Fig.1. From ‘The Swim Drill Book’ – an absolute must. In Kindle version I show swimmers pages such as this to show them a drill. It gets their attention and works.
Buy a copy of ‘The Swimming Drill Book’ Robert Gustein. either as a book, or eBook, or both! I swear by it. I create lessons plans that integrate a combination of TWO parts of this.
First part is to do with ‘feel of water’ and for any levels offers stuff you can do in any local pool or hotel pool just getting a sense of floatation, streamlining and ‘purchase’ of the water by your hand … which is now akin to the blade of a boat.
Second part is to go to a specific stroke. The drills are offered for novice through to a squad swimmer, so plenty to build on and to chose from. Variety helps in numerous ways, keeping your interest, working different muscle groups, making you think about what your body is trying to do and importantly breaking the swim into ‘whole-part-whole’ which is how most swimming plans are constructed.
Three parts to your swim:
- Warm up
- Main Body
- Swim down
You can stretch before you swim and stretch after too – especially important where we must get your feet/ankles adequately flexed so that they aren’t slowing you down.
Ditch the beach shorts. They act like a drone. The drag interferes with everything.
You would benefit hugely from a pair of mini-flippers. These will stretch you ankles in a good way, give you lift so you train in the right position, while exercising your legs. OK, you’ll not be as fast when you take them off, but at least your head will know why they have to kick more efficiently and steadily to keep you body horizontal.
Other kit, if the pool permits your use of them, would include a snorkel so that you can train without having to swing your head around to the ceiling to breathe. This will show you what you are aiming for, not the ability to breathe out the back of your head, but certainly the need to be a fluid as can be when you breathe so as not to disrupt the fluidity of your swim.
Everything is about STREAMLINING …
The better you are at this the far, far easier it is to swim for a long time without getting tired.
All analysis of a swim breaks down into the mnemonic BLABT. This is how I studied your stroke.
|Body||Off the horizontal. Heavy in the water. Needs to streamline. Practice streamlining exercises (push and glide, ‘dead swimmer’, using kicker float to strengthen/correct kick, and short fins. Aim to be parallel to the bottom of the pool!
|Legs||Kick needs to be from the hip, like a footballer fallowing through with a penalty. Or ‘long legs’ like a ballet-dancer. Practice this with a kicker float until it becomes second nature to turn on this motor. A leg kick will naturally fall into one of three types 2-2 crossover, 4 or 8. It looks like you’re a 4 or even an 8. This must be a steady kick whatever else you are doing especially as you breathe … your kick hesitates and your legs sink and the whole body starts to look like a Jumbo Jet coming into land. Talking of which your feet with toes pointing to the bottom of the pool like flaps down to land, or that you’re wearing wellington boots. Pointed toes are crucial. Think how much resistance is caused as they drag through the water otherwise. Your left foot appears to be cramped up, so even stiffer than the other. There are a set of land-based stretches you need to do asap. And can be done when you can’t get in the pool. Ideally for a few minutes morning and night.
|Arms||Balanced, even, strong and steady. Lifts at the ‘pocket’ tracks forward with a high elbow and places the hand on the surface. Pulls back in an oar-like action. You are fine until your hand touches the water. You then need to reach forward, as if you are pushing your arm into the sleeve of a coat, then cupping your hand ‘catch’ the water and sweep back with a gradual acceleration in an ‘S’ shape under that side of you body. Ideally neither hand should cross a central line through the middle of your body. Drills include swimming one arm only holding a kicker float. Watch what your arm and hand is doing then follow it through the water. You need to be bilateral, so make the effort to breathe to the right as well. This is also important so that both left and right arms have an equal share in pulling you through the water. The arm pull is 73% of the stroke … this is what pulls you through the water, the legs in anything but a sprint are there to keep your body horizontal and so causing the minimum amount of resistance. All resistance is bad, so slip the hand smoothly into the water, and the kick must be below the surface too. Smooth, silent, slinky swimming is the most efficient (and looks good too).
