Breaststroke Arms teaching Practices & Points

The kids at this level have already learned breathing in front crawl, they’ve learned the leg action, this should be the easy bit!

Only let them practice perfectly. Keep their focus and attention by engaging them in the lesson as much as possible and they should be able to learn the arms and breathing fairly quickly.

All these drills use flippers doing front crawl legs with fast hands.


“Elbows up….elbows down….do the funky chicken. Now – arms straight, knuckle to knuckle”

“Elbows up, elbows down, straighten your arms…that is the breaststroke  arms”

Only move your hands when you are ready to….?”


“Can you think of a food that is round?”

“Trace your fingers around the outside edge of the pizza, then slice up the middle. Don’t be greedy, It’s a 6” pizza, not a family size one”

Any small round food will do.


“What’s your favourite ice cream? Round the ice cream bowl, say your prayers, rush back to the top to get some more: Scoop, pray, reach”

” If you don’t say your prayers, you won’t get up for air”


“Start with your hands out ahead side by side, thumbs kissing. When you are ready to breathe, part your hands until the width of your shoulders, then bring them back together.”

“Now, after opening your arms, bend your elbows a little and bring your hands back together”

These two drills are good for firming up the wrists to get a rotation of the hands and create a sculling action. If the back of the hands are at ninety degrees to the direction of travel, the swimmer sinks down.


Imagine that you are doing a karate punch with the ends of your fingers on my belly. Karate Hands. Wrists and fingers stay firm, a jab with the ends of the fingers. Hyargh!


One thumb is Romeo, one is Juliet. In love. “Kiss, kiss, kiss”.

“Slowly they part, heartbroken to leave each other, then rush back to each others arms”


“James Bond fingers.” Imagine each finger is a deadly weapon that fires a bullet. The air is your ammo. Always keep the ends of your guns pointing forwards at your enemy ahead of you, not at your belly.”


“Show me the fastest position in swimming. Streamlined is fast like a speedboat; arms wide is the slowest position in swimming, like a number 5 bus. What do we want to be a bus or a speedboat? Have you ever seen a bus try and swim?”

“Get your head up and down quickly, get back to that fast streamlined position as fast as you can. To do that you have to be ready to breathe in, to do that you HAVE to get rid of ALL the air in the water”


Just some background on the teaching of this part of the stroke. 

I have vivid memories of experimenting with the teaching of the arms. We had worked out already that it was important to break down the strokes into smaller, easier parts. But we could not figure out how to stop the kids from using wide, deep big arms. We tried all sorts, paddles and floats. Eventually, we figured out – it was nothing to do with the arm movement – it was all about the breathing.

FC leg kick with the arms extended, hands flat, thumbs touching.

“Head down, no breathing, let’s see who can get all the way across the pool without breathing”

Repeat FOUR times. Always in waves, just make sure you can see their mouths when they breathe in- so be ahead of them.

Now we have proved that we can swim the whole width without breathing, we are going to learn how to breath.

“The reason we can get across the pool in one breath is because we are FLAT, like a speedboat, and fast. If the head is up, the legs sink and we are like a number 5 bus, big & slow”

Now blow out your air fast (like you do in front crawl) and lift your chin to breathe. 

Now try and do three up & down breathes across the pool.


If the arms are moving, it is because they have not finished blowing out and has to keep their heads up for longer, so they push down.

So we need to practice our blowing:

Out of mouth AND nose, the air must come out of the mouth first with any water then end up coming out of the nose.

EXPLODE the air, like a bomb has gone off in your belly.

Get rid of the air FAST. We want to be flat, so we need to get up & down fast. Goggles on, going down and up quickly grabbing the air, getting faster and faster.

Now let’s do the same, lying down.


If the arms drop it is because they have not finished blowing out and therefore have to make more time for themselves in the air, so they can finish blowing out and then breath in. That’s why they push down with the arms.

Check carefully, (underwater if needed) that this blowing is happening. If any can’t then, they need to go back a step.

Only progress those who can lift and breathe quickly.

Only now will we introduce the arm action:

Arms out straight, thumbs down just touching. Elbows up, elbows down, straighten out arms again.

That’s it, that simple. 


Think about the arm movement. No wider than the shoulders, no deeper than your nose. 

We have just done 4 widths breathing with NO ARMS at all.

We only need a tiny movement of the arms to help us get up for air.

Keep repeating until perfect. You can use, pizzas, ice cream, saying prayers, a bowl of sweets: ask the kids, use your imagination, but get them engaged.

If at any stage it goes wrong, take a step back.


Teaching plan, Shirley Swimming Pool 2021 Copyright West End Swim School Ltd