One of the slowest form of swimming used at the international level, the breaststroke offers complete exercise to the body.
In this technique, the torso doesn’t rotate and head remains out of the water for most of the time. Although, the breaststroke technique doesn’t allow the swimmer to move quickly, it is however, known to provide great amount of stability. The breaststroke is taught to those who are new to swimming. Mastering this technique at the professional level is however, not an easy job. Hand movement in the breaststroke resembles a sweeping motion, while the legs move like a frog kick. This technique has been improved by professional swimmers through the use of hips and abdominal muscles in powering the ‘frog kick’. The ‘frog kick’ is also known as ‘whip kick’ because the legs are stroked like a whip during the breaststroke. Many find this kick i.e. leg movements difficult to master. For this, it is advisable to practice the kick on the edge of the swimming pool. It allows the swimmer to focus properly on the kick. As regards the sweeping movement of hands, one should keep in mind that the arms mustn’t be pulled too wide. Also the shoulder and neck should be kept in a relaxed state which in turn aids the movement of arms.
Technique Used for Breaststroke Swimming
It involves forward movement of arms and legs. The sweeping action used in this form of swimming gives rise to the following three movements.
The outsweep starts with the swimmer’s palms facing each other and placed near the chest. The hands are then outstretched while the palms still face each other; this alignment of hands resembles the shape of an arrow. The hands are then stretched to their full length. The sweeping action starts with palms rotating along the wrists to face away from each. The hands then part away from each other and sweep the water without bending the elbows. Until the outsweep is completed, hands must stay parallel to the surface of water.
Water is pushed backwards while performing an insweep. For this to happen, the hands need to point downward and push the water. The hands which were in a horizontal plane during the outsweep, now align themselves vertically. At the end of the sweep, the palms return to the position facing each other in front of the chest.
In the final phase, the hands return to the original position and the palms face each other. At the end of the recovery phase, head is raised above the water surface for breathing. A small thing to be kept in mind is maintaining the angle between body and surface of water at a minimum.
As stated earlier, entering water at an angle which causes least amount of drag should be the objective of breaststroke swimmers. Hands should fully extend forward before you immerse your head into the water.
Movement of legs in this technique involves the following actions. Initially, the legs are stretched outwards while knees stay together. The feet then move towards the posterior while the knees are kept together. This movement is the precursor of the thrust motion. When the legs are thrust downwards, they move away from the posterior in an elliptical path. The above cycle repeats during the breaststroke. While performing this whole activity, the knees shouldn’t sink much in water because it increases the drag. The underlying idea is to produce maximum thrust with the help of legs and to face the least possible drag. Positioning of the body for this movement should be such that it resembles an arrow where all the energy needed for propelling it (body) is concentrated in the legs and hips. If there is proper coordination between movements of hands and legs, the process of breathing attains a nice rhythm; this in turn helps improve the timing of breathing. The breathing should take place with the mouth at a time when body is lifted during the recovery phase.
Different styles of breaststroke swimming are the undulating, wave and flat style. In comparison to the conventional style, the wave style focuses more on the insweep movement. The wave style also enables the swimmer to draw more power from the kick through the use of hips and abdominal muscles. It requires enough practice to master the wave style of breaststroke swimming. Undulating style is mainly used by flexible swimmers. This conventional flat style makes use of powerful outsweeps.
The history can be traced back to the stone age. Pictures found in the ‘Cave of Swimmers’ located in southwestern Egypt, depict the use of breaststroke. The first book on swimming, ‘Colymbetes’ was written by Nicolas Winman of Germany in 1538. This book illustrated the systematic ways to learn breaststroke swimming. Breaststroke technique was introduced in the arena of competitive swimming in the early 19th century. Captain Matthew Webb swam across the English channel in 21 hours and 45 minutes using the breaststroke technique. Swimmers compete in many different categories of breaststroke swimming. These categories are the 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m and 4 x 100m relay.
Noted Breaststroke Swimmers
~ Victor Davis from Canada
~ Alexander Dale Oen from Norway
~ Amanda Beard of United States
~ Leisel Jones from Australia
~ Kosuke Kitajima from Japan
~ Luo Xuejuan from China
The technique of breaststroke has survived for long despite the rise and development of various other techniques. Many new techniques have evolved without ever reducing the importance of the breaststroke. Unlike other swimming techniques which help improve speed, breaststroke is known for its potential to stretch and power the different muscles of our body.