Breaststroke Basics

young swimmers doing breaststroke in pool lanes 

It is important to learn breaststroke because it can be used as a survival stroke. The main advantages are the underwater recovery for the arms and legs, glide phase which can be used as a rest to conserve energy, front-facing breathing allowing a clear view, and that the head can be kept above the water to allow for an unobstructed view and natural breathing style.

Below are the basics of the stroke, broken down into Body position, Legs, Arms and Breathing (BLAB). 

BODY Position 

The body should be kept as flat as possible in the water to reduce the amount of resistance on the swimmer. To achieve this, the head should be raised only slightly, until the mouth is just out of the water when breathing. It should also be done later in the arm stroke to reduce the rise of the shoulders caused by the arm pull. The legs should recover by bending at the knees and hips, so the hips are kept high in the water.

LEG Action 

Breaststroke involves a strong kicking action, where the legs move simultaneously and on the same horizontal plane. Bed the knees and draw the heels towards the buttocks, ensuring the knees aren’t being brought to the stomach. When the knees are fully flexed, rotate the feet into the ‘hooked’ and ‘V’ position, ready for the propulsive part of the kick. The glide phase then follows with the legs together and feet in a relaxed but stable position. 

ARM Action 

It is important the arms move simultaneously in breaststroke. The arm action can be divided into three distinct segments.

1. Catch and Out-sweep

The arm action commences with the arms fully extended in front with hands close together. The initial movement of the arms is a push outward until the hands are wider than the shoulders. During this phase of the stroke the palms of the hands should be applying considerable force on the water. Students should be encouraged to keep their arms straight during this phase to ensure symmetrical movements.

2. Down-sweep and in-sweep

The lower arms and wrists rotate inward to enable the palms to face towards the feet as the arms press against the water while the elbows remain high. When the palms come to a position below the elbows, they sweep inward to complete the propulsive phase of the stroke. The hands do not pass back beyond the shoulders during the arm stroke.

3. Recovery

Once the pressure on the water has been released from the palms of the hands, the elbows and hands squeeze towards the middle of the body before fully extending to a stretched position, palms facing downward. The arms are kept in the stretched position for the glide phase and until the start of the next arm stroke.


The breathing action for breaststroke should be as natural as possible. The face is placed in the water, facing downwards, to exhale. The head is then lifted slightly until the mouth is clear of the water to inhale as normal. -The face must be returned to the water after the breath and remain there until the kick and glide phase is completed. The face is lifted during the in-sweep of the arms.  

For some simple breaststroke practise drills, follow the link below.

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