|Breathing||Breathes to the left, rolls head to ceiling. You need, eventually, to breathe on alternative sides every third stroke. For now get the body position right and aim to breathe only once your lungs are empty, so possibly every fourth stroke. Breathing is a continual action of ‘trickle breathing’ so blowing out slowly, possibly through your nose … then an explosive inhale as your mouth breaks the surface of the water.
|Timing||Currently you breathe every stroke to the left. In time you need to learn to breathe every other stroke to alternate sides. In a distance swim you may want to be as comfortable deciding at times only to breathe to one side rather than the other … either so that you can see where you are going, or because waves one one side are making breathing tricky. A tiny wavelet is more of a problem than a roller!
|There is masses on YouTube. So look for FrontCrawl drills. Ideally I would have videod you and if in a few weeks or months you can get me a video of you I can offer more fixes. I have various lesson plans on my teaching/coaching website www.coachmarlins.com which I can point you at or download and adjust for your use.
ONCE you have got the technique, which requires some fitness to never used muscle groups, THEN we start on your stamina to get through a distance swim. It does reach a point for everyone where you feel you could go on forever, really, afterall, the water is holding you up and you can kick gently and efficiently and pull gently too.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.
The following is the first stage in thinking through the construction of a series of activities or learning object where thought has been given to improving access – in this case for swimmers and swim coaches. This collation of the materials in the desired chronology will be re-versioned on the Xerte platform that offers far greater versatility for the user to set adjustments to the way the material is presented to suit their individual needs.
Figure one is an illustration by Neil Gower done in the style of the artist David Hockney showing a swimmer doing breaststroke hidden under the ripples of water in a swimming pool.
Swimming breaststroke can tie you in knots – this is how to identify and fix problems.
How to fix Breaststroke
The purpose of this activity is two-fold
- Firstly, to help identify and fix common problems in competitive breaststroke so that the swimmer is not disqualified in a gala
- Secondly to help the swimmer become more efficient.
The swimmer might be progressing from teaching to competitive swimming or they wish take part in a gala and realise they may have faults to address.
Let’s start by taking a look at what we’re trying to achieve.
Here’s breaststroke as it should be.
Fig.2. Still of a cartoon animation of breaststroke from BBC Sport
Figure two shows in side video a graphic representation of a swimmer paused at that moment in breaststroke where they are about to kick the hands out into a glide. This is a still from an animation produced by BBC Sport.
A description of the video animation
Repeated on a short loop this animation shows a figure swimming breaststroke.
The stroke is correct in competitive terms with the hands pulling in front of the shoulders and the leg kick symmetrical.
Other good practice is demonstrated – the body is horizontal in with the hips high, the head is steady and the chin tucked in – the breath in is short and explosive – the breath out underwater is a slow trickle. the arms reach forward out, pull out and scoop to the chest in one inverted heart-shape – in a symmetrical frog-kick the feet rise to the bum, the toes bend out and in a whipping action they press outwards against the water then come together in a streamline position with pointed toes.
Here’s another way of looking at it
Fig. 3. Swimming competitive breaststroke – from Swimming Fastest : Maglischo. (1997)
Figure three is a graphic a line drawing of a swimmer demonstrates in two columns, and – side ways on – two ways to swim breaststroke.
In the first column we see a swimmer adopting the flat style of swimming competitive breaststroke. In the second column we see a swimmer adopting the wave style of competitive breaststroke.
Looking at the first column we see that the flat style swimmer keeps his hips close to the surface at all times as he goes through the sequence of reach, pull, breathe, kick glide.
Looking at the second column we see that the wave style swimmer drops his hips further – this will create a pronounced undulation in his swim.
In each case the sequence shown ends with the swimmer in a fully extended stretch.
The stretch is important in all competitive swimming, but particularly in breaststroke.
Let’s consider why.
Fig.4 A competitive swimmer photographed in mid-glide (from below)
Figure four is an underwater photograph of a swimmer overhead who is stretched out, their head tucked down, the hands clasped one over the other above their head – their legs stretched out behind them with the toes pointed.
