How to adapt your breaststroke for open water

Swim breaststroke? John Wood explains how to develop an effective stroke for open water

Credit: Getty Images

People often think that they need to swim freestyle to do a triathlon – and while that makes a lot of sense for many reasons, it’s not a necessity.  For some it may be more prudent to swim breaststroke. Maybe you have shoulder issues? Maybe it gives you time to calm your nerves or catch your breath? Maybe you’re just more confident swimming breaststroke? So how do you get the most out of your breaststroke, and swim it well in open water?


Firstly, when you swim breaststroke you want to focus on good posture, keeping your spine long and chin tucked in. Keeping good posture is important regardless of what stroke you’re doing, and will help you maximise forward motion. Lifting and lowering the chin increases up-and-down movement in the body. Breathe as if wearing a neck brace.

Secondly, take smaller strokes. As humans (not fish) we’re simply fantastic at burning energy and creating drag with our pull and kick. Unfortunately, we’re not so good at creating propulsion. You absolutely cannot go wrong by making your pull and kick smaller.

Also think about coiling up like a spring – then stretching back out. The more you can hold a streamlined position, the better you will move through the water.

Finally, try not to lift your head too far, as while you may feel more confident getting more air in, it will cause you to slow down further and reduce the distance that you travel for every stroke.


Follow these three pointers and your breaststroke will not only be more effective when tackling open water but it’ll also be quicker!

Which muscles does breaststroke use and tone?

How to start open-water swimming if you’re nervous, and build up confidence