Breaststroke Drills

May 10, 2004
Breaststroke Drills

Drills. Whether you love 'em, or hate 'em, they're a daily part of swimming. But why? What do they do for your swimming and why do coaches think they're so important?

Let's compare swimming to another form of fitness training -- lifting weights. The purpose of lifting weights is to strengthen the muscles. (If you've ever been around a high school male in the weight room, you know that the real purpose of lifting weights is to impress your buddies, but for now let's just assume you lift weights to get stronger.) The most effective way to lift weights is to target a particular muscle group, isolate it, and work it just to the point of failure. Relax and stabilize the rest of your body, then focus on working JUST the targeted muscles. And work them hard. Just work it, baby! But work it like a SMART!

In swimming, the way we isolate a specific muscle group or focus on a particular movement is through drills. If you do the right drills, and do them often enough and with a lot of focus and thought, you can begin to gain some mastery in the water. If you drill but don't think, you might as well stay in bed. In order to become a Jedi swimmer (like Dave), you must think about what you're doing and how you're doing it, and why you're doing it. You need to take things step by step, isolate movements, master them, and perfect them. You need to do, well, drills.

Dave and I recently set out to create a DVD of breaststroke drills. We started by compiling a list of every breaststroke drill that we knew, and we came up with close to 60, which is about four dozen more than we could think of for each of the other strokes. Why do breaststrokers need more drills? I mean, besides the fact that breaststrokers are the coolest people? BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO MESS UP. Think about all the complex movements that go into a great breaststroke -- the pullouts, the kick, the armstroke, the timing of the breath, the timing of EVERYTHING. If just one element gets out of place, the whole stroke can fall apart. That's why, for years, breaststroke has been considered to be the SMART swimmer's stroke. It's also why I LOVE TO SWIM BREASTSTROKE. And it's why there are a lot of breaststroke drills.

We will publish a complete DVD on breaststroke drills, but here we'll show three of them that you can try the next time you go to the pool. Each one is basic and simple, with the third one being the most challenging. But even though they're simple drills, you have to add the magic ingredient. It's the thought, the focus, and the precision that you bring to each drill that will make it effective. Don't just go through the motions. Put on your thinking (swim) cap, and keep it on for the entire session. Isolate with your mind. Each drill also features a short video clip to better illustrate the movements.

Breaststroke Kick Drill -How to use Flash
Click here to watch this drill

Why do it: Isolate the kick. Learn how high the feet can come to initiate the kick. Learn to �grab� the water with your feet.

How to do it: Lie on your stomach with your hands at your sides, and kick breaststroke. On each kick, make sure your feet come up high enough to touch your fingertips. Once your feet touch your fingers, turn out your toes to grab the water as quickly as possible.

Troubleshooting: Can�t touch your heels to your fingertips? Keep your knees closer together and bring the legs up behind the body. As you can see on the video, Dave does a great job of recovering his legs without allowing his thighs to get perpendicular to his body. Very nice, Dave.

Two Sculls and a Pull - How to use Flash
Click here to watch this drill

Why do it: Isolate the pull. To incorporate more rhythm into the stroke and to awaken the outsweep movement of the pull. The tough part about this drill is getting used to pressing the hands out while you're pressing your body down into the water.

How to do it: Start with two small sculling movements with the arms, using a dolphin or �linky� movement with your body and legs. On the third �linky,� switch to a full stroke of breaststroke with a breaststroke kick.

This type of drill challenges you to focus on several different key parts of the stroke. Choose just one thing at a time to think about. Here are a couple of different ideas:

1. Rhythm. Are you able to set up a steady body rhythm by using a scull rather than a pull? By using a dolphin kick rather than a full kick? Can you add a full stroke and kick to the mix and still maintain your rhythm?

2. Arm Pull Out. As you press into the water, focus all your attention on your hands sweeping out. Don't push them, or force them, but allow them to cut through the water and slide out, not back.

3. Arm Pull In. Focus on your hands. When you insweep, are you curling your hands under your body (less powerful) or allowing them to CUT and scull inward (more powerful)? Notice in the video how Dave's hands serve as an extension of his forearms. Sweep the hands in; don't try to hook the water. Think SLICE, not SCOOP.

4. Kick Recover. Think about the first drill and how it felt to keep the legs high on recovery and to grab water with the feet. Can you now fit that kick into the rhythm that� been set on this drill? Can you STILL feel your feet grab, or hook, into the water? Take your time with this one because it� probably the hardest to identify.

5. Head Position. Focus on what you're head is doing. Are you coming up too high? Are you moving your head and neck? Focus on keeping your head still, and in line with your body.

Inverted Breaststroke - How to use Flash
Click here to watch this drill

Why do it: To impress your buddies. To test your overall focus and concentration. To zero in on head position, body position, and timing.

How to do it: Take a deep breath. Go deep in the water. Turn yourself over. Swim breaststroke. This is FULL-STROKE breaststroke.

Troubleshooting: Panic? Nose full of water? Disoriented? Be patient and try again. Focus on one thing at a time. Head position. Arms. Legs. Timing.

This is what I'd consider to be a more advanced drill. You have to have good lungs to be able to do more than just a few strokes. But a few strokes are all you need in order to focus on head position and recovery.

What have we learned here, grasshopper? That even the simplest of drills can make you a better swimmer � if you look for things to learn. And you can learn multiple things from each drill. You may see only three drills on this page, but with all the options to think about within each drill, there are close to ten drills here.

The whole idea is to make sure that when you're doing drills, you focus ALL your attention on ONE point. Send your mind in ONE direction. Isolate, isolate, isolate your attention. Drills are not time off or a time to rest. They�re an opportunity to isolate individual movements, study them, master them, and maximize them. Then, by reassembling each of those maximized movements into a complete, integrated stroke, you're left with a package that help you reach your potential. Once you've perfected all of this, then TRAIN. Then DRILL. Then TRAIN. Remember: Every part of practice should be HARD. If you're not hurting physically, then you�d better be thinking."

Reaching your potential in this sport isn't easy, it's a QUEST of legendary proportions. The search can go on for years. Drills are one way to shorten that quest through the isolation of movements.

Now quit reading, and go swim!

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