How To Blast Better Breakouts In Swimming

The fastest part of your swim is the first underwater following the dive. The next fastest part is your underwater following the turn. How good your breakouts are determines how much of that speed you can carry into the swim. The breakout is the final piece of the underwater—the moment when you transition from kicking to swimming. Good “underwaters” are a huge part of swimming fast and they develop throughout the year. Let’s analyze the breakout so you can begin to take advantage of your underwater speed.

The breakout demands power and strength to make a smooth transition from kicking to swimming. Whether you breakout on your back or stomach, the majority of this power originates from the core. Throughout the season, build up your core strength to refine this part of the race. A good exercise for this is the streamline crunch. It places your body in the same position as in the water (with arms extended in a streamline) and forces your abdomen to contract with additional resistance. With feet flat on the floor and knees bent, crunch upward while maintaining a tight streamline.

Thoracic mobility is also an integral part of good breakouts. The breakout requires good rotation in a freestyle or backstroke breakout, and good flexion and extension in a butterfly breakout. Your trunk (body from neck to pelvis) must have a high range of motion during the first two strokes of a breakout to accelerate into the swim. This mobility is also critical in the underwater segment because dolphin kicking uses a rolling motion in the abdomen to propel the body forward. The Dowel Lying Thoracic Mobility exercise is a great one to increase your range of motion.

Finally, breakouts are all about timing. Your speed and power are only as useful as the timing of your first stroke. With practice, you will find the sweet spot between getting stuck too deep under the water, and breaking out too late already on the surface. It is important to practice your breakouts at race speed so you know how to time your first stroke in a race setting. Start by practicing the breakout technique at any speed, and then with each attempt become more aggressive with your first two strokes.

Good underwaters become great with the help of a solid breakout. When executed correctly, breakouts save you energy by maintaining the speed carried underwater into the swim. Bring a little extra focus to your breakouts in practice to perfect another race detail for the next competition!

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Billy Howard

Do you recommend Dolphin kicking through the breakout or transitioning to flutter prior to the breakout (for Free and Back)? USA Swimming published a video about the “Bonus” dolphin kick a while back. Thoughts? What are they doing at Cal?


Llew Ladomirak

You should not do dolphin kicks all the way through the breakout. You should switch to flutter kicks.

Richie Holassir

I am 13 yrs old a IM swimmer I like your tips an will challenge myself on your underwater tips to my best ability for 2016

Michael Daniel

For free I’m somewhat on myright side coming off the wall (or off the block), should my first pull be with my right arm ( deeper side) , or my left arm (the arm closer to the surface)?


Always pull with your bottom in order to start your rotation on your breakout.


I was hoping to see someone say that in the article too! Always the bottom, deeper arm! Nice!


Unless you are a sprinter and/or backstroker at Tennessee.