Breaking Down the Breaststroke Technique

Navigate the waters of competitive swimming with help from these Pro Tips on the breaststroke swimming technique.

The breaststroke is one of the four basic competition swim strokes. In this style, you float on your stomach while your arms and legs move synchronously. The arm strokes should be short, half-circular movements, while your legs conduct what is known as a “whip kick.” Division I swim coach Marc Christian shares his tips on how to swim breaststroke.


With the breaststroke, your entire body is designed to work together to allow you to breathe. Begin with your head and body parallel to the surface of the water. Throughout the course of the stroke, your head should naturally rise with the motions of your arms. When your head rises, this is when you will take a breath.


Now that you know breaststroke breathing requires you to be in tune with your arm movements, let’s take a look at the stroke in more detail:

  • Start with your arms extended straight forward.
  • Allow your arms to separate until shoulder-width apart with your fingertips facing downward.
  • Bend your arms at the elbows down into the water. This is the “catch” phase and is what allows you to propel forward.
  • Pull your hands up underneath your chin.
  • Push your arms back out into an extended position. This is the recovery phase.

“As your hands come up underneath your chin, you’re going to let your body come up, your head come up, catch your breath and then go back down into your recovery position,” Christian says.


“Every great breaststroker has a great kick because it helps with your timing and your propulsion forward,” Christian says.

The type of kick used in the breaststroke is the whip kick. The key is to start slow and end fast. Begin this kick style with your legs extended and toes pointed. From this position you should:

  • Bend your legs at the knees and bring your heels close to your butt.
  • Turn your feet out and open your legs to scoop water and push it behind you.
  • Whip your legs closed and finish with your feet together.

Timing for your whip kick is critical. You should begin your kick when your hands are underneath your chin – around the same time you are breathing. This will ensure your kick finishes at the same time as the recovery phase of your arms, allowing you to end in a glide position.


“The breaststroke is very important to be broken down into three steps: your pull, your kick and your glide,” Christian says. “If you rush them, you’ll probably be out of sync.”

A helpful drill for working on this breaststroke timing is the “one-pull-to-two-kick” drill.

To complete this exercise, begin in a glide position with your arms and legs extended. From here, you should begin the pull phase of your stroke. As your arms are under your chin, complete the first kick. Then, quickly follow with a second kick to make sure you return to a glide position.

Now that you know the broad strokes of the breaststroke swimming technique, you can learn other swimming styles, too. Check out our Pro Tips guides on the freestyle stroke, butterfly and backstroke swimming techniques.