Development of Breaststroke for Masters Swimmers by Cokie Lepinski, Swymnut Masters (2014)


[introduction by Scott Bay]
Welcome. My name is Scott Bay; I am the chair of the Coaches committee for United States Masters Swimming. Thank you all for being here. First of all, it is my pleasure to introduce our speaker today who is Cokie Lepinski. Cokie Lepinski has co-founded or founded two Masters teams. The current team that she coaches is the Swymnut Masters, out in California. It is a rapidly growing team; she is currently looking for more facility space at the moment—it is a good problem to have. She has represented United States Masters Swimming as a coach at Worlds in Sweden. She is a record holder in the breaststroke, herself; and is also a recipient of the Kerry O’Brien Coaching Award, as well as being a Level 3 coach, soon to be Level 4 hopefully here in the next couple of day. We are very pleased to have her; please help me in welcoming Cokie Lepinski.

[Lepinski begins]
Thank you. It is a small crowd, but you know what that means: you cannot hide—I can see you. All right, so we have got a little breaststroke today. I love breaststroke; it is a very complex stroke. Those who are not born breaststrokers can really struggle with the stroke. It is a real challenge as a coach; there are a lot of variables that we put together with it. So when they asked me to do a presentation, of course the first thing I thought of was breaststroke because I love it so much and why not teach to something you are passionate about.

Our number one goal in any stroke is: to minimize resistance to maximize propulsion. In breaststroke, especially, we throw so much more of our body at the water than we do in any other stroke. So there are lots of places that we can start to carve-away at those points of resistance. And that is what my goal is when I am on deck and coaching swimmers, is to chip away at those resistance points.

When I teach breaststroke, and this is just my preference—there is no right or wrong to this, you may do this completely differently, there is no judgment on that. I like to do with all the strokes, I like to develop the bodyline. I want to make sure they have got that nice, clean, horizontal line. As David Marsh just said: I want them in the top four inches of the water. So I am working on body position from the get-go. All of my drills, all accentuate the long bodyline. Then I work on the kick, which to me is a really integral part of the stroke. Then I set the pull. And then we try to work together on the timing: the timing of the breathing, the timing of the kick versus the arms, the whole bit.

What I like to do is I like to find their errors first. First of all, I just want to see them swim. Because, you know, if I start from ground-zero and say, Okay, let’s start with body position, they might be pretty good breaststrokers or they might have a natural affinity to it already. So I am going to watch them swim, and then I am going to look at the errors and log them away in my head. I am certainly not going to attack all their errors at once; we are going to take it with small steps.

I like to feed them tips one to two at a time. When I first started coaching, I was… well as enthusiastic as I am now, but a little less savvy and I would throw everything at them. And they would have that deer-in-the-headlights look a lot, and then I finally realized small chunks, real small chunks, of information. Give them that opportunity to hear what you say, absorb it, before they even take off on the wall.

I had one guy who I was giving lessons to, that he was a very much of a visual learner, he wanted to write down everything. So he had a white-slate board. I would describe what I wanted him to do, and before he would take off, he would write it on the white board. It kind of drove me nuts; I was like: just do the drill. But that was how he absorbed it in his head, so that was important for me to learn.

And then I like to use a lot of drills. I am not a coach that believes that drills do not have a place; I think drills very much have a place. Especially in the Masters community, and in the young kids community. I think it is really good to bring them back to the fundamentals of the stroke. And then, of course, we are working to fine-tune it. So today we are going to do that errors-tips-drills format.

When we are looking at the body line, as you can see from the gal in the top left—and this is a Speedo film on how to swim breaststroke, and I happen to capture this one frame—look at that bodyline. It is kind of bad; would you agree? The feet are not pointed, the hips are down. She has actually got a good line maybe from finger tips to hips, but she does not press forward enough with her chest. And then the two on the bottom, they are just failing to fully extend. I am not quite sure, it almost looks like the guy in the left picture is standing on the pool bottom doing a breaststroke pull, but I think he is actually swimming breaststroke. Those are all points of resistance.

So here is a film of one of my former swimmers when she first started swimming with me. There is a lot that is wrong with the stroke, but just look at the bodyline. Because she is swimming at an angle that she is swimming uphill, the water does not have the chance to slip past her body. We want it to slip-stream right past her; a nice laminar flow. But she is throwing her body here and the water is getting to hit all those points along her body. Which means she is using a great deal of energy; she is not efficient. She is going to become fatigued much more quickly than someone else who lies horizontally in the water.

Here we have got—who I think is just one of the most beautiful breaststrokers—Rebecca Soni. It is poetry in motion; it is economy of motion. David Marsh was just talking about there is an undulation, but it is soft. There is just no wasted effort there. Hips are near the surface. She is getting fully extended at the end of each stroke. This is a sprint, so she is all-out on her level. And she is low and flat, mild undulation—all the things that that you can read up there for yourself. That is what we are aiming for; we will see if we can get there.

We have… Michael Phelps stars in this film. Who knew Michael Phelps was good at breaststroke.

