Why is my Breaststroke Slow?

I often hear, “Why is my Breaststroke Slow?” Breaststroke often gets a bad rap for being the SLOWEST Olympic Stroke. Still, the reality is that time-wise, yes, Breaststroke is the slowest Olympic Stroke, but regarding the effort required and power produced – one could argue that Breaststroke is the hardest and most technical stroke to swim. In this next series, I aim to debunk some beliefs about breaststroke stroke and help change your attitude from a “Why can’t I swim breaststroke well” to knowing what to do.

In one of my recent lessons, I discussed how Breaststroke is a short-axis stroke and is kick-driven. With that, we went into our regular drill progression, talking about avoiding the starfish position mechanics of the kick and pull. From there, we were left to combine the new technique and try to increase the tempo. This is always the defining moment in lessons because it proves one of two things: retention (and whether a swimmer remembers all the pieces) and two: coordination (how quickly can they adapt to what they just learned and put it into execution).

I posed this question to the swimmers I was coaching that day and asked them if they knew how to increase their Breaststroke Tempo now. They both started thinking and said, “Yes, with your legs.” Right then and there, I knew I had done my job for the day. Breaststroke is the only stroke that requires a swimmer to work on kicking more efficiently and faster for a quicker tempo. You increase tempo in the other three strokes by moving your arms faster.

After that, I asked them another question – how do you kick faster – and that’s where they began to stumble. I never connected the dots with this in my brain, but as I began discussing the width of the Breaststroke kick and the two styles of Breaststroke out there, it dawned on me that most swimmers do gravitate towards more of a DPS Stroke or a Fast Recovery, but in a race when you’re starting to slow down and get tired – if you want to keep your tempo up, you have to adjust the width of your kick.

What Does This Mean?!

One of my favorite blogs I’ve written is the Two Styles of Swimming Breaststroke, and within this blog, I discuss how a swimmer’s hip mobility points them into a certain Breaststroke kicking style. The more mobile a swimmer is – the more they morph into a DPS Stroke style. The less mobile, the more likely a swimmer is to recover quickly. The BEST Breaststrokers out there have very mobile hips, so they can switch the width of their kicks as they swim down the pool. Crazy, right?

This also disadvantages someone like me (who has bad mobility). Still, I’m already swimming Breaststroke with a pretty small kick width, so to increase my tempo, there is only so much smaller I can make my kick before it becomes inefficient.

A Good Rule of Thumb

To summarize, if you are a DPS Stroke Style Breaststroker naturally, you need to learn how to increase your breaststroke tempo by reducing the width of your kick. Having your legs travel a shorter distance will take less time per stroke and allow you to increase your tempo much more drastically.

If you are more of a Fast–Recovery Breaststroker, you need to work on widening your kick, so you have a larger spectrum of kick width to deal with from the start, rather than trying to shorten your kick too much and end up spinning in the water.


So, to answer the main question, Why is my Breaststroke Slow? The reason is most likely due to your kick not being efficient, and when you speed up your tempo, you don’t change the width of your kick. If you want to go faster, you need to learn to KICK FASTER and to kick faster – you need to kick with a SMALLER kick.

Man, I love it when lightbulb moments go off like this. Be sure to check out our 90-Day Breaststroke Training Plan for Swimmers if you’re looking for a great place to start.

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

8 Responses

  1. Thanks for the great breaststroke series. Breaststroke can make or break the IM…as it does for my 11 year old age group swimmer:

    The mechanics of the kick are understood and practiced, but despite focus and attention, the kick seems to slice through the water with no forward propulsive force. Attempting wider or narrower kick doesn’t seem to impact this. The whole stroke then look like it’s “slipping”.

    Is there a common flaw that can be addressed/do you have video examples of what happens to cause this?

    1. I will look through my archive to see what I can dig up! Sounds like the legs are not natural to Breaststroke to which you’d really want to look at maximizing the pull as much as you can.

    2. Foot position. If you omit that little twist from a flexed foot to pointed toes as you complete the kick, you lose a significant portion of the kick’s propulsive force.

  2. My daughter thinks she is “spinning” when swimming breaststroke and her times haven’t improved for a while. Any ideas on how to address this?

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