COACH’S EYE: The Late Breath is Key To Schoenmaker’s 200 Breast World Record

The Olympic Games are a treasure-trove of technique tips. Having the world’s best swimmers in the same city at the same time, often sharing the pool at the same time, offers plenty of chances to pick apart the little details that makes them the world’s best swimmers.

Even as access to good, full-length race videos – and useful camera angles – remains hit-or-miss, swimming is developing its own version of other sports’ “film nerds,” and they’re digging up some intriguing technical details on social media.

Today’s “Coach’s Eye” look comes from Arizona State assistant coach Herbie Behmwho posted this underwater footage of 200 breast gold medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker during her prelims swim. As Behm notes, Schoenmaker is picking her head up to breathe much later in her stroke cycle than the other two swimmers visible in the clip.

For reference, the swim is Schoenmaker’s preliminary swim, not her world record swim from the final. But Schoenmaker still went an Olympic record 2:19.16 in this race – faster than any other swimmer went in any round of the 2020 Olympics and just two-tenths off her world record swim in the final. The swimmers beyond her in the video are Switzerland’s Lisa Mamie and Australia’s Jenna Strauch.

As other commenters in the thread note, the late breath allows Schoenmaker to maintain her body-line for the maximum amount of time. She doesn’t even pick her head up to breathe until her arms are nearly finished with the catch phase, so her body really only leaves a completely horizontal line for the brief time it takes her to breathe, recover her arms forward, and complete the entire breaststroke kick.

Behm also pulled some old race footage from men’s 200 breast world record-holder Anton Chupkovwho doesn’t breathe quite as late as Schoenmaker, but still relatively later than most breaststrokers:

Some of this is a function of how narrow Schoenmaker’s kick is. It’d be hard to squeeze in a kick in that short a time frame if you had the naturally-wide kick of someone like Michael Andrew(Credit to @pullbuoy on Twitter for the screenshot below comparing Andrew’s kick to Adam Peaty‘s).

The late breath really prioritizes efficiency and body line. It’s worth noting that those priorities probably conform better to the 200 breaststroke than the sprint-based 100. In this video below, you can see Peaty’s gold medal swim in the 100 breast. Peaty’s legendary turnover doesn’t really lend itself to that late-breath concept (on the contrary, his head barely goes underwater for just a split-second, especially as he turns up his tempo in the back half):

On the women’s side, 100 breast world record-holder Lilly King‘s stroke is much more in the Peaty mold. 100 breast gold medalist Lydia Jacoby could probably get away with a late/quick breath, given how incredibly low she stays to the water on her breath, but for now, at least, she initiates her breath much earlier than Schoenmaker, swimming next to her:


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Billy Howard
1 year ago

I remember Sergio Lopez talking about breathing in breaststroke where he would have his swimmers hold their breath (as opposed to gradually exhaling during the underwater phase) to help with buoyancy, then a fast and forceful exhale just prior to lifting up for the breath. It seems like that breathing paired with this late head lift would maximize both aspects.

Sergio did warn that the athletes might get a but light-headed when first learning and practicing this, and my swimmers definitely found that to be the case. However, the ones who stuck with it did improve in breaststroke.

Reply to  Billy Howard
1 year ago

This seems like more Mr Hyde then Dr Jekyll but illustrates the difference between coach and scientist. Try it. If it works no matter why keep doing it. Swimmers stay at the surface due to momentum not air in their lungs otherwise their feet would sink just like they do when you float.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
1 year ago

My knees are hurting just looking at those underwater shots of Andrew/Peaty’s breaststroke kick

Dick Taylor
1 year ago

It seems to me that the nice straight line of the glide is broken when the arms pull, as soon as the hands break from the glide. So breathing late can only delay getting back into line. I believe the other Breaststroke swimmers have it right. This champion just looks really strong to me, with lots of stamina!

You Don’t Say
1 year ago

There are very few superior (not only one superior way) ways and a lot of inferior ways to put an overall technique together. ..of the superior ones, find the one that matches what body tools you have to work with. Done properly, it’s not an easy task at all eh.

1 year ago

Lol nothing against the guy but as a narrow kick breastrokeR MAs kick makes me wanna puke

Reply to  Virtus
1 year ago

And what does shymanovich’s kick make you do then?

Behm Bahm Bihm
1 year ago

Herbie is the man

1 year ago

Keeps those hips high and primo position for the power phase of the kick. Earlier breath means longer time where body out of alignment before kick. Makes sense

I Suck
1 year ago

Not a Breaststroker, never was, but it really is a interesting stroke to watch simply for all the variety in how people get power and maintain efficiency. Some of it seems to be body-type dependent, but also just personal preference on what ‘works,’ very different from the other strokes

Reply to  I Suck
1 year ago

Whenever I’m reading articles like this my first reaction is – how little science is involved in coaching job. You cannot take a college course “Swimming Coach”, graduate with the distinction, and be ready to coach high performance swimmers. It is empirical knowledge that comes with experience only.
The second thought is that competitive swimmer is a complex biomechanical system tuning of which isn’t an obvious job at all. Whatever works (or looks like it’s working) for some swimmer can be completely inapplicable for another swimmer and at the best do nothing.

Last edited 1 year ago by Yozhik
Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

Is it tho? The best swimmers in the world all swim pretty damn similar. And historically, as there are advancements by outliers in a stroke, it typically is adopted by all, and the event top to bottom gets faster. But I agree with you as to swimming not being based on science

Reply to  Dewwwd
1 year ago

There is nothing to argue about. The cumulative coaching experience is progressing. Swimmers in general are faster today than let say 50 years ago in 1971. And coaching improvement maybe one of the main contributing factor to this progress.
What I was saying that there is no two swimmers in the world who swim same stroke identically. You can easily recognize a swimmer in the pool by his/her swimming “signature”.
And also you would hardly teach young swimmers the Janet Evans’ style and vice versa she was lucky that there was no authoritative coach around who would push her to swim “classical” stroke.

Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

Maybe not science in the strictest sense of the word but the majority of coaches have spent hours and hours and days and weeks pouring over video, books, clinics, youtube learning understanding biomechanics, psychology, physiology etc of sport.
I had a great opportunity to swim for and learn from Doc Counsilman who was 100% a swimming scientist. I think most coaches are scientists in the Dr Jeckyl mode.
Biomechanics are pretty much the same across all great swimmers. Schoenmaker has more in common than different with other great breastrokers. Same body position, head position, ankles turned way out. They ride on top of the water streamlining. These are all things every coach tries to teach their swimmers. Most… Read more »

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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