How would you describe this swimmer?
The swimmer is stretched out horizontally on the water, head down, arms stretched out legs extended and toes pointed.
This is the streamlined position.
What metaphor might you use to you describe this position?
- Like a dolphin
Why is streamlining important in swimming?
The streamlined position minimises resistance.
In breaststroke you are moving faster and more efficiently through the water when you are doing nothing at all – this streamline position is vital. The arm pull is short, the legs whip out against the water to get you into this sliding, gliding, streamlined position.
As a teacher or coach observing a swimmer you will be familiar with the mnemonic – B.L.A.B.T.
Do you remember what it stands for?
B = Body
L = Legs
A = Arms
T = Timing
Once your swimmers are warmed up, and ideally using a lane by the side of the pool – ask them to swim ‘their best breaststroke’. Walk along the pool observing them as they swim and register, using B.L.A.B.T, what they are doing. Keep your observations objective. Record what you see if you can or, as you see more swimmers in your group identify the key faults that they present so that you can then offer a sequence of progressive fixes and drills.
What faults might you identify?
Even at the elite end of swimming breaststroke can be improved, so what at the level that you are teaching are the common problems? What level are they in the scheme that you use? They are likely to be in a senior teaching group or in a competitive development group.
Make a list of the faults you identified or think would be most common. Use B.L.A.B.T to ensure that you think about all aspects of what the swimmer is doing.
Common faults include
- The head tips back and forth rather than being steady, the chin tucked in as the shoulders rise from the water.
- The fingers are splayed.
- The arms pull down to the hips rather than staying in front of the shoulders.
- The arm pull is broken into two or more parts rather than a continual action.
- The arm pulls out wide, rather than staying shoulder width.
- The hips are low in the water.
- The leg kick is not symmetrical and synchronised – one leg may be kicking later than the other, one may do a screw kick, there may be a short flutter kick or dolphin kick at the end of the stretch – all of these would result in disqualification in a competitive gala.
- The legs go out, but the action is slow, not a whip kick.,
- The legs fail to come together in a streamlined position.
- Watching the feet and ankles do the toes pull in as they are raised to the backside then push and flex outwards, planta flexion, as they kick ending with pointed toes and the streamline position?
- The inhale and exhale take equally long instead of a short, explosive inhale and a long, trickle-like exhale when the head is underwater.
The correct timing should result in a fluid, even dolphin-like ‘stitching’ through the water. This can only occur if there are distinct phases – pull, breathe, kick, glide.
Whole Part Whole
The simplest approach to isolating parts of the stroke to put in a fixing drill or exercise is known as ‘whole-part-whole’. This means, simply, that having seen the full stroke, you then concentrate on one part at a time, typically arms or legs, though sometimes it is possible to isolate the breathing and head position, or to look only at the ankles, for example, dipping your head underwater to blow out to teach ways to breathe or sitting on the side of the pool running through actions with the flexing of the foot.
Sometimes with breaststroke if you plan to work with swimmers out of the water it may be best to do some drills before they get wet – for example if you wish to take them through the arm action or leg action and be able to stand or crouch next to them. With due care and appropriate actions in relation to child protection issues, or simple manners before you touch an adult swimmer, the teacher may wish to physically put the swimmer’s arms or legs into the correct position and move the swimmer’s arms or legs through the correction motion.