What we want to see in breaststroke is horizontal. That straight line at the end of the recovery phase: from the fingertips, through the head and shoulders, the hips, all the way through the toes. When you are in this position, there’s going to be the least amount of drag and you are maximizing all of the forces of the pull and the kick in the forward phase of the stroke. One of the things that we look for in teaching swimmers to correct fundamental position of breaststroke—which is this horizontal position—is a dry back. We want to see from the back of the head all the way to the hips not covered in water but dry. And if you are in this position, you’re going to be right on the surface, you’re going to be able to achieve maximum forward speed.

All right, so we got our tip there on how to hold that bodyline.

This is a graph that simply shows (and you are not really expected to see all the fine print but right in the middle there, the circled swimmer, that is) our most vulnerable position in breaststroke: when we are about ready to shoot our hands through, our heels are coming up and we have got all of that exposed, our torso exposed, to that water. We want to get out of that position as quickly as we can. That is a timing issue. But it is also the idea of having your swimmers understand that this is where a lot of people hang out at—they are going to take a couple of breaths, maybe not just one—and they are slow to get out of that. If we can let them know that that is your biggest fail-point in your breaststroke, that is where you are using up a lot of energy. You have got to get out of that; you have got to get back to that horizontal line.

There is the phrase: ride the glide—I am sure we have all used that or heard it. I am now changing that because I prefer reach full extension. It is a small nuance, but I think ride the glide makes them feel that they should hang out there and count to three—a magical count to three on something like a 200 breast and maybe two on a 100 breast. I would rather them continue the pace. And it is about the effort that they put into it.

As we look at… let me move back, here. So bodyline, okay. Thoughts from you guys on bodyline. This is interactive: I really want to hear from you guys on maybe some technique tips that you have or questions that you have about bodyline. Does anyone use a drill that they really like for bodyline?

[audience member]: We us dive-and-glide drill so we could get them to feel getting back down and how much they can get like extension using a two count. But then they are only down for a two count and then they come back and go back into extension.

[Lepinski]: Good. And a drill that comes to mind, which will show up later, is add-a-kick. It is one pull breaststroke, keep your head down, and then add one kick to it. That forces that line as well; it really teaches them.

What are some tips that you give them? How will they know that they are in that line? How will they know it? We see it, but how will they know it?

Eyes are down: that is a big thing. A lot of breaststrokers are looking toward the end of the pool. If they can see you standing at the end of their lane, they are looking in the wrong direction; they should be angled at about 45°. In their pull-out, their eyes should be straight down; they should not… the neck goes in-line with the spine, which comes up a little bit later. Okay, good.

So all of our drills, as a matter of fact, will tap into that full extension, face down, eyes down, get completely horizontal, stretch as far as you can stretch, in that line. 45° is their eyes, so we want them looking eyes just slightly forward, that keeps the neck in line with the spine. Unless they are on a pull-down, and then we want those eyes straight down.

With kicking—moving into kicking—I am kind of taking part of the bodyline and the hip, and addressing it with the kick, because they tie in together. So both these youngsters here, they are almost vertical in their posture. We do not come up that high. What is especially happening with the boy on the right, his hips are way down; and it is going to be really hard for him to recover, to get that full return to horizontal line. So he needs to… well there are several things he needs to do, but the idea is not to let those hips go down so far.

This is Agnes Kovacs. She was in the Olympics in 1996 and also in 2000, where she won gold. This is how far our sport has come in such a short time. Look at that undulation—wow. It looks like butterfly; I mean she looks like she is swimming butterfly-breaststroke, and she won a gold with that style. So we definitely do not want to try to emulate that; that is a lot of energy. It just shows you how incredibly strong she was to be able to handle that.

Next thing with the hip (this is that same photo, but just blown up a little bit larger). So there is the waterline with the red, there is her bodyline, and the key element there is that the hips are not at the surface. We want those hips up at the surface; in butterfly too—there is a lot of similarity. There are some great combination of breaststroke-butterfly drills you can do that work just on the hip. One of my favorites is one-arm fly; so one arm to the right and then one breaststroke pull, and get right back down. You are trying to feel the tempo, but you are also trying to feel the hips. You can also do a combination where maybe it is two left, two full breaststrokes, and two right one arms; that is all about finding that mild-but-forward undulation.

Here is a clip of Brendan Hansen. Watch the black suit, the top of the suit; it is almost at the same spot all along—isn’t that amazing. One more time. (By the way, all the clips I have gotten are from YouTube.) Incredible line there; that is our goal. He really presses that torso without driving his head down. His head is down [though].

One of the things I asked was: how can a swimmer know that they are in the right spot? I tell them to feel their biceps right behind their ears, as if they are on the starting block. I want them to feel that: squeeze those biceps up against the back of their ears. And then I think they are going to get that stretch. I also tell them: if I am at the other end of you, you are finishing your stroke, I want you to feel like I am taking your fingertips and pulling you two more inches forward. That really stretches them out. So anything you can do to cue them visually or auditorily to do that is really helpful.

