How to Swim Breaststroke

Last Updated on August 1st, 2023

We may earn commissions for purchases made through links on our site. Learn more on our about us page.

Often considered to be the easiest stroke to learn for swimmers of all ages, the breaststroke is a survival stroke. 

It doesn’t get you anywhere fast but also shouldn’t tire you out until you can make it somewhere safe. It is also great to learn for exercising or as a beginner, as your speed doesn’t matter. 

Though it is relatively easy to learn, some important timing and nuances factors make it difficult to get right and keep constant. 

Keep reading to learn more about how to swim breaststroke properly and the steps to take to reduce your exhaustion and improve your timing. 


How to Swim Breaststroke Properly?

Swimming the breaststroke properly means adhering to the four main phases of the stroke:


  • Glide – The arms are extended in front of the body with hands one on top of the other. 


The head is in a neutral state, looking to the bottom of the pool to reduce drag.


  • Out sweep – Hands are brought outwards while the arms are kept straight and extended.


  • In sweep – The arms are brought downwards and backward as the elbows bend. This is what propels you forward and upward so that you can breathe. The legs will also perform a quick frog kick in an almost simultaneous timeframe.


  • Recovery – The arms begin to extend underwater to return to the starting glide phase.


Oftentimes, the most difficult part for beginners to grasp is the motion of the frog kick. However, the motion is actually straightforward with the right mental image.

Arrow-like position of the glide phase, the knees bend while turning to point outward while the feet are held together and brought towards the buttocks. 

Then, the feet are quickly brought down by extending the knees where they are, creating a “V” shape before returning to gliding.


What Should You Focus on Doing with Your Body in Breaststroke?

Like the rest of the swimming strokes, your positioning is the best thing to focus on with your body in breaststroke. 

Correct body positioning minimizes drag across all body parts and will allow you to make mistakes with your movements until you can put time and effort into each aspect individually.

To achieve the best neutral body positioning for the breaststroke, keep your arms and hands one over the other outstretched in front of you. Your head should be pointing to the bottom of the pool while your hips stay high, just below the surface of the water.

Similar to your hands, your legs should be kept close together in a narrow stance to reduce drag. 

When you kick, the knees should not become hyperextended, and the feet should not go much further than shoulder-width apart before quickly returning to a streamlined gliding position.


What’s the Best Way to Breathe with Breaststroke?

The best way to breathe during the breaststroke depends on what kind of swimmer.

If you’re a recreational swimmer who only does the breaststroke for fun and exercise, you’ll probably have your head held high enough out of the water so you can breathe naturally whenever you want.

As a more serious competitive swimmer, learning when to breathe during the cycles of the breaststroke will help you have the energy for the entire race as well as shave off a couple of extra seconds from your times.

Ideally, you should breathe in during the arms sweep but well before the pull phase. You’ll know when you have the right timing when your head and shoulders rise out of the water for a natural but short chance to breathe.

There should be no holding of their breath, as many recreational swimmers do in a pattern known as explosive breathing. 

Instead, trickle breathing, where you continuously exhale a small portion of air between breaths.

This will feel more natural, conserve as much energy as possible for swimming, and prevent undue stress on the lungs and circulatory system, which can lead to chronic health problems down the road.

Trickle breathing’s exhale begins as the arms are in the recovery phase and the upper body sinks back under the water’s surface. 

It continues the entire time the face remains in the water, meaning a small stream of air should be leaving the nostrils until the next arms sweep.


How Fast Should You Swim Starting Out?

There is no shame in swimming breaststroke slowly until you figure out the timing and rhythm better. Consciously thinking and making slow, deliberate movements is ideal when first practicing the breaststroke.

If you have access to swim equipment and aids like a kickboard, you can even separate the actions of the legs from the motion of the arms to make sure you are practicing the correct form from the start.

The most important thing to consider before trying to quickly swim the breaststroke is how comfortable you are in the water. There is a long glide phase in which your head should be in the water the whole time to achieve the best possible streamlined positioning. 

If you aren’t comfortable with your head in the water yet, swimming slowly with your head above the water the whole time is perfectly acceptable.


How to Prevent Getting Tired so Fast with Breaststroke?

Breaststroke is considered a survival stroke, but only if you are performing it correctly. So if you find yourself getting quickly when doing the breaststroke, it is a good sign that there are things you can improve about your technique.

Three main ways will help you stay energized for longer when swimming breaststroke:


  • Reduce your drag. Maintaining the correct body positioning and quickly returning to a neutral, streamlined state will help conserve your energy levels.


  • Glide as long as possible. The glide phase is a very important part of the breaststroke and is the reason why it is considered a survival stroke. 


An extended glide with a perfectly streamlined body will help you go further in the water than trying to complete as many cycles of the breaststroke as possible, and it will do so without wasting your energy.


  • Trickle breath. Holding air in your lungs as part of explosive breathing is detrimental to your streamlined position because it makes the torso more buoyant, forcing it higher in the water. 


By slowly exhaling in between inhaling phases, you will have more time for inhaling, giving you more oxygen for producing energy.


Final Thoughts on How to Swim Breaststroke

Breaststroke is a great way to build confidence in the water without having many complex movements. Proper technique and form will keep you from getting tired, which is why breaststroke is considered to be a survival stroke.