If you’re a breaststroker, chances are you’ve had knee problems. I was very fortunate in that I swam a TON of breaststroke, and never had any real trouble with my knees. It wasnï¿½t until years later that I realized HOW I avoided trouble.
Pure and simpleï¿½it was out of the need to SURVIVE. We werenï¿½t really allowed to stop, even when we had pain, so we had to figure out how to adjust our strokes in order to continue moving forward at a high rate of speed. What I did instinctively (I now realize) was to either narrow, or on some days widen, the kick just a bit, so that I’d be working a slightly different set of muscles and a slightly different part of the joint. Through this kind of daily adjustment, I ended up building a well-balanced set of muscles around the joint, and also figured out the best way for me to kick.
In working with people with knee trouble, I’ve reverted to a special secret that I think I learned for the first time in the 1970s, so this is no state-of-the-art stuff here, but to some, it will be new.
Many knee problems develop from sending the legs out way too wide. This puts the knee joint in such an awkward position that the force of kicking down and back stresses the joint, and everything around it. Doing this kind of kick over and over again can, in time, cause knee trouble.
Why Do It:
This drill isn’t just for people with knee problems, as it will really support the narrow kick as shown on the Go Swim Breaststroke DVD.
By learning how to keep your legs more narrow, you’ll be using your knees less, and will be able to swim breaststroke with much less knee pain, or with no knee pain at all.
If you’re really having trouble with your knees, start by using TWO pull buoys — one between your thighs, and another held with your calves. This may feel awkward and pretty tough initially, because your feet and legs will want to sweep out when you start to draw them up. If you can’t kick AT ALL with the two pull buoys because they keep popping out, you may have discovered problem #1… you’re sending your legs too wide. You may also have trouble keeping your feet under the water, so you’ll need to draw up your hips as well, to bring your legs up underneath you. This is just an added benefit of doing this drill, and necessary if you ever want to go faster kicking like this. You’ll see, it’s more like fly-breast, than breaststroke.
How To Do It:
1. With two pull buoys in place, your feet will be EXTREMELY close together, and you MUST depend on turning your ankles out and pointing your toes out at the top of the kick in order to get any propulsion at all.
With the legs so narrow, and with only minimal propulsion coming from the feet, there is very little knee stress going on here.
In order to move forward at all, you’re going to have to depend on good body movement. Let the legs follow your body rhythm, and keep the kick as small as necessary to allow it to flow.
2. When you start feeling like you’ve got some rhythm, and you can begin to feel a bit of a kick (and still have no pain in your knees), drop the lower pull buoy.
With only one pull buoy in place, you’ll notice that it’s much easier to grab water for some propulsion. Because your knees are still close together, your legs will be moving more in a direct line from front to back. This means still less stress on the knees.
You’ll notice that with only one pull buoy in place, the feet naturally start to recover just a bit wider than with two pull buoys in place. This is good, because you don’t really want to draw your legs up TOO close together (step #1 was merely part of a staged learning progression, not where you want to end up).
As you practice step #2, remember to maintain your body rhythm. If your body rhythm slows down too much, you may be depending too much on your kick to give your propulsion. You want to avoid that.
3. When you really start to feel good, take out the second pull buoy. Be VERY VERY careful here to maintain that feeling of a narrow-kick recovery.
Keep your rhythm going, and it will keep your kick more shallow. If you try to slow down your rhythm too much, then instinct will take over, and you’ll be putting in that big, wide kick again. Follow the body, and keep the kick as narrow (and small) as necessary to match the rhythm you achieved in step #1.
4. You’ll notice on the video that this is about as far as the swimmer recovers her legs. You’ll also notice that her stroke is very butterfly-like, with this modified breaststroke kick attached at the back.
Maintaining your rhythm is a KEY ingredient in developing a "knee-pain-free" breaststroke. It doesn’t hurt the non-pain breaststroke either.
How To Do It Really Well (The Fine Points):
1. Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm… and uh… RHYTHM.
2. Keep your kick smaller than you think you should, and don’t try to force the power. The kick SHOULD feel small. The goal of this is to avoid knee pain, and a BIG KICK may be what got you into trouble in the first place.
3. Did I remember to mention rhythm?