additional degree of external rotation of the hip, your propulsion in breaststroke will increase by about 5% with the same amount of effort. That is worth fighting for.
Two of our favorite stretches for improving your breaststroke flexibility and giving you the necessary tools are the hip stretch and yoga pushups. With the hip stretch, you sit on the edge of a chair and cross your legs, placing the ankle on the thigh, just above the knee. Now, with arms raised straight over head, bend forward with a straight back, allowing the arms to go over the top of the folded leg. Try to get your palms all the way to the ground.
Hip Stretch Test and Yoga Pushups
Great breaststroke kickers will usually get their palms all the way to the ground, while swimmers with poor external rotation of the hip will struggle to get their fingers to touch the ground. By stretching in this position for two minutes or longer daily, one can slowly increase the flexibility of the hip to improve the breaststroke kick.
Yoga pushups are started in the downward dog position, with the body in the A position, palms on the ground in front, feet on the ground behind, separated to shoulder width. The heels should be pushed as close to the ground as possible. The closer they come to the ground, the better the dorsiflexion of the ankle.
From downward dog, the body is extended forward into the straight arm plank position. The feet are then flipped over on to the tops of the feet and the body lowered to a pushup position, with elbows tucked at the sides. Feet and hands should be the only parts touching the ground. From here, the upper body is arched backward as far as possible, extending the cervical and lumbar spine. This position is swimmer’s Cobra or upward dog position. The body is then pushed backward into upward dog and the feet flipped back over to begin the cycle again. Yoga pushups improve dorsiflexion of the ankle and lumbar extension of the spine- both important tools for breaststroke.
There are three important coupling motions that help get your breaststroke clicking. For the pull, the elevation of the shoulders and back is a strong coupling motion. For the kick, snapping the head down and pressing the body forward and downward are two powerful coupling motions.
The most challenging part of getting breaststroke clicking is the coupling with the kick. Because of the independent nature of the kick and pull, a breaststroker has precious little time to get the kicking cycle into the propulsion phase in time to catch the kinetic energy of the moving upper body and head. A swimmer has precisely .4 seconds from the time the shoulders are maximally elevated and pull propulsion is completed, to draw the legs from a straight back position into the kicking propulsion phase, pushing water backward with the insteps. If the swimmer delays in getting the feet into propulsion, then he or she misses the opportunity to couple with the motion of the head and upper body. The kinetic energy of the upper body will peak as the body strikes the water, but quickly goes to zero after that.
Breaststroke Clicking Fast
All great breaststrokers kick with the knees at or inside the hips because it is the only way that they can get the kicking cycle in quickly enough to catch the coupling energy of their upper bodies. In order to get significant kicking propulsion, swimmers that have poor hip flexibility must kick with the knees wider than desirable. Unfortunately, with wider knees, it takes too long to complete the kicking cycle and so the opportunity to connect with the coupling motion of the upper body is lost. In other words, there is no opportunity for a breaststroker to swim fast without a fast kicking cycle. Hip flexibility and leg strength are required to do this with maximum speed and propulsion.
To get your breaststroke clicking….and develop a faster breaststroke, start doing these three important breaststroke stretches and do lots of kicking in practice, lifting the heels and pointing the toes backward!
Yours in swimming,