Other things that we see are (in the upper right there): the feet really-low. When you see that type of a kick happen to one of your breaststrokers, what they are doing is they are kicking down at the end of their breaststroke instead of kicking around with their breaststroke. So, if these are my feet-knees-hips, they are drawing up and then kicking almost straight down—almost a dolphin kick. They are not cranking the ankles out and bringing it around. That is one clue as to what is happening in their kick, if you see their feet really-low in the water.

The second one here, with the angle degree of 99.6°; here, that is that precious line. We are talking about the line from your shoulder all the way down to your ankle. In breaststroke, there will be a little bit of forward motion of your leg—you cannot help but have a little bit. But the key instruction that I gave is: draw the ankles to the heels—that is my very first action. And we have a drill called wall kicks (which come-up a couple of slides from here). But draw that ankle to the outside, by the way: outside of the hips not to the center-point of the butt. And what she has done here is she has driven so much that that whole thigh—biggest muscle mass in our body—has now created a wall of resistance that her body has to work to get over.

Knees too wide—this is really common one. The biggest flaw that I see is (top-left and bottom picture) drawing the feet to the centerline. And where do those knees go? They have nowhere to go but out. So the first thing I am looking at in a kick on somebody is: what are they doing with their feet. And they think because they are supposed to finish their feet together, that they are supposed to draw their feet together. So all you have to do is say: yeah, finish together, but draw to the outside of your hips. We have a couple of drills. We do hands-down kicking, where you dangle your fingertips and you are trying to touch your heels; and that promotes the draw to the sides of your hips

Then (the top right): just way too narrow. If we are going to find our propulsion in our kick from the inside of our leg and our foot, then we need to have a nice, wide… not wide knees, but we need to get our ankles wider than our knees and our knees need to stay inside the frame of our body. So we have got to… I almost pigeon-toe my knees when I am thinking about breaststroke kick. She just has no hold on the water; it almost looks like she is going to do a dolphin kick there, there is just not enough grab.

And then: failure to finish the feet. A little hard to see at this angle, but you can see there is a gap, maybe four or five inches. Not quite as bad here. And Brendan Hansen, who is kind of bowlegged, he actually does not finish his feet—but he was a pretty amazing breaststroker. But still: why not propulse every last inch out of that gap. Close that gap, and you might just get a little bit farther with each kick. And there’s the great Glen Mills quote here: “If the way to maximize your pull is to reach full extension, the way to maximize your kick is to finish it.” So have them finish their kick.

Some people believe that you can… I have not seen very many Masters do this, kick and finish with your souls of your feet together. Nadine are you able to do that? (No.) Neither am I.

[inaudible comment from audience]

Good; thank you for sharing. So if you did not hear that the more current thought would be that it does not have to close all the way. But I say if you have the ability and you have that fast draw…. And that is really, I think, more of the key element is: what is your draw like? Some people can draw really fast and really close to their butt. That takes a hamstring… I mean that takes this ability, and if you are not able to do that quad stretch then chances are they are not going to be able to draw close to their butt. The farther and faster you can draw up, the faster you can bring that kick around. So, thank you very much for that point—that was a good one.

Remember the line. So there is Brendan, and he is just starting to draw his heels up—beautiful, absolutely beautiful line. And here is somebody who does show that you can close your feet. That is actually how I close mine: just one in-step softly set into the other one. I like to feel that close; and maybe I should experiment with not worrying about that too much. But what I am talking about is the swimmers who finish and their gap is really wide. They just… there is nothing; it is almost like they go slow-mo toward the end of the kick. We want them to finish fast and hard.

This is just a shot of holding-the-line. You can see that the knee does come forward, the thigh does come forward; but not to that 99° that the one gal had in her picture.

I will say this is probably hard for most Master swimmers; we do not want to promote a lot of underwater work. Nothing wrong with doing maybe two pull-outs. You know, if you have them swimming like a 100 breaststroke, do two pull-outs underwater. To tolerance. Again, you have to be really, really careful with this.

[inaudible audience comment]

Shallow-water blackout, exactly; that is what we are trying to avoid, yeah. Yeah we have to be really careful. I no longer say breath holding. We talk about not holding-to-tolerance but breathing-to-tolerance. I might challenge them to do some 25s and try to do one-less breath than they normally do. So I am just going to treat it very, very carefully.

So some of my favorite drills. Wall kicks. How many people do wall kicks? Alright: you already know what we are talking about here; we will just show the video. The idea here is that if they drive their knee first, they are going to bang right into that wall. (There is a side shot that is even better than this one; this one is almost a little bit deceptive.) You want them to try to glue their hips to the wall. The hips will automatically… they will come off that wall—it is pretty doggone hard to do.

One word of warning: for some Master swimmers, this can be a little hard on the low-back. So what you might do is have them just draw one leg up at a time on the wall, and see if that feels okay. And then try the other leg. And then try slowly bringing both legs up; do not have them do it with any type of vehemence or vigor. So, wall kicking is a terrific one to correct the knees starting the action of the breaststroke kick

(Up here on the upper left….)

