As with every sport there are different techniques and breaststroke is no different. For the other 3 competitive strokes the kick produces approximately 15% of the propulsion. For breaststroke it is much more but varies greatly between each swimmer. Some have a very powerful arm stroke while others are very much kick dominant.
The rules state that the order of the stroke must be arms, head breaking the surface and then legs. So this means we begin with the out sweep of the arms. It is important not to sweep to far outwards but it still needs to be 4-6 inches past shoulder width.
As the arms are completing the out sweep the head begins to lift to breathe. The arms then make their way backwards. This is where the real power of the stroke occurs. It is so important that you pull the water with the hands AND the forearms. Too many people forget this as they focus so hard on the hands. To be able to use the whole lower arm you need to keep your elbows high.
As the arms have made their way back to the chest the in sweep occurs where you bring the hands under the chest and squeeze the elbows in. It is at this point that some of the best breaststrokers are moving at 4 meters a second! The head is at its highest point and takes a breath and then heads back down. The arms have now stopped moving the body forward.
It is now time for the legs to come into action. As the arms and head thrust forward the heels come up quickly and then whip around to provide the next phase of propulsion. As the legs squeeze together the body is in a streamlined position with the head down and the hands extended. It is now time to do it all again.
When trying to perform the stroke quickly to go fast it is still important to stretch out. This allows you to get the hips up and reduces your resistance.
Below I have included a video of Brenton Rickard’s World Record swim to give you a great look at the correct technique (who better to learn form than one of the best?). When watching the race, notice how powerful the in sweep is and how they launch over the water as they push their hand forward. Now watching the race will give you some great insights but wait for the replay. In the replay you will see an aerial shot where you can really see the out and in sweep as well as the timing of the kick. Watch it closely at you can really learn a lot.