The following table shows a sequence of progressions that can be used to develop breaststroke or to fix specific problems (see below for details):
|2||Breaststroke arms standing (poolside or shoulder high in water)||Establishes the correct arm action.Begins to address swimmers who pull down to the their thighs||Keep arms in front of shouldersPutting tomato sauce on a pizza||2 minutes|
|3||Breaststroke Arms with flutter kick||Keeps the body horizontal and moving forward making it easier to develop what may at first be a weak arm stroke in front of the shoulders.||Keep the flutter kick steady. Wear fins if you have them. A dolphin kick is a good alternative.||2 x 50m|
|4||Arms with Woggle||Excellence to provide a physical barrier or line that indicates how far the arms may pull back too.||Push off slowly to keep the Woggle in place.||2 x 25m|
|5||Legs: Kick with float||To develop the correct kick and to introduce and develop the ‘whipping’ action.||Bend, Open, Snap||2 x 50m|
|6||Legs: 2 kicks one pull||To develop the kick and put emphasis on the gliding action.||Breathe out slowly, chin tucked in – head looking down breathe in explosively.||2 x 50m|
|7||Whole Stroke Drill||To develope the glide in breaststroke.||Pull, breathe, kick, slide
Hold the slide for a count of 3 seconds
|2 x 100m|
Table. 1. Six drills for breaststroke.
Table one comprises four columns and six rows. Each row represents a logical sequence of drills for breaststroke, beginning with arms only drills, then leg only drills, then whole stroke drills. The second column in each case gives the purpose behind the drill. The third column offers some tips in relation to the drills – suggestions that can be made to the swimmer. The fourth and final column suggests that two minute should be spent on the first drill, while each subsequent drill is expressed as a repeated distance over the length of a 25m pool.
1 Breaststroke Arms – Standing – walk through of the arms
Fig. 5. Breaststroke Arms out stretched
Figure five is an illustration of a person standing upright in a water over their shoulders their hands together and reaching out in front of them, thumbs touching, palms down.
Position your arms out in front of you.
Thumbs touch, palms down and slightly out.
FOCUS – Keep standing up straight.
Fig.6. Breaststroke Arms reaching outwards
Figure six shows the same person as figure five this time with their arms extended fully and out to the side, the palms still facing down, the hands lower in the water.
Sweep your hands outward until they are just beyond shoulder width and are an arm’s length apart.
FOCUS – Take it slowly at first checking that everyone id getting it right – then speed up.
Fig. 7. Breaststroke arms scooping in
Figure seven shows the same figure as in figures five and six, here he has dropped his forearm from the elbow – the palms are facing at an angle and into his body as if he is about to scoop the water up.
Rotate the hands inward, begin to bend the elbows back and sweep you hands in drawing an equilateral triangle as your fingertips come together in front of your chest.
FOCUS – Watch your hands – they should always been in front of your shoulders.
Fig. 8. Breaststroke arms ready to push forward
Figure eight shows the same illustration of the person featured in figures five, six and seven with his fingers touching beneath his chest.
Shoot the hands forward just below the surface.
FOCUS – Pause in the starting position which equates with the glide in the swim.
[DETAIL IN RELATION TO THE FIVE FURTHER DRILLS OR EXERCISES TO ADD HERE]
After the session take some notes and reflect on how it went.
Run through the narrative – from the timeliness, preparedness and mood of the swimmers, their response to the individual activities, any feedback they gave and outcomes you observed. Think what went well and what did not. Bring any assessment sheets up to date regarding your swimmers in their grade. Add some thoughts on how you would do it differently next time.
Think how you performed. Were you prepared and ready in good time.
- Were you able to respond flexibly to changing circumstances?
- How much time did you spend watching the swimmers compared to looking at a lesson plan?
- Were there any safety issues to consider?
- What was the tone of the session?
- Was it fun?
- Was it effective?
- Were you in control?
- Did any one swimmer struggle with how you put over the exercises and drills?
- Were you clear?
- Could you be seen and heard by all of them?
- Did they all understand what you meant?
- How were drills carried out? How many times did you have to repeat something before they got it right?
What would you share with other teachers about the session you gave?
What tips would you give? What resources would you suggest? Are their tools you would recommend using? How practical is this? Is there a cost involved? How might you put your ideas into a common knowledge pool to share with fellow teachers and coaches?
How might you feed back to the swimmers and or their parents or guardians?