As you can see with our swimmers here, they’re going to keep their knees underwater. The pull buoy is right along the surface. We’re going to go through the regular process of the kick. Drive the heels up towards the hips; turn the heels out and away from the knees. The pull buoy, itself, is going to restrict the knee movement. Don’t want the knees getting too wide; to be really forceful on the kick, you’ve got to get the heels wider than the knees. You are going to accelerate through that kick, straight on back. And when you finish that kick, give yourself a little bit of time to glide; your body position really straight, you’ll be really efficient through the water. The whole purpose of this drill is to accentuate the kick, to narrow-up the knees, focus-in on the heels; and you’ll have lot stronger kick.

How many people use that drill? A couple of you. What have you seen; any difficulties with it? Yeah. Some of those swimmers really struggle with it. Very slow; they feel like they are kicking in about this much of a window and it frustrates the heck out of them. But a couple of those.

Yeah, Meg?

[audience member]: Have you seen those straps that go across your knees instead of the thighs? They are bungees straps that only lets them go so far. So you still have that full, around kick, but it gives you some opening.

[Lepinski]: Okay, good.

This also helps; so this can work with the pull buoy or without. I can wear it at my knees or slightly above my knees. I will have the swimmers try that. It gives them a little bit more flexibility; they can feel when they are hitting the tension and know that maybe I am starting to get outside the boundary line. So it gives them a little bit more angle to push the water with. So, I like my straps.

Other ways that we can do it. You can do hands down without the buoy (up in the upper right). Face down; again trying to touch the heel, the ankle or the heel, to the hand which should rest here, to the sides of your body; not here. Otherwise they are going to poke those knees right out again. The other one that is missing is: on your back. You can do the same thing (that you are seeing down in the bottom two), you can do that on your back. What I like about that one is if I see their knees break the water, then I know, again, they are drawing their knee first instead of drawing their ankle back first.

Head position errors. (Well, these are really over-exaggerated.) Too high; we see that a lot. That water should be cresting when they are going down into; the front end the water crests right over the top of their head. (Bottom left), again too high. That was probably a pull-out looking toward the end of the pool. That is where those eyes are looking in the wrong direction; her head is just putting up a stop sign to the water there. (Upper right) would indicate a bobbing; somebody who does the chicken head in the breaststroke and they think they are able to guide their stroke with it. We want that head very, very still; there really is no head movement in the stroke. It comes from tying the neck to the spine. And then: buried. We do not see it too much; mostly on pull-outs I think is where I see it. Not so much in the stroke with the swimmers.

(Great shots there.) Keep your head in-line with your spine. I love this second bullet-point—I do not even know where I got it, but it really resonated with me and resonated with some of my swimmers. Connect your hands, head and hips, as you breathe and as you extend in the streamline. If you get them thinking of that hand-head-hips connection—and it will take several 25s before I think it really sinks in—then you start to see them with a very-still head and you start to see those hips taking the action that you want. And how they tie-in; how you are going to pull your hips to your hands in the stroke. It just works on so many levels there. And you can see in the bottom left: eyes down there, kick is just about to finish, the arms which are reaching-out for that final, full extension.

Pull errors. This gentlemen is about 70, and he exemplifies a couple of errors we have. Way too wide, massaging the water, elbows are dropping. I do not know how he is going to recover because his hands are now behind his shoulders; it is going to take him quite a while to turn-the-corner and take everything forward. And he is also breathing on the out-sweep.

So, common errors that we see. Now, I have an asterisk beside pulling too wide, pulling too narrow because that is very body-driven. There are several factors that go into that: the shape of the swimmer, where their muscular-strength lies, is their pull equal to their kick, is their kick better than the pull.

You are going to see a lot of variances in the Breaststroke. I think we can… we were talking about this yesterday, somebody and I; you could have a heat of eight breaststrokers up there and there is eight distinctive/different styles in that front-end of that breaststroke. So it is… I think more than any other stroke, offers a lot more variation in that front end.

Here is a video of a gal. Tell me what she is doing wrong. Head is up. What was the other one? Too wide knee. She has got no hold on the water, whatsoever. If we want to move forward in any stroke, we need to hold the water and push it back/pull it back—use whatever term you want. But we need to get into that position. She has got her elbows dropped, so it is a massage of the water. She just has almost nothing there; she has made it really tiny, probably because she feels that she has got no hold on the water. So first thing I would do with her is I would work on that bodyline, get her down. And then I would work to widen that stroke.

Gentleman on the left, he was at the high performance camp two years ago. Super-nice guy; he is a rheumatologist. But he had no wrist strength, in all four strokes. Every time we filmed him, his wrist looked like this. He has absolutely lost the hold; about 25%, maybe up-to 33%, of his hold on the water when he let go with his wrist. I always like to tell them: pretend you have got tape on your wrist and that wrist is part of the paddle that you have at your disposal to really hold that water,

Tension in the hands. This is Amanda Beard here; who can argue with her success—we really cannot. But I do not want to see my swimmers with too much tension in their hands; and where I will see it is all through the stroke. There is a letting go that can happen, right here. I want to let go because that tension I felt it build-up in my forearms, in my deltoid, in my neck; and on a 200 Breaststroke, that is a killer. It is not fun to swim when you are all tied-up that way. So being able to find where in the stroke you can have a little bit of a letting-go process, and on that recovery, as you drive-through, is possibly one method.

