Swimming Breaststroke – Arm Movements and Technique

This article covers the arm stroke movements used in the breaststroke.

Knowing the proper arms movements is important for an efficient swim stroke.

The following video explains the technique in more detail:

Breaststroke Swimming technique - arms
Mark Durnford explains the arm movements in breaststroke

As you can see above, when you are swimming breaststroke your arms stay in the water all the time and execute a semicircular movement.

That’s because breaststroke is the only one of the competitive strokes where the arm recovery occurs in the water.

More about this technique below.

Arm Stroke Phases

When swimming breