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Breaststroke is swum on the breast and is the most popular recreational swimming style due to its stability and the ability to keep the head out of the water at all times. In most swimming classes, beginners learn either the breaststroke or the front crawl first.
Speed and Ergonomics
Breaststroke is the slowest of the three official styles in competitive swimming. The fastest breaststroke swimmers can swim around 1.67 meter per second. The push off at the start and after the turns contributes significantly to the swimming times. Therefore one way to improve the swimming times is to focus on the start and the turns. Breaststroke is swum on the breast, with the arms and legs under water (almost) all the time, and the body often at a steep angle to the forward movement. This slows down the swimmer more than any other style. Swimming breaststroke requires more strength and more energy than any other style, including butterfly. Furthermore, Breaststroke makes significant use of the leg muscles compared to other swimming styles.
(see History of swimming)
The history of breaststroke goes back to the Stone Age, as for example pictures in the cave of swimmers near Wadi Sora in the southwestern part of Egypt near Libya. The 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, were the first Olympics featuring a separate breaststroke competition, over a distance of 440 yards.
The leg action of the breast stroke may have originated by imitating the swimming action of frogs.
The breaststroke starts with the swimmer lying in the water face down, arms extended straight forward and legs extended straight to the back.
The Arm Movement
There are three steps to the arm movement: outsweep, insweep, and recovery. The movement starts with the outsweep. From the initial position, the hands sink a little bit down and the palms face outward, and the hands move apart. During the outsweep the arms stay almost straight and parallel to the surface. The outsweep is followed by the insweep, where the hands point down and push the water backwards. The elbows stay in the horizontal plane through the shoulders. The hands push back until approximately the vertical plane through the shoulders. At the end of the insweep the hands come together with facing palms in front of the chest and the elbows are at the side at the body. In the recovery phase the hands are moved forward again into the initial position under water. The entire arm stroke starts slowly, increases speed to the peak arm movement speed in the insweep phase, and slows down again during recovery. The goal is to produce maximum thrust during the insweep phase, and minimum drag during the recovery phase.
As a variant, it is possible to recover the arms over water. This reduces drag, but requires more power. Some competitive swimmers use this variant.
Another variant is the underwater pull-down, similar to the push phase of a butterfly stroke. This stroke continues the insweep phase and pushes the hands all the way to the back to the sides of the hip. This greatly increases the push from one stroke, but also makes recovery more difficult. This style is well suited for underwater swimming. However, FINA allows this stroke only for the first stroke after the start and each turn.
The Leg Movement
The leg movement consists of two phases: bringing the feet into position for the thrust phase and the insweep phase. From the initial position with the legs stretched out backward, the feet are moved together towards the posterior, while the knees stay together. The knees should not sink too low, as this increases the drag. Then the feet point outward in preparation for the thrust phase. In the thrust phase, the legs are moved elliptically back to the initial position. During his movement, the knees are kept together. The legs move slower while bringing the legs into position for the thrust phase, and move very fast during the thrust phase. Again, the goal is produce maximum thrustt during the insweep phase, and minimum drag during the recovery phase.
As a variant, some swimmers move the knees apart during the preparation phase and keep them apart until almost the end of the thrust phase. This style is often easier for beginners, and also produces less stress on the knees.
Another variant of the breaststroke kick is the scissor kick, however, this kick violates the rules of the FINA as it is no longer symmetrical. Swimming teachers put a great effort into steering the students away from the scissor kick. In the scissor kick, one leg moves as described above, but the other leg does not form a elliptical movement but merely an up-down movement similar to the flutter kick of front crawl. Some swimming teachers believe that learning the front crawl first gives a higher risk of an incorrect scissor kick when learning breaststroke afterwards.
Breaststroke can also be swum with the dolphin kick in butterfly, yet this also violates the FINA rules.
