What Does a Flamingo and a Breaststroke Kick have in Common?
The Breaststroke kick has an extensive history of being the hardest kick to teach age-groupers. Some kids are born with the ability to point their toes away from their body and some we teach over and over again.
The movement required in a Breaststroke kick is not natural and requires repetition after repetition until the swimmer gets it right. I’m sure many of you have heard a Breaststroke kick explained to something very similar to this: you need to bend your knees and bring your heels back towards your buttocks. From there, grab onto the water and snap your feet backwards as you finish the kick. But, how exactly do we do that? What muscles are required to fire in order to have a successful Breaststroke kick? And also, what does a Flamingo have to do with anything?
In order to set up for a successful Breaststroke kick, four main movements must occur: knees bend (1), toes point away from the body (2), tibia (lower leg) externally rotates (3), and hips abducts (4). Also, depending on how wide or narrow you like to teach your Breaststroke kick, there may be more or less tibial rotation versus hip abduction.
If any one of these four movements shown above are not properly executed, a swimmer will miss the catch phase of their Breaststroke kick (shown in the picture above). The reason I call this a catch phase is the water that is on the arch side of the foot will be forcefully pushed backwards; as the swimmer extends their knees and straightens their legs to finish the Breaststroke kick. As a swimmer finishes the forceful snap of the feet together, he or she should end with three points of contact: thighs touching, knees touching, and ankles. The end position of a Breaststroke kick should be a horizontal, streamline position.
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That’s all great to know, but how do we explain this in terms an age grouper can understand?
Here is where the Flamingo comes in:
Have your swimmers get out of the water and ask them to stand like a Flamingo. Most will bend one of their knees and stand on one leg. At this point, you have a great opportunity to teach them the proper mechanics of a Breaststroke kick through a drill I call the “Flamingo Drill.”
To get started–have all of your swimmers stand like flamingos. At this time, you should point out that their leg with the bent knee–toes are pointing towards the ground (like the picture below).
From this position, you have the chance to change the position of the toes from pointing to the ground to the side (away from the body). As a coach (when they are on land), you can physically move their foot and change the angle of the toes. Also, you can determine how wide you want to teach the Breaststroke kick by having your swimmers focus on how much (or how little) knee separation there is.
The picture above shows this drill with the toes pointed outwards and very little knee movement.
Once, you have the swimmer standing on one leg with their toes pointed away from the body. The final step of this drill is to snap the legs back together. The snap is not completed until three points of contact have occurred: upper thighs, knees, and ankles. The snapping motion will be a semi-circular.
Once you’ve completed the snap and the three points of contact have occurred, you’ve completed this drill. I like to have my swimmers complete 2×10 repetitions on each side (while I coach them through the steps) before getting back into the pool. Eventually after enough repetitions, your swimmers should have an understanding of what it feels like to angle their toes away from their body and get into that catch position. And eventually, they will be able to make the transition from doing it on land to water.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog post where we discuss how to take this drill a step further in the water and the benefits of the FINAL position of the Breaststroke stroke–the horizontal, streamlined position.
Until Next time,
[CLICK HERE] to read Part II of this series!