Now here is another version, though, of someone who has what appears to be tension in her hands: Rebecca Soni. What I love about watching her swim is… I describe these as… they look like knife blades. When she shoots through the water, she turns that corner; and she turns fairly wide and then just drives these things as if they are—I do not know—knives, swords, something. So fast, back up front again. It is very different than… you will see Jessica Hardy here in a second, it is a very different turning of the stroke there. But it is about driving them hard, quickly getting out of that vulnerable position that we talked about.

A wonderful quote: It’s not how hard you pull, it’s how fast you can reach full extension of your body. This will help your swimmers a lot. Understand that, I think we have seen that, happen at the end of a race—or if you swim yourself, you have probably felt it—where you tried to over-pull your way to the wall. It is like a magnet and you just want to get there. And then you have lost your timing. (I am going to go back and pull that one more time.) Just a beautiful… again Brendan Hansen but a beautiful, full extension every stroke. Minimal imprint on the water too.

So here is a slow-mo of Amanda. And the YMCA is coming-up in a second here, so I am not going to describe it yet. I just got this from Stu Kahn and I really like his analysis that he does on this. Palms and forearm as one unit; elbows always high, elbows high on that out-sweep. That is the thing from deck that you can spot without a camera, as a coach: you can see where the elbows are—so keep an eye out for that. It is fairly wide, but it is about pressing that water back at a certain place, right there. It is very similar to the catch.

Has anyone read Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Strokes—her latest one. I am about halfway through it; it is really good. She has a series of four pictures showing the catch, and she challenges you to say which stroke is this? The catch is identical in all four and it covers all four strokes. That is super-powerful to be able to take to your team, take the book and show them… just show them the picture and see if they can play that game. And when they realize, oh you mean breaststroke is supposed to look like that, maybe you will get them to stop massaging the water out front like grandma’s breaststroke.

All right, so this is Jessica Hardy. Different look than Rebecca Soni. She comes back a little bit farther before turning the corner, and she shrugs-up a little bit more here and draws her hands closer together before driving them forward. Is there a right or wrong? No. What we are saying is that there is a lot of variation in breaststroke. So we definitely do not want to be coaching everyone to do that exact same thing.

Last couple of tips here. Thumbs down, palms out is good way to think about it. How far they go, I do not know.

Nadine, when you finish your breaststroke, do you finish this way? Do you turn this way right away? How do you finish the end of your stroke and start?
[inaudible response from audience]
Right, exactly; okay. Marty are you a breaststroker? (No.)

Can I hear from a breaststroker in the room? Who else is doing what? Phil, what do you do at the end of your stroke? Down; good, okay. And then, when you go right into catching the water, what do you do?
[inaudible response from audience]
Nice; good, okay. He has got it back there.

All right, so the YMCA. Now Stu is interpreting this as he is doing a Dartfish—I think is what he was using—so breaks out a little bit and I will cover when he comes to that one spot.

So his last tip: breathe late, look down, shrug your shoulders, elbows high. What I like about that is, I think we are going to see some variations in the Y: how wide somebody might go might be different. But the M should be the same. The C might be a little different, about how much curve they have to their C or how fast they unfold that C. Should we all just get up and dance? Let’s all get up and dance; common let us do it together. Seriously, let’s stand up and let’s just see if we can find ourselves. So we have got the Y. You find your own comfort zone on the Y. Y-M-C, as we crunch it forward; and then A—take it to the A.

Isn’t that a cool concept to share with the kids? I really think that YMCA has huge potential to resonate with the swimmers. So I was playing with it in the water the other day, going okay. I just floated out and I tried… I played with the Y. And then without really trying a stroke, I went to the M. I think that is enough to really get them started. So I am really excited to take this back and try with some of our swimmers

And Stu said… if you do not know Stu Kahn, he was USMS Coach of the Year two years ago. He is a fabulous man; he is just amazing. He and his wife, Mary, run the Davis Aquatic Masters in California, and they are a potent duo, I should say. And he got it from Mark Wagner in Redding. (Anybody here from Redding?) Stu wanted to make I gave credit to Mark for that.

So, now let us spot the YMCA is Jessica’s stroke. You have seen the film. Y… M… C… A. It is there; it is cool—I just love that one. (Now we are all going to go out of here singing at the top of our lungs, Y-M-C-A. Well, you are going to sing; I am not—I do not do that.)

All right, to work on that front-end, some of the things that I like to do. Lane line pulls—we will have a video on that. You can use noodles instead of lane lines. Pull with flutter kick, pull with dolphin kick.

Tip thumb-lock. What I like to do when I have them doing anything where I am asking them to count out-front, or perhaps kick without a board/kick hands down with their hands out front, I love a thumb lock. Because I feel that if you ask them to streamline in breaststroke, it is almost awkward. It is great for the pull-down, but it is awkward in the middle of the stroke because we do not come back to a streamline. What I like about the thumb lock is I feel like I can really extend, I can feel that extra two inches. So I tell them the thumb lock and pretend that I am at the other end of them, pulling those fingers two more inches—I want that full, horizontal line that we keep talking about.

