Here’s a quick example of a complete breaststroke stroke cycle. While the subject isn’t exactly contemporary, the technique is, at the very least, solid and should serve as decent reference material.
Start the stroke in as close to a streamline position as possible. No need to get your hands all the way together at this point, since that may lock your head up and limit your body’s ability to flow.
Without moving any part of your body or head, start the outsweep of the hands.
Keep the head down for as long as possible, as you continue to let your hands sweep out to their widest point.
Trying not to sound like a broken record, but KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN as you continue to press your hands out to the widest point. Some people call it the "corners." Heck, I’ve called it the corners but, seriously, there aren’t any corners here. You’re going to send your hands out to the point where you feel you can start to really grab the water and pull yourself forward. It’s all about leverage at this point.
Once you’re really grabbed hold of the water and feel your body starting to move forward, now it’s time to lift your head and start going upward to the air. While you may think it’s not smart to head "up" to the air… well… there’s no air under water, so unless you’ve invented a new way to breathe under water, it’s better to head UP at this point, than to kid yourself. Just make sure you’ve waited as long as possible so your head is piercing the surface, rather than pushing forward against it.
Time to SQUEEZE or, at the very least, sweep your hands in as quickly as you can. Do it before your legs get too far up because you don’t want two huge forces (arms and legs) moving forward at the same time.
Uh oh… now you know you’re looking at a Masters swimmer. The hands should be a bit higher to hide the recovery of the hands, but at least the elbows are tight and inside… or in line with… the shoulders. The thighs are recovering pretty much in line… not too narrow, and not too wide.
The hands continue to shoot forward, hoping to reach full extension before the legs finish their recovery. This part is probably one of the toughest for older breaststrokers. We have to try to finish the extension of the hands before the kick starts. One great drill to work on this is "fast hands." Really shooting the hands forward. If you do this correctly, and aren’t used to it, you’ll feel like your timing is off. When you feel that… COOL… you’re on your way.
The focus now is to have your hands as extended as possible, and your head back down in line PRIOR to your feet starting the kick back. The idea is to have the front of your body in as tight a line as possible to take advantage of the kick. If your hands and arms aren’t fully extended, your kick just sorta moves you forward a bit, rather than SENDING you forward into the next catch.
Close up and finish that kick and get your entire body back into that "line." Streamline, but not totally. Seriously, who can totally streamline between strokes anyway? Get back under water and try to ride just a bit between this and the next stroke cycle. The whole idea is to learn this as best as possible… then, depending on the race, do as many of these as possible, as quickly as possible.
Good luck with the quest… we’re all still searching for that perfect stroke and these are just some guidelines. The search for new speed is never ending, and there is NO perfect stroke. Just some really good ones.