Advanced Insight into an Olympic Swimmer
Fig. 9 A velocity pattern graph for East German Olympian Silke Horner. Maglischo. (1997)
Figure nine shows a graph on which the vertical axis shows velocity in meters per second. The base figure is zero point four meters per second while the highest figure is two point zero meters per second. The horizontal axis shows time in seconds, starting at zero and rising in increments of zero point two or two tenths of a second up to one second point to, or one second and two tenths.
Across the top of the graph and covering its width there is an illustrative image of a swimmer doing breaststroke. The various actions of the strokes correspond to various points on the axis below to indicate at what point the stroke increases or decreases the velocity of the swimmer through the water.
The competitive breaststroke swimmer knows that they are moving fastest through the water when they kick into the glide. This chart shows the velocity of a former world-record holder set against time shows the peaks and troughs of Silke Horner. Entering the stroke this chart shows how her velocity is at 1.4 meters per second as she enters the ‘catch’ when her hands begin to find purchase on the water, this drops as her arms reach out to 1.2 meters per second, rises as the arms scoop inwards to 1.5 meters per second, drops again as her arms begin to reach forward and the legs are drawn up to 1.2 meters per second, lifts a bit to 1.5 meters then drops right away to the slowest part of the cycle when her legs are tucked up creating resistance and her hands are reaching out to 0.8 meters per second – then, kicking into a streamline glide she accelerates to 1.6 meters. holding this glide for nearly half a second before repeating the cycle.
Guzman, D (2007) The Swimming Drill Book
Maglischo. E.W. (1997) Swim Fastest
How to do the breaststroke (development)
How to swim breaststroke arms (competitive)
Breaststroke Animation: Side one
Common breaststroke mistakes
How to kick breaststroke – frog kick
Bend, Open, Snap – Breaststroke Frog Kick demonstrated
Teaching Breaststroke by Gator Swim Team
About Swimming Breaststroke
- In the flow poolside with ‘Bond’ – that’s James and Jane Bond and assorted baddies … (coachmarlins.com)
Fig.1. James Bond contemplates a 1,600m set but he’s forgotten his goggles.
Flow looks like this:
Fig.2. Csikszentmihalyi (1975) Experiencing Flow in Work and Play
- To be ‘in the flow’ means that things are going well. I’m playing to my strengths, not unduly challenged, not bored.
- I could never be bored with the simple tasks of developing swimmers.
This isn’t learn to swim, these are 6-12 year olds who are well on the way to having all the strokes and skills necessary to enjoy swimming and if they like to compete at school, or perhaps one day at county or regional levels. Some might, so will I suspect, go further.
This morning we could in some respects relax – assessments went in last week.
All those boxes are ticked, or not. Come January some, most, will go to the next grade. Some, as they are struggling with their technique or just haven’t cracked all parts of a stroke at their level will stay on for another term. Trying to make this sound good is always tricky. I like to say that children ‘level out’ for a period or need a specific skill fixed that they will get in time (especially if they put in a second swim). Sometimes, say being unable to dive or a persistent screw kick may benefit from some additional tuition.
How did this become the Bond Session?
Front Crawl is a stroke they can all do, so are rather good at it. Its the fastest stroke and of course the stroke of choice if you are swimming across a crocodile infested lake a night.
- After a warm up of between 100m and 200m Front Crawl (these swimmers are our Grades 4,5 and 7, ages 6 to 13 with a mean of 10) I then had them push off and swim one length of their best FC with an emphasis on rotating left to right while swimming directly above the black line up the lane.
- This they repeated with a dive from the blocks.
- I just wanted to get a measure of their stroke skills and judge how far I think they’ve got after 10 weeks or so. Smooth, stronger, more streamlined. Higher elbows, steady flutter kick.
Not too bad, some lateral deviation, some kicking showing a bit of knee … some elbows not as high as I would like, some a little cross-over as their hand enters the water.
Most a good long glide and dolphin kick transition into the stroke.
Kicking is part of it, so a 50m kick with board before some ‘fun stuff’.
Then I get out the iPad and show them ‘Dead Swimmer’
I’d done a quick screen grab of a sequence that I call ‘dead swimmer coming to life’ – courtesy of the brilliant ‘The Swimming Drills Book’ by US former Olympic Coach Ruben Guzman.