The easiest approach to breathing is to keep the head out of the water and breathe whenever necessary. This is usually done during recreational swimming, as it is the most comfortable way. In competitive swimming, however, the face is in the water up to the ears to streamline the body position, or even submerged completely. Breathing is usually done during the beginning of the insweep phase of the arms, and the swimmer breathes in ideally through the mouth. The swimmer breathes out through mouth and nose during the recovery and gliding phase. Breaststroke can be swum faster if submerged completely, but FINA requires the head to break the surface once per cycle except for the first cycle after the start and each turn. Thus, competitive swimmers usually make one underwater pull-out, pushing the hands all the way to the back after the start and each turn.
The movement starts in the initial position with the body completely straight, The body movement is coordinated such that the legs are ready for the thrust phase while the arms are halfway through the insweep, and the head is out of the water for breathing. In this position the body has also the largest angle to the horizontal. The arms are recovered during the thrust phase of the legs. After the stroke the body is kept in the initial position for some time to utilize the sliding phase. Depending on the distance and fitness the duration of this sliding phase varies. Usually the sliding phase is shorter during sprints than during long distance swimming. The sliding phase is also longer during the underwater stroke after the start and each turn.
Breaststroke uses the regular start for swimming. Some swimmers use a variant called the frog start, where the legs are pulled forward sharply before being extended again quickly during the airborne phase of the start. After the start a sliding phase follows under water, followed by one underwater pull-down and another sliding phase before the regular swimming, this is known as the pull-out. The head must break the surface during the second stroke.
Turn and Finish
For competitive swimming it is important that the wall at the end of the lane is always touched by the hands at the same time due to FINA regulations.
The turn is initiated by touching the wall during the sliding or during the recovery phase of the arms, depending on how the wall can be touched faster. After touching the wall, the legs are pulled underneath of the body. The body turns sideways while one hand is moved forward (i.e. towards the head) along the side of the body. When the body is almost completely turned, the other hand will be swung straight up through the air such that both hands meet at the front at the same time. At that time the body should also be almost in the horizontal and partially or totally submerged. After the body is completely submerged, the body is pushed off the wall with both legs. Doing this under water will reduce the drag. After a sliding phase, a underwater pull-out is done, followed by another sliding phase and then regular swimming. The head must break the surface during the second stroke.
As a variant, some swimmers experiment with a flip over turn similar to front crawl.
The finish is similar to the touching of the wall during a turn.
There are three common distances swum in competitive breaststroke swimming, both over either a long course (50m pool) or a short course (25m pool). Of course, other distances are also swum on occasions.
- 50m Breaststroke
- 100m Breaststroke
- 200m Breaststroke
Breaststroke is also part of the medley over the following distances:
- 100m Medley (short 25m pool only)
- 200m Medley
- 400m Medley
- 4*100m Medley
These are the official FINA rules. They apply to swimmers during official swimming competitions.
- From the beginning of the first arm stroke after the start and after each turn, the body shall be kept on the breast. It is not permitted to roll onto the back at any time.
- All movements of the arms shall be simultaneous and in the same horizontal plane without alternating movement.
- The hands shall be pushed forward together from the breast on, under, or over the water. The elbows shall be under water except for the final stroke before the turn, during the turn and for the final stroke at the finish. The hands shall be brought back on or under the surface of the water. The hands shall not be brought back beyond the hip line, except during the first stroke after the start and each turn.
- All movements of the legs shall be simultaneous and in the same horizontal plane without alternating movement.
- The feet must be turned outwards during the propulsive part of the kick. A scissors, flutter or downward dolphin kick is not permitted. Breaking the surface of the water with the feet is allowed unless followed by a downward dolphin kick.
- At each turn and at the finish of the race, the touch shall be made with both hands simultaneously at, above, or below the water level. The head may be submerged after the last arm pull prior to the touch, provided it breaks the surface of the water at some point during the last complete or incomplete cycle preceding the touch.
- During each complete cycle of one arm stroke and one leg kick, in that order, some part of the swimmer's head shall break the surface of the water, except that after the start and after each turn the swimmer may take one arm stroke completely back to the legs and one leg kick while wholly submerged. The head must break the surface of the water before the hands turn inward at the widest part of the second stroke.
- Swim.ee: Detailed discussion of swimming techniques and speeds
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