The Breaststroke: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

Michael Butler
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The History of the Breaststroke

The word “breaststroke” refers to your chest or breast being on the water during the swimming stroke instead of your front or back. The breaststroke originated as a swimming stroke among the Polynesians, and you can still see it used to this day in some of the Polynesian islands, most notably in Hawaii.

The breaststroke is one of the four basic swimming strokes, the other three being the butterfly, the backstroke, and the freestyle or front crawl. The freestyle stroke differs from the breaststroke only in the kicking techniques used to propel the swimmer through the water.

To learn how to breaststroke, you’ll first need to learn how to do the freestyle stroke. The breaststroke is basically the freestyle stroke with some additional techniques added.

You would most likely employ the breaststroke if swimming in rough water. The breaststroke is also a popular stroke when swimming in a pool because the underwater kick is designed to develop resistance to the water. This, in turn, increases the efficiency of the breaststroke and turns it into a fast stroke. Most swimmers do best in the freestyle stroke without any resistance.

“Introducing the Finalists for the 440 Yard Breaststroke…”

This race, which takes just under two minutes to swim, brings even the toughest competitors to their knees. The choice of stroke is largely a matter of personal preference, but the breaststroke tends to be the most popular stroke for short-course swim competitions.

Breaststroke requires the use of a freestyle stroke with a kick, as opposed to a butterfly or backstroke which use mostly a flutter kick. Breaststroke is predominantly a front crawl with the elbow lead.

Breaststroke stroke did not start out that way, originally it was swum with a side kick similar to what is done in the backstroke. It wasn’t until after World War II that breaststroke is done with the lead arm. It is a very popular stroke and today swimmers tend to either butterfly or backstroke. Most swimmers try to have a good balance of the two to be in good shape, also the breaststroke is a fast and efficient stroke used in swimming competitions.

The Underwater Shenanigans of ‘56

The underwater stroke was first developed by Johnny Weissmuller in the 1935. He was attempting a high dive from the 10 meter board at his high school. He started tucking his knees in order to reduce the impact of landing in the water.

This action of turning, along with the tucking of his knees, resulted in diving through the air with minimal impact, and he chose to stay in the water. That day, the Stroke was born.

Current breaststroke rules require the chest to break the surface of the water during each stroke cycle, while the old rules did not require it. The tucking of knees was eliminated. This resulted in the breaststroke applying more force to the legs.

This meant that breaststrokers of the 80s tended to be swimmers who had explosive leg kicks, but they did not necessarily have the great starts, finishes, or turns that allowed for frequent top times.

The breaststroke was first contested in the 1912 Stockholm Games, alongside freestyle. It has been an Olympic race ever since.

The breaststroke is also one of the few strokes in which the hands are supposed to exit the water.

The breaststroke success of the 1950s can be attributed to the increased innovation and experimentation with the stroke.

Then came the start of drug testing in 1968, and the breaststrokers grew stronger and stronger. Now, breaststrokers have the fastest recorded swim times.

The Breaststroke is one of the hardest and most challenging strokes to use during competition. The first competition breaststroke event took place in the year 1876 in France with the winner being John Arthur Jarvis at the International Swimming Championship.

Swimmers who compete in breaststroke keep their fingers together near the top of the breaststroke style to get them out of the way of the water. The breaststroke is also well-known for being done at a rapid pace.

There are 26 main rules in the IPC, one of which is the maximal breaststroke push-off. Swimmers are encouraged to have their hands at least six inches away from the breast when climbing out of the water.

There are variations of the breaststroke, the most common of which are the front crawl (or freestyle) and the butterfly. In England, the breaststroke was called the “fox-crawl,” making the term fox-trot perfect for the partner dance of the 1920s.

Kitajima and the Dolphin Kicks Heard Around the World

If you’re a competitive swimmer, you probably know about Kitajima. The man a long-time Japanese breaststroker took the breaststroke world by storm when he set the world record for the 100 meter breaststroke in 1991. What was so remarkable about this breaststroke world record is that Kitajima was recorded to have used dolphin kicks on every stroke of the race, unlike any other breaststroker.

His swim technique was revolutionary and his dolphin kick style became legendary. A lot of breaststrokers tried to imitate the dolphin kick he used in his record-breaking race but very few have been able to perfect the technique. What Kitajima was really able to accomplish was not just a unique racing style, but also an efficient way of moving the arms and the legs.

What Kitajima’s dolphin kick illustrates is that an efficient swimming technique is not just about the fastest way to move a body part, but understanding when it’s important to use a certain technique, particularly in the dolphin kick. Knowing where an efficient stroke is necessary will allow for better overall racing times.

Who are the top breaststrokers of all time?

The top breaststrokers of all time have either been born and raised in a country where breaststroke is a dominant swimming technique or they have shifted into the pool and took on swimming the breaststroke pretty much from day 1 as a child.

Do not get the idea that the opposite stroke is easier for someone raised with that stroke. That’s why breaststroke was the last stroke to earn Olympic status.

Philip Welch was the first gold medal winner in the 100m breaststroke 1924 and then the first in the 200m in 1928 at Amsterdam.

It was not until the 1940 Olympics in Helsinki that breaststroke was added again.

This time breaststroke was introduced as an individual as well as an event.

In Helsinki the winner in the 100m breaststroke was Ville Puhakka (Finland) in 1:39, in the 200m breaststroke it was the American Charles Kinsey, who set a world record in 2:24.2.

Other record holders during this pre Olympic era in breaststroke were: John Maclean (Scotland) in the 100m breaststroke; and Kevin Allen (U.S.) in the 200m breaststroke, who in 1948 set the current world record of 2:15.2.

The Different Styles of Breaststroke

Breaststroke can be broken down into two basic styles: fly breaststroke and the dolphin breaststroke. The only difference between the two is that for fly breaststroke, your arms move forward only when your hand enters the water during the catch. Your arms move backward during the recovery. When you’re swimming fly breaststroke, your arms are stopped in front of your body, unlike the dolphin breaststroke, which is the basic form of breaststroke.

If you want to swim the fly breaststroke properly, focus on keeping the palm of your hand facing down at all times. If you’re right-handed, your palm should face right side of your chest, and you’ll pause the hand infront of your left breast. Your left arm should stay to the outside of your body. If you’re left-handed, your left arm should be held to the left side of your body. The same principle applies regardless of which hand is used to enter the water.

The dolphin breaststroke is used in competition and also for beginners, so if you want to achieve proper swim, you should know how to swim the dolphin breaststroke. To see a dolphin breaststroke in motion, check out this video.

How to Swim Breaststroke

The breaststroke is one of the four competitive swimming strokes. It is characterized by an over-the-head arm stroke and a dolphin kick. The breaststroke requires a rhythmic kick during which the swimmer rotates the legs in a circular motion. A swimmer’s hands reach as far forward as possible and rotate over the water at a consistent pace.

Swimmers use the breaststroke when they want to swim slowly, and it works best in water that is 10 meters or less deep. Many competitive swimmers use the breaststroke exclusively during competitions. Recreational swimmers use breaststroke most when learning how to swim because it is a slower stroke. Its slow pace allows swimmers to pay attention to important techniques like breathing.

Here are the basic steps to learn how to swim breaststroke.

Breaststroke Resources

If you have an hour to spare, check the video on the right side of the page for a quick primer on the breaststroke stroke basics.

Many people prefer swimming breaststroke over other styles of swimming because it is easy on the joints and there’s minimal water resistance. The breaststroke’s low impact style of swimming makes it fun to do as well, adding to its popularity.