Fig.3. Dead Swimmer from Ruben Guzman’s ‘The Swimming Drill Book’ (2007) Here on the Kindle I usually have poolside. Having let the battery go flat I risked the iPad this morning.
They haven’t done it for a few weeks, but this time I wanted perfection. The first group got into the spirit of it, indeed it was one of the swimmers who said, ‘have you seen the new James Bond?’ He proceeded to tell in detail the best scene in the film. We got on with the swim and I wondered at the wisdom of his parents. What is it rated as 13+
(I gather from reviews after the session that ‘You could take most kids. The length of the film will lull many of the younger ones to sleep. Older school-aged kids and up will appreciate it the most’.)
First they had to show me could do the above well – from floating head down, raising the hands into a streamlined position, then the legs until they were stretched out and streamlined. Next step, standing facing up the pool on the ‘T’ at the end of the lane they drop into ‘dead swimmer’ unfurl, then dolphin kick into FC. We repeated three times until they all had it right. At the deep end I started them off under the 5m flags – the idea here is so they don’t have the wall to kick off against. (And that they are far enough away from each other that someone doesn’t inadvertently get a kick in the face).
We then went for a 50m swim, competitive dive off the blocks, ideally a tumble turn but some are yet to learn this, good transition though.
In the streamlined position they jump and bounced the length of the pool. Then another dive, glide and transition into the stroke. Each time I make a mental note of their strengths and a learning point. Each gets praise and a tip – the classic sandwiching of praise wrapped around constructive feedback – I do this because it works – especially the praise bit.
They are so responsive at this age to hearing their name and told they are doing well.
Then a pull-buoy on the head. In breaststroke this is a drill. In this case they simply had to transport a ‘bomb’ to the deep end without touching it with their hands or getting it wet. If the bomb fell off then they had to take a forfeit and swim to the bottom of the pool and up. They then did some regular arms only front crawl with the pull-buoy between their thighs. The grade 7 swimmers did a bit more of this and added a woggle at one stage which created greater resistance so had the swimming harder.
Then a game of ‘Bond and baddies’
Bond is on the blocks, the baddy is in the water under the flags looking down the pool. On the whistle the chase begins. We had a laugh about ‘James Bond’ and ‘Jane Bond’.
Was there more?
An IM, so depending on their level all four strokes, or backstroke, breaststroke and front crawl as 75m with the butterfly as a separate swim.
Hand Stands to work, again, on the streamlined position getting them to have long straight legs and pointed toes.
Ending on a deep breath, sitting on the bottom of the pool, having a cup of tea with ‘M’.
So much for the first session.
With the next two sessions we did more of the same, the only variation with the Grade 7 swimmers was for greater distances and a race pace swim over 50m. They also did an underwater challenge, thinking of the pool as a river at night that is closely guarded. They have to get to the other side undetected, so they only surface once or twice or more.
This group (Our Grade 7) also did the ‘Shark Fin’ drill.
Csikszentmihalyi, M (1975) Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-87589-261-2Related articles
- Activity designed to provide an insight into scripting content that is image rich for the visually impaired (mymindbursts.com)
- Effortless Swimming Releases New Video Program for Open Water Swimmers (prweb.com)
- Most Common Mistakes in Freestyle Swimming (swimteaching.com)
- How to swim faster? Part 1 (isaacloo.wordpress.com)
- How to Swim With a Buoy Between the Legs (livestrong.com)
- How E-learning would benefit from S-training (mymindbursts.com)
- Using Gagne’s steps for instructional design to develop e-learning for swimming teachers (coachmarlins.com)
In sport if an athlete is made to train they will in time quit – they need to want it. An effort of will or effort is tiring. If you have had to force yourself to do something or made to do it your resistance to the temptations to do something else will weaken. This is known as ego depletion. After Roy Baumeister (1998) in Daniel Kahneman’s 2011book ‘Thinking, fast and slow’.