If you watched the Olympics this summer, you probably noticed that the breaststroke used by most of the Olympians was not the breaststroke you learned years ago. Far from it. The "wave breaststroke" is the latest breaststroke in novation, and it is being used by most of the world's top breaststrokers. Invented by Hungarian coach, Jozsef Nagy, it was perfected by my teammate, Mike Barrowman, whose gold medal time at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona (2:10.16 for 200 meters) has not been approached by any other swimmer.
Contrary to what most people believe, learning the wave is not that difficult— even for the older swimmer. All you need to do is change the angle at which the hands are pitched, and when to bring the head up and the hips forward. If you make these changes, you can convert an old-fashioned flat breaststroke into a more efficient wave. Here are some drills to help you learn the correct arm action. Practice them several times a week after warming up and before your regular workout.
Drill: Lane Line Breast Pull
This drill establishes the correct hand rhythm of the wave stroke. As in all drills, start out slowly and correctly, then pick up the pace to normal speed. Do this drill for about five minutes.
While standing up in the pool, place your arms over the lane line. Place the armpits on the lane line as the body sinks. Start with the arms in a stream lined position. The feet are on the pool floor and the head is up, watching the hands and arms. From the streamlined position, move your hands in the normal circular breaststroke pull, accelerating. throughout the stroke. Pause after your hands recover and are again in a stream lined position.
The lane line is there to help maintain your arms in the correct position. As you move your arms through the breaststroke pull, remember to keep pressure on the hands at all times. Accelerating—moving the hands from slow to fast—will help achieve this. Never allow the hands to slow down during an arm cycle, or pres sure will be lost.
During the entire drill, the elbows are held forward in front of the shoulders by the lane line. Keep the armpits on the lane line in order to keep the elbows from moving too far back and causing un necessary resistance.
In the flat stroke, the emphasis of the arm pull (meaning the point during an arm cycle when the hands are moving fastest and with the most power) occurs at the beginning of the arm pull—during the outsweep. In the wave stroke, the timing is different. The emphasis of the arm pull occurs later—during the insweep— and the hands accelerate from slow to fast.
In both styles, the angle of pitch of the hands changes the timing of when the head rises. In the flat style, the head rises and falls earlier than in the wave style— during the outsweep. In the wave stroke, the head does not start to rise until the insweep.
The geometry of the pull is also different in the two styles. In the flat style the pull tends to be straighter: first a straight- line outsweep, then in toward the breast. This causes the traditional puff of water when the breath is taken. In the wave style, the hands are angled to move in a more circular motion, and they only pause during the streamlined position.
The purpose of this drill is to help you remain flat from the start position until the beginning of insweep. It is similar to the lane line drill except that you will ac tually be swimming. Try doing a set of 8x 25 yards, taking 15-20 seconds rest be tween swims.
Place a pull buoy between your legs. You will kick using either a free or fly kick. Keeping your body flat in the water and your head up, move the hands through the breaststroke pull, pausing only when in the streamlined position. (When you actually swim the wave breaststroke, the head will be down; it is held up in this drill so you can observe the arm action.) Remember to keep the elbows in front of the shoulders at all times.
In the flat style, the hands are pitched at 45 degrees as they move out and forward from the streamlined position. The angle of the hands causes the head to begin to rise and the hips to fall. In the wave style, the hands are held straight in front. As the hands move out and for ward, the head remains down, which causes the body to move forward while the hips remain high.
The head should not bounce up and down during this drill. The first part of the wave breaststroke is flat. It is impor tant to stay level while moving forward. Any movement up or down during the outsweep is detrimental, because it will cause the hips to sink or rise, increasing water resistance.Drill: Underwater Breast Pull
This drill is similar to the flat breast stroke pull except that the body is underwater and the head faces the bottom of the pool at all times.
Looking forward will cause a lot of resistance. Again, swim a set of 8 x 25 yards, though you probably will need to rest longer than 20 seconds between swims.
The underwater pull will help with the timing and emphasis of the pull. If the pull is not in a circular motion there will be a pause when the hands are under the chin. This is called the prayer position. The resistance forces will even he greater if the elbows move past the shoulder line. The less resistance felt and the shorter the period of time it takes to move the arms and hands forward, the better. Slowing down to pray will not help the swimmer here.
As the hands and arms move forward (otherwise known as the lunge), the shoulders should rise, helping to reduce resistance. This will also help keep the elbows close to the surface of the water. In the flat style, the elbows are held well under the water surface. This causes a lot of resistance when the arms and hands move forward. In the wave style, the swimmer's elbows are on the surface of the water at all times.
Since the hands are level with the elbows, they should move straight forward on the lunge not up or down. To help keep the forearms level as they lunge for ward, the palms are face down. This also keeps pressure on the palms until the streamline position is reached.Drill: Dipsey-Do
This drill is done with a dolphin kick (fins or monofin optional) and breast stroke puli. The object is to over-empha size the wave motion. Again, try doing a set of 8 x 25 yards, taking as much rest as you need between swims.
Remembering the principles already learned, move the hands in a circular mo tion from slow to fast and keep the el bows in front of the shoulders. Keep the elbows close to the surface at all times.
Now, try to raise our of the water as much as possible and then dive down deep. Think of yourself as emulating a dolphin diving.
In the wave breaststroke, the hips move forward on the insweep of the circular stroke. Some describe the motion by saying that the hands anchor them selves on the insweep while the hips move forward like an inchworm. In the flat style, the hips do nor move forward and the back does not arch as in the wave style. By moving the hips forward and arching the back, the head will automati cally move out of the water so the swimmer can breathe. Thus, the swimmer does not have to pick the head up to breathe.
In the flat style, the swimmer is much lower during the prayer position. The body and head are moving down (because the head was raised earlier). The arms and feet are also moving forward. All of these things contribute to a slower (and harder) breaststroke.
This drill causes the swimmer's hips to move forward during the insweep of the circular stroke, which allows him to reach the height of the stroke at the prayer position. From this position, the body can ride the wave forward even though the feet and then the arms are moving forward, which causes resistance. But the wave style uses this height and hand speed to get through the prayer position very quickly.
(In the next issue of SWIM, Santos will describe three drills to help you master/he breaststroke kick, then give you tips on how to put the entire wave stroke together)
Roque Santos, winner of the 200 breaststroke at the 1952 U.S. Olympic Trials, conducts clinics that specialize in breaststroke and motivation. For further information, call: (916) 891-0828.