How To Teach Breaststroke

How To Teach Breaststroke

Breaststroke is probably the most difficult of the 4 competitive strokes to teach. Many people would argue that butterfly is more difficult but we would argue from our experience, many beginners find it harder to pick up the kicking action. If you are teaching more experienced swimmers who have perfected the basic technique then head over to the breaststroke drills page where we take your through some more advanced drills.

The progression we will take you through here assumes that the swimmer is comfortable with the water to a standard where they can swim at least some basic front crawl and are comfortable putting their face in the water and breathing bubbles underwater. If they are not yet up to this stage then it is important that you do this first. We often have people come to us for swimming tips and the first thing we ask is “are you comfortable putting your face in the water and blowing bubbles?” The answer is often “No” and that is the main reason why their swimming progression is very slow.

There are many variations to this progression but this is the sequencing we have found to be most effective. Some of this is done in the water and some is done out of the water.

Arms and Breathing

Progression 1: Stand the up in the water with their hands together out in front of them in the water. Explain that the arms are a circular motion. The circle is a medium circle, not too small and not too big. Around about 3-4 inches outside of shoulder width and then complete the circle under the chest and back to the starting position.

Progression 2: Exactly the same as progression 1 but get the swimmers to walk forward as they take each stroke with their arms. This gives them the feeling of how the arms move them forward without having to worry about body position.

Progression 3: We are going to do the same as progression 1 with our arms but include breathing. The swimmer will still be standing but may have to bend over slightly so they can put their face in the water. As the hands move outwards the head begins to rise in order to take a breath.


**A common mistake beginners make is to lift the head during the in-sweep of the stroke. This is an absolute no-no as it stops all power and momentum of the stroke. Begin lifting the head as the hands move outwards in the out-sweep.


Progression 4: Complete progression 3 but walking forward as you did in earlier.

Progression 5: It is time to put the arms and breathing into action. With the body in a streamlined position and on top of the water begin to perform the arm action and breathing. The swimmer can use a normal freestyle kick to help propel them along. If they are struggling to stay on top of the water it is OK to put a floatable noodle underneath their tummy for support.

Once they are comfortable with the arms and breathing they can move on to the kick.


The Kick

Progression 6: This will be done out of the water. Lie the swimmer down (preferably on something soft) with their legs extended and together. Their toes should be pointed. This progression is broken down into parts or teaching points

1. Bring the feet to the buttocks together

2. Pull toes towards your shins (or flatten your feet so they aren’t pointed to the sky) and turn your feet outwards

3. Keeping your feet flat begin to kick out and back. Tell them that their feet must go outside their knees as some beginners point their knees outwards which makes the kick almost impossible

4. When they are kicking backwards the feet and toes return to their normal position.

It is sometimes a good idea to touch the inside of their feet so that they understand they are actually pushing the water with the inside of the foot rather than the top of their foot like the other strokes. The most common problem is that they will point their toes in the air so it is important that they get this correct before moving on.


Progression 7: Not lying in the water while hanging on to the end of the pool take them through the above progression. They should now get a feeling of the water on the inside of the foot.

**When they were in progression 6 they were unable to flex their hips by bringing their knees to their chest, but now that they are in the water they can. Some flexion of the hips is fine but they must still bring the heels to the buttocks.


Progression 8: Time to kick with a kick board. Holding the back of the kick board with the face in the water begin kicking up the pool. If they are competent enough then there is no need for a kick board as this video below shows.

** If they are bringing the knees to the chest, get them to kick on their back. Tell them that they need to bring their heels to their buttocks and that their knees cannot come out of the water.

**If their knees pointing outwards during the kick, get them to kick on their back and they must kick without letting their knees come apart. This will force the feet to kick outside the knee line. They will not move very fast as it is hard to generate power but it should solve the problem.


The Stroke

Progression 9: Swim the entire stroke slowly. They need to sweep, breath and kick. The hands begin to sweep outwards. They then lift the head to breath and they then kick. The heels should begin raising once the head begins lifting.

Progression 10: Swim with a long glide. One of the major problems beginners have is that they rush the front of the stroke and pause with the hands under the chest. This totally stops the momentum of the stroke. They need to glide at the front. If they struggle to grasp this, make them hold their hands at the front for 3 seconds.

Progression 11: Swim the entire stroke. The progression is finished and you student should be able to swim the entire stroke.

How long this progression takes varies greatly. I students go through this in 30mins and others take weeks. The arms and breathing should be easy for them to grasp and will most likely be done in a 30min session. The kick can take much longer especially if you only see them once a week. Be patient with them and don’t be afraid to try different things. We have included some common problems and how to overcome them but you know your students best. It is a foreign stroke so it can take time. Good luck!

18 Responses to “How To Teach Breaststroke”

  1. Stacy says:

    Thank you so much for these videos. I am teaching my nephew how to swim breaststroke and this has been a great help.

    Thank you

  2. Paul Amler says:

    I always find it helpful to use floatation devices when teaching kids to swim. I find it helps them to simply focus on the legs and arms rather than fighting to stay on top of the water.


    • John says:

      Hi Paul

      Using floatation devices is a great way to help a beginning swimmer. Body position and staying on top of the water is difficult for someone who doesn’t have a great feel for the water yet. That is why I start them standing while using their arms.

      If you do use floatation devices I would encourage you to remove them as soon as you think the beginner is capable. I try to not have them not develop a reliance on the floatation device. I find this helps them develop quicker.


  3. Akmele says:

    I really like the idea of getting them out of the water to teach them how to do the kick. Just make sure they are dry first! Otherwise they seem to complain about getting cold.

  4. Frank says:

    This has been really helpful. Thanks for a great swimming resource

  5. Tia says:

    Please explain more about progression 3 and breathing, I thought you should delay breathing until during the in-sweep to keep your neck in-line with the spine. Am I wrong? Thanks, John.

    • John says:

      Hi Tia
      Sorry for the long delay.
      You will breathe in the insweep but you need to begin breathing during the insweep you will have a tendency to pause. This is a massive power loss.

  6. Carla says:

    John thank you for providing this fantastic resource. I’m just starting out as a beginner teacher getting AUSTSWIM approvals and this has helped enormously with my lesson plans.

  7. Lucky says:

    Great work John

  8. Miranda says:

    Thank you! I’ve been struggling w/ one of my classes and this has lots of ideas to help me out! Thank you so much!

  9. Sarah says:

    Thank you so much! I am struggling with some of my kids in Learn to Swim and how to teach them properly. These will help so much.

  10. Venkat says:

    Excellent instructions , videos . Only a beginner of breast stroke can appreciate the value of the instructions and Videos . very well done. Thanks.

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