The Breaststroke Kick

Apr 25, 2003
The Breaststroke Kick

The breaststroke kick, usually viewed as one of the most difficult and complex swimming motions, is a relatively simple movement. It's just that it's so different from the other kicks. In dolphin kick and flutter kick, the one that's used to introduce swimmers to the sport, it's the tops of the feet that are used to propel us forward. In the breaststroke kick, however, it's the inside edges and bottoms of the feet that are used. Different surfaces and different muscle groups are involved. These differences can be difficult for many swimmers, especially beginners, to master.

We will be publishing another article on how to learn/teach breaststroke kick at the most basic, beginner level, but in this article, we'll assume that you know the basics and want to fine-tune your kick. We'll be looking at the kick of NCAA Champion and 2003 World Cup Team Member Dave Denniston to illustrate various focus points.

Before we look at Dave's kick, we need a short hydrophysics lesson. Here it is, and it's a mouthful: The kick must generate enough propulsive force to overcome the resistance that was created when the legs were drawn up to get ready for that kick. Stated more simply, when you draw up your legs to get ready for a kick, your knees, bent legs, and feet can create a huge amount of resistance. The wider they are, and the more they stick out beyond the "shadow" of your torso, the more resistance and drag they create...and the more power you need to deliver with the kick to overcome that drag. The more narrow and "hidden" you can keep your knees, legs, and feet, the less resistance they create and the less power you need to supply as compensation. So, bigger is not always better in this instance. If you watch swimmers who think a BIG, WIDE kick is automatically a powerful kick, you'll notice pauses, or hitches, in their stroke as they almost stop when they draw up the legs, then shoot themselves forward during the kick. This "surging" feels cool, because you feel fast when you complete each kick, but you need to evaluate your overall velocity. Was the surge really worth it if you came to a complete stop to get ready for it? Remember another physics lesson: It takes less energy to keep a ball rolling than it does to set a resting ball in motion.

NOW let's look at Dave's kick.

Dave always starts the process with his legs held tightly together and in line, right behind his body. He presents only his hands, shoulders, and chest to the water.   Everything else "hides" behind his torso. Minimum resistance and drag.

You'll notice that Dave prepares for the kick during the insweep of his arms (but that's another article). He keeps his feet close together as he draws them up behind his thighs and within the shadow of his torso. He tries to keep his knees about shoulder width apart.

Dave continues to hide his feet behind his thighs even while he's turning his feet OUT to grab on to the water. This is the point of greatest resistance in each breast stroke. The arms and legs are out of streamline and the swimmer's head is out of the water for a breath. Notice how well Dave minimizes resistance at each key area. His elbows and hands are close to the body. His eyes are down and his head is low. His legs and knees are hidden by his torso. Dave spends much of his training focusing on this critical point in his stroke -- and how he can present less surface area to the water. This point can make or break your technique, rhythm, and performance.

Notice how in the last two pictures, the thighs have not spread any wider, but the feet have drawn up behind them. This again, reduces new resistance, and is MUCH more efficient.

You can see here that as a world-class athlete, Dave does a great job of limiting the resistance during the recovery of the legs. This is about as good as this position gets, and you can see the resistance that can be created trying to get your feet in position to kick. Just imagine what YOU look like at this phase of your stroke. Remember, Dave is one of the BEST.

Because Dave draws up his legs in such a compact fashion, the propulsive part of his kick has an impressive payback. Ankle flexibility plays a key role, too. It's very important to have the feet facing back, or out, during the entire press. I like to think of the kick as going straight back, but in reality the feet usually sweep outward as the press of the kick begins. The more flexible your ankles and knees, the easier it is to keep the kick narrow and to kick back rather than out. Try to limit this outward sweep, and think of always pressing the water back toward the wall behind you. This keeps the feet in a better propulsive orientation for a longer period of time. Too much outward sweep can cause the feet to SLIP through the waterr, without ever catching or HOLDING the water.

Finally, finish the kick cycle EXACTLY where you started, with legs and feet tightly together and in streamline directly behind the torso. Finish each kick completely and with authority. That means SLAM your feet together -- don't let them just drift or float together. Think about squeezing all of the water from between the legs.

Then the process starts all over again.

When I first learned to swim, my Mother explained the breaststroke kick sequence in three simple, but memorable, words:

UP:  Draw your feet up toward your backside. Remember to keep your knees inside your shoulders (or close to it), and keep your feet behind your body.
OUT:  Point your toes to the outside walls as you get ready to press your feet back. This allows the insides of your feet and ankles to grab hold of the water sooner, and will produce a more powerful press in the kick.
TOGETHER:   Always FINISH YOUR KICK. Toes pointed, and legs completely extended. This ensures that you get a complete kick every time.

Remember, bigger isn't always better. Instead of thinking HOW BIG can I make my kick, think HOW LITTLE resistance can I create in setting up for my kick. The momentum you maintain and the energy you save, could very well help you go faster than you ever thought you could.

The images used in this article are taken from video clips used in making our DVD Go Swim Breaststroke with Dave Denniston

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