3 Dryland Training Considerations for a Strong and Healthy Breaststroke Kick
Fast breaststrokers all typically have an incredible ability to kick, as other fast swimmers in general for that matter. I have personally seen elite breaststrokers kick sub 1:20 in a 100 long course breaststroke kick with a board.
While actual kick practice in the pool is the premier training modality for improving breaststroke kicking, below are 3 factors to consider to build a strong and healthy kick when training on land:
1. Injury risk reduction
For swim and physical preparation coaches, this should be a priority for any dryland program. Breaststrokers are at greater risk for groin/hip adductor injuries compared to IM and non-breaststroke specialists (Grote et al. 2004). The powerful finish phase of the kick may cause wear and tear on the adductors when repeated hundreds of times (Scott, 1999).
Below are a few of many exercises that can be done to help prevent adductor/groin injuries. Volume and exercise selection should be carefully considered with a qualified coach when introducing adductor exercises.
Side lying medial leg raise
This is an easy exercise to perform and is a great way to introduce adductor/groin exercises to beginners
SB Leg raises
Squeeze the ball with your feet and lower up and down while deliberately pushing the lower back flat on the ground
Groin side plank
This is an excellent and somewhat advanced isometric position that can reveal weakness in the medial compartment of the knee. If you experience any pain, try placing your foot flat on the bench. Adjust foot placement on bench to adjust difficulty.
2. Ankle and Hip Mobility
Most breaststrokers will have adequate ankle and hip mobility but the three important qualities to possess are 1) ankle dorsiflexion (closing the angle between feet and shins), 2) ankle eversion (feet out), and 3) hip internal rotation (ability to keep knees close). If adequate mobility is present, breaststrokers may not need to spend time working on mobility. Coaches can test ankle dorsiflexion using the knee tap test and the prone hip internal rotation test and retest as the season goes on (seen below).
While there is currently no scientific literature on adequate hip mobility ranges of motion on breaststrokers, 35°-45º should be sufficient.
Ankle eversion at the end-range of the kick, when the knees are fully flexed and ankle fully dorsiflexed, becomes crucial when finding the pressure on the feet to push as much water behind you as much as possible.
If an athlete can touch the wall with their knee with their heel on the ground, they pass. The foot should be 5 inches away from the wall
3. Squat Depth
Often times, coaches will debate on how deep to descent during a squat. This will depend on the outcome goal, sport, and anthropometrics. Breaststrokers should aim to squat as deep as possible as long as good technique is possible.
For breaststrokers, the purpose of the squat is to develop strength and power in the propulsive portion of the kick. Swim coaches will agree that the heel will come up as close to the butt as possible before propelling the body forward. This means that the quad will need to stretch as far as possible before extending the knee. According to the muscle length-tension relationship, a muscle is weaker when stretched out too far. To strengthen these disadvantageous positions, breaststrokers should squat as deep as possible to train the specific ranges of motion that will be used during a breaststroke kick.
While doing quarter or half squats can be an option for breaststrokers, deep squats allow the quads to fully stretch at the bottom before standing up and will allow an athlete to develop strength in the beginning stages of the propulsive phase of the kick. Conversely, if maximal axial loading is the goal, quarter or half squats should be used because it allows an athlete to squat with a heavier load. Athletes should always consult with a coach before determining optimal squat depth.
Precaution should be taken by coaches and athletes when observing breaststrokers’ squat. Breaststrokers tend to internally rotate at the hip (knees come in and lateral side of feet come off the floor) during the bottom of a squat and this may place extra strain on the knee (see article on torque for correction).
Grote, K., Lincoln, T. L., & Gamble, J. G. (2004). Hip Adductor Injury in Competitive Swimmers. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(1), 104-108. doi:10.1177/0363546503258905
Rodeo, Scott A. “Knee Pain In Competitive Swimming.” Clinics in Sports Medicine, vol. 18, no. 2, 1999, pp. 379–387., doi:10.1016/s0278-5919(05)70152-6.
Rovere, G. D., & Nichols, A. W. (1985). Frequency, associated factors, and treatment of breaststrokers knee in competitive swimmers. The American Journal of Sports Medicine,13(2), 99-104. doi:10.1177/036354658501300204