Coordination In Breaststroke: Balancing The Stroke, Kick & Sliding

The breaststroke swimming style requires a symmetrical action of the swimmer’s upper and lower limbs.

This is the slowest swimming style, and it requires a more evolved technique in order to use it at a competitive level.

In freestyle, backstroke and butterfly, the stroke accounts for 60-70 percent of the total swimming strength, whereas kick amounts to the remaining 30-40 percent–note that these values may vary for each athlete and depending on the type of competition. On the other hand, one’s stroke and kick in breaststroke amount to 50 percent each.

For this reason, in breaststroke, the kick is not just used as support, as it is in all other swimming styles, but it is a key component as much as the arms are. As a matter of fact, those who can perform the kick with their feet flexed since their very first swimming lessons have great benefits, whereas, for those who are unable to do this, breaststroke is the most difficult swimming technique to learn.

The most difficult aspect to train in breaststroke is the acquisition of the required coordination of leg and arm movements.

Breaststroke is made up of three subsequent phases:

1) The arm stroke – during this phase, the upper limbs are used to advance and to lift the torso outside the water creating as little frontal friction as possible and pushing the body forward as much as possible.

2) The leg kick – during this phase, the swimmer bends their legs, with their heels as close as possible to their bottom, and then open their legs and pushes backwards with flexed feet until their legs are closed. This kick needs to be performed after the arm stroke, as these two movements should not be simultaneous.

3) Sliding is the effect of the two previous phases, and it leverages on the push obtained from the arm stroke and the leg kick to make the body advance in water.

Let us now analyze some aspects of this swimming style:

The arm stroke in the breaststroke swimming style can be trained in different ways.

  • Some coaches prefer to train their athletes to open their arms frontally and to push their shoulders out of water as much as possible, so as to increase the strength of their stroke. They then ask their athletes to leverage on the strength which was generated by closing their arms under their torso and stretching them forward, so that the arm stroke is wider and it can support the load.
  • Other coaches require their athletes to keep their shoulders near the water level so that they can leverage on the push of the arm stroke more effectively without lifting their torso outside the water. The athletes’ arms will still open enough to push the body forward.


The leg kick in this swimming style is very important and it needs to be trained well because it amounts to 50% of the swimmer’s total push. It requires good hip mobility and outwardly flexed feet in order to have a stronger push when closing the legs backwards. Thighs must not be widened too much because the focal point of the kick is from the knee to the foot. For this reason, it is important to train the opening of knees and heels in order to have a better push.

Sliding is the last phase of the breaststroke swimming style. The final result of the kick and arm stroke is achieved during this phase. The body needs to be in line at the water level in order to optimize its frontal sliding movement.

It is important to pay special attention to the moment when the swimmer’s arms and hands approach the body, which is the traction phase, as during this phase the swimmer’s legs need to be still in order to leverage on the push obtained. On the other hand, when the athlete’s arms close under the swimmer’s breast and are ready to move forward in the recovery phase, the leg kick can start, in order to continue the forward movement without creating a resistance, or a pause, between the two actions.

When the leg kick is about to end its final push, the swimmer’s body remains lying and their hands remain flat, so as not to create any resistance or vortex, but on the contrary, they thus help the body to slide forward better.

In order to train the swimmer’s coordination in this swimming style, the athlete needs to divide swimming into phases and to focus on training only on the arm stroke, then the leg kick and then the sliding. This should be done in order to understand whether an athlete has a stronger push in their arms or in their legs. This, in turn, will help to improve their performance.

Do not forget to pay special attention to the flexed feet movement, because it is the one that guarantees the optimal push during the leg kick, and therefore it needs to be trained regularly in order not to lose its efficacy during a competition.

During training, it is useful to show and to make athletes try doing the arm stroke and leg kick out of the water, in order to improve and correct any errors, as well as to memorize the technical movement and then use it in water.

What is the role of the head?

There are different schools of thought with regard to the role of the head. Some prefer to train swimmers to look ahead both during inspiration and during the sliding phase. Others suggest that swimmers should lower their gaze when their arms stretch forward, so as to generate less friction and to make floating easier.

The final aspect which needs to be trained in the breaststroke swimming style is the balance of shoulders when exiting water, as is the case for elbows, heels and knees. As a matter of fact, the balance of the shoulders will show us which leg is pushing more. This is important to understand, because, in order to compensate this, the body may acquire a position which is not perfect and which might affect the final results of a competition by tenths of a second.

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2 months ago

Good stuff! I love digging into the mechanics of the strokes. I also think it’s important how we communicate actionable direction to a swimmer or group. They may not have the background to understand everything, and the space/time/attention constraints of a typical swim practice require simple and concise instructions.

In general, I always tried to teach the coordination between kick and pull with the following cues:

1) After the hands finish the insweep and begin to move forward through the recovery, imagine a string connecting your hands and heels. This way, as the hands drive explosively forward, the heels are driven explosively toward the swimmer’s bottom.

2) As the hands finish the recovery and the upper body is fully… Read more »

Reply to  sven
1 month ago

Dear Sven,
thank your for your reply. Every swimmer has a different body and the methodology could be change.
I would like to give you my point of view about your points:

1 i ask to my swimmers, when arms open to catch water, to draw the raimbow because they can feel Better the water to catch and support shoulders to move in high.
2 when legs start to kick? For me when the shoulders are on the top of higher and arms ready to extend their emoticons, recovery phase.
3 Sorry but i don’t understand your example.
feel free to contact me or text me in ti my page on facebook or Instagram:
Water polo/swim methodology


About Livio Cocozza

Livio Cocozza

Livio has more than 14 years of experience in the sport sector, Over the years, he has gained a vast experience in training and coaching oriented to swimming and water polo competitions, and has also worked extensively in personal training, covering different aspects of physical education. Livio earned his degree in Sport …

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