This is Roque Santos (who I have seen here this week), and he is demoing the lane line pulls, over the lane line of course. What I like about this is you cannot bring your elbows back, they are forced to stay in front. We want the elbows to stay in front of the shoulders, we want the hands to pass under the chin; we do not want the hands to come all the way back down to the belly button or even under their chest. It is really short and in front on you. See his legs in the background—there is a nice, little slow-mo. You can see the YMCA; even on this drill, you can see the YMCA.

You can take that concept, and just use noodles. A lot of the swimmers will complain that the lane lines hurt them when they rest their armpits on it, so do the same thing with noodles. I think it is more effective here: I like that stiff lane line that really halts their movement backward.

Pull with flutter kick. A couple of reasons to do pull with flutter kicks. So let me call-upon anyone here who has coached with this: what is your purpose when you use this drill? (Gets them up.) Okay. What else? (Fast turnover.) Yes. (They can pay attention to what they are doing.) You can really concentrate on that, right; good. We can also work for full extension on that one: you can end with a thumb lock or you can have them do the fast turnover and try to get from full extension right back to the next stroke, etc.

Okay, so that is pull with flutter kick. Then we have pull with dolphin kick. Why this one? Why would we do this one? Keeping the hips high. Undulation. Timing. Right: it is mild; it is about taking all their energy forward, not taking it up. I think that is the key phraseology: take all of your energy to the other end of the pool, do not take it up. I like it. I like to let them to think about going over something really small, like those noodles. I want them to visualize: I am just going up over a noodle. Just enough up, but it is about going forward not going up. And not pulling your chest up out of the water—unless you are 90 pounds and Amanda Beard.

Breathing too late. Picture her arms are almost fully extended, because you can see where the wave is and look at where her head position is. She is going to have a tough time getting those hips back up: they are already dropped too low because her head is too high. So she just needed to either breathe a little bit earlier or get that head snap down quickly. I do not know; you know, I did not see the rest of the stroke, so I am not quite sure what is happening there.

And then very common in breaststrokers is to be breathe on the out-sweep. I have a Go Swim video that talks to us about the timing of where you catch your breath and how to correct it if they breathe on the out-sweep. But breathing on the out-sweep sets you up right-away for dropping your hips—the death blow. And also you can see, he has a break in his wrist, there.

All right, this is pretty subtle, but what I am talking about is when someone over-pulls and they lose that connection to finishing their feet before they start to pull. So she is–

[audience member]: Where should your head be when you breathe?

[Lepinski]: You need to be turning the corner and coming into…. We will have actually… I will have a video on it. It will on the C, not on the M. It will be on the C; it will be after the M. That is a very good question, there. Now we can insert that into YMCA: Y-M-C-breathe-A.

All right, here we go; let’s watch her. Starts out okay. Heads high; I would like her to get that head right under the surface of the water, feel the biceps on the back of her ears, but…. Now, it starts to come apart. See what I mean: that she is pulling against her kick. And consequently she is not able to reach full extension, because she is pushing that front end too hard. She is pulling too hard. She needs to remember that it is about pulling to get into the position, not about pulling hard. It is about returning to that extension all the time.

So here is the one I was telling you about, about when you time your breath.

When swimmers are learning breaststroke, they generally follow their instincts when it’s time to breathe. This focal point can help you determine if you’re going to air at the most efficient spot.

Why do it. Breaststroke can frequently turn into a muscle stroke, rather than a finesse stroke. And this simple point can help you determine which way you’re headed when swimming breaststroke: toward muscling the stroke or finessing.

How to do it. Start swimming breaststroke the way you normally do, and you’re going to focus all your attention in your hands. As you start your pull, lift yourself directly to air. If this feels absolutely normal to you, chances are you are putting way too much emphasis on the out-sweep, and using this to climb to air. This is instinct and uses a lot of energy or muscle. Chances are that the eyes are up too early as well. Swim a bit more breaststroke and allow your hands to sweep-out and go up to air as they start their in-sweep or catch. This means your head will need to stay down a bit longer than you are probably used to.

How to do it really well—the fine points. Just as in other breaststroke drills, pay attention to what your eyes are doing. Make sure you don’t actually see your arms during the out-sweep, but keep your eyes below them until you feel them start to come in or back. Alternating between breathing during the out-sweep or breathing during the in-sweep will make you more aware of what you’re doing in breaststroke, and help you discover a more efficient stroke.

Tips from the coaches who have worked with the timing of the breadth? Anything different? Pearls of wisdom?

[inaudible comments from audience]

Yeah. I like to connect it to the hips. I like to think that when I have come through my M and I am now getting ready to my C, my hips are driving forward. And that hips gives me the lift, along with scrunching my shoulders, it gives me the lift to find that air and get right back down before my hands even get too far forward.

What else? What other thoughts?

[audience member]: Are we talking about eight different ways of training?

[Lepinski]: No, we are talking about breathing in the same spot. We are talking about how we nuance that and say it to our swimmers.

So, can I get a couple of breaststrokers up here? Let’s have some volunteers come up and let’s just watch them go through the stroke.

Okay, go for it. Just go ahead and make your motion, however you want to do it. Where you find your breath. Yeah, okay.

So Bill is at the top of the M. And what’s your name? (Kevin) Kevin is initiating a little bit later. Yeah and Kevin keeps his head down really low, in-line with the spine the whole time. Thank you, that was good.

So I think, one of the things you could do—it looks like we just had a good, teachable moment there—get your swimmers up on deck and have them just do that in front of you. Have them do it at home in front of a mirror. Nadine?

[audience member]: I actually… we have a really shallow pool. We can actually put them in there, and they are actually horizontal, so they are actually bending like this. And then you actually have them feel their hand pull. And they will feel your body lift up. They are actually walking—we call it walking breast or fly. They are actually moving through the pool by pulling, and not worrying about the legs. So then they combine that with the kick and bodyline.

[Lepinski]: Yeah, it is great with a shallow pool. And you are right: the same thing works for fly—terrific for fly.

All right, let’s see what else we have here. Timing ticks. The other thing to do is to learn to be very patient when driving your legs, when you fire your legs to do the drive. Look how far forward his hands are and his kick is about halfway through. So where did he start the kick? The magic element: where did he start the kick? I do not know; let’s see if we have anything to show that.

Okay, so now, we are going to look at the same clip of Jessica Hardy again, but watch her kick. Hands… it is almost at the end now. That is something that has changed over the last several years; we are seeing more of a delay in the kick. It is a hard one to get across to your swimmers. There is a great drill for that called… I call it pull stop, kick stop, Go Swim calls it the separation drill—and it is coming up on a video here (so we will show that to you). But basically when the feet finish, that is your go mark. That is something that I can use that is tangible with the swimmer: when the feet finish, you go.

Now, there are some exceptions to that. Well, actually, two focus points first before I get to the exceptions. Allow the legs to stay straight as long as possible in the pool. Have the hands all the way extended when initiating the kick. When you start the pull relax the leg so that they flow forward rather than getting tucked forward. I think that is what I was thinking about, that feeling of floating the legs.

You have a comment?

[inaudible comment from audience]

[Lepinski]: Yes, I would. And the video that I will show you is a good reason. And they show you how to take it from a very drastic break-up to a regular breaststroke. It is my drill that I go to when I lose my touch or my swimmers lose their touch; I go back to that drill. Pull stop, kick stop, and you will see as separation drill in Go Swim.


[inaudible comment from audience]

I do not even have a comment to that; how can you argue with that? I mean, I do not know enough about that; sorry, yeah, I will have to go do some research.

Okay, something I did pick up from… a couple of breaststroke tips I picked up this week. One was about: at the end of the kick, have them curl their toes. Instead of saying point your toes. I like that idea because… think about, just take your foot for a second and what happens when you curl your toes? Your leg points. So, that might be a way to reach them when you said over and over again point your toes, point your toes at the end of the kick, and they are not doing it, curl your toes.

Did anyone read the Swimming Science… Swim Science has a blog. Tiago Barbosa wrote an analysis of Adam Peaty’s World Record in the 50m swim. Fascinating! I will just read you one thing: in that 50-meter World Record swim at the Commonwealth Games back in July. 39.85% of his race, so let’s just call it 40%; 40% of 50m Breaststroke is glide, 60% is actively working the stroke. Now does that mean he is hanging out there going do-dah-doo, time to glide; no, he was going from one stroke to the next. But the scientific analysis is that 40% of that is glide. To me, that is incredibly powerful. That drives home the need to get full extension. Again, I worry about the word glide, I think that might send a mixed message; but the full extension that he is reaching at the end of every stroke. 40% of his race, wow.

[audience member]: Maybe glide as in straight-out body position.

[Lepinski]: Yeah, full extension, horizontal line, yeah. When he is not actively using some part of his body to move the motion, yeah.

Yes, ma’am?

[audience member]: Last year at the conference I saw a video—I cannot remember who it was. But it showed body speed. And the breaststroker was actually: accelerating, slowing down, accelerating…. And the acceleration part when-

[Lepinski]: In the glide, in the extension, yeah. Exactly. It is a quirky little stroke, isn’t it?

All right, add-a-kick—one of my favorite drills. This one really is one of those good bodyline drills. But it also helps them focus on that kick and find that beautiful line that we want them to finish in.

Today we’ve got a drill called add-a-kick; it really develops the extension of the breaststroke swim. One of the things that you will probably end-up doing, oftentimes, is spinning out of control on your breaststroke. We want to really accentuate the length of your stroke. We call this the add-a-kick drill, because you are going to add a simple breaststroke kick at the complete end of a swimming stroke cycle.

Body position’s nice and straight, you’re going to be swimming through the entire stroke cycle of one pull and one kick, and then add a complete breaststroke kick without breaking the extension of the upper body. The head should be in-line with the back in this position. You should be looking forward and down. And really feel the power that’s generated from each of those kicks.

What this teaches you is to keep your body nice and long, and nice and straight. And it’s always important on breaststroke to really get a complete extension on your swim, as you finish the kick. The add-a-kick drill for breaststroke is to develop a stronger kick and to really work on the development of a straight-line body position at the end of the stroke cycle. This will help you be more efficient and a lot more effective in your breaststroke swim.

Ed Moses has one of the most amazing kicks out there. He draws those his feet… he can actually touch his butt with his heel: that is incredible flexibility. But he can crank those ankles out and just hold that water together.

Okay, add-a-kick is a good one. Let us look at… this is the one I call pull-stop, kick-stop simply because it seems to hit the swimmers’ heads a little better. But it is basically breaststroke separation drill. You can use this to train for 200s, 100s and 50, as you bring it down in the count.

Learning to initiate the kick is a common problem in breaststroke. Steve Haufler’s separation drill does a great job in over-teaching this simple step to a great breaststroke. Why do it. The later you initiate your kick in breaststroke, the less likely you are to create unnecessary resistance within the recovery of the kick.

How to do it. Start by totally separating the pull and the kick in breaststroke. Pull with your legs held together through the entire phase of the pulling: until the arms are completely back out in front and the body is sinking back into the water. Only after you’ve gone back into a streamline position do you initiate the kick. Each move is completely separate. Remember: think of this is a drill, don’t try to swim breaststroke; pull then kick.

Now, have less separation between the two, making sure you keep your feet together through most of the pull, allowing the action of the pull, drawing the torso, hips, then thighs, up into the recovery of the kick. Reach full recovery with your hands long before the kick is initiated. Finally, merge these two moves together a bit more closely. Again, making sure the pull has completely finished out front prior to the kick initiating.

How to do it really well—the fine points. The trick to this is fighting instinct. Treat it as two drills: a pull drill, then a kick drill. Then slowly merge them together. It does help to keep the feet together and toes pointed during the pull. This keeps the legs long and helps to avoid an early draw of the feet.

So how I use this one is I will start them with a complete separation in a three count. So I will ask them to pull, hold for a count of three—1, 2, 3—then do the kick, hold for a 1-2-3. Then the next lap, it is a two-count; then it is a one-count; and then it is immediately, as soon as you feel your feet finish, start your pull. After they have done that—we might do 2×100 that way—then I might set them off on 4×25 of breaststroke, to see if they can find the grove, find the timing, on that. If not, we send them back and we start with 3-2-1 again.

I like to use that for training for 200 Breaststroke. I like the little bit of the hypoxic activity that takes place in that three-count; it kind of simulates how you feel toward the end of the end of the 200 Breaststroke—you wish the oxygen tanks were standing-by. (Anybody else swim 200 Breaststroke in here? Okay: we are all nuts.)

And that is a just a clip of Brendon questions. Any questions? Comments? I thank you so much for your involvement; that is what makes something like this really worthwhile: learning from each other.


[audience member]: No wrist strength: let’s talk about that. What do you recommend for that?

[Lepinski]: Big-old, fat cuffs; no, I am kidding. I do not know. Maybe you could take some tape, and try taping and see what happens. Has anybody done that? (I have not done it.) Wrist curls. Finger-tip push-ups—oh yeah. Finger-tip pushups, yeah that would do it.

Anyone else? Yes?

[indiscernible comment from audience]

[Lepinski]: So it sounds like you take one week and it is all breaststroke; next week is a different stroke. Anyone else do that? Yep, a couple of people do it here, yeah—you are not alone.

All right, breaststroke tips. Anything; what did we not cover? What did you say: oh that was glaringly missing?

[indiscernible comment from audience]

[audience member]: You said nothing about the pull-outs or starts. How has that changed within the past year? So you dive, now you separate your hand, you do your dolphin, then you do a second…?

[Lepinski]: You do a pull-down, not a second dolphin, right? Yeah.

I did not get to cover turns here because I knew that time was going to be short. But, basically, on a pull-out you know you have two options where you are going to put your kick. The key element is your hands must separate before you start that dolphin motion. It does not mean your legs cannot float-up a little bit behind you, while you then separate and then do your dolphin kick. Or you can put it later in the kick.

What we are seeing with, I am going to say, probably 80%-90% of elite swimmers is that they are putting it upfront, as soon as those hands separate. And some do not bother separating their hands and they do two dolphin kicks.

[audience member]: USA Swimming has come out… (am I the only one who thinks this?). USA Swimming has come out… when you dive-in, you are allowed to do like two dolphins. But it is broken-up by: your hand separate, you do a dolphin kick here, and then you pull. So it is two parts of the dolphin.

[Lepinski]: Hmm… no, that is what the South African guy said was being done.

[audience member]: You are allowed one dolphin.

[Lepinski]: That is… yeah… I would caution on teaching that. I agree that maybe what they are talking about—because I have not seen it—maybe they are talking about allowing those legs to float up a little bit to initiate and be ready for that downward motion that comes with the dolphin kick. I do not know; I have not seen it. Seems contro… everybody is shaking their heads, seems controversial.

Anyone else?

[indiscernible audience comment on using starting blocks to help teach the kick]

[Lepinski]: You are basically laying over a chair or laying over a block, doing the breaststroke kick.

All right guys, I should probably break this up, so that the next crew can set-up. Thank you so much, it was a pleasure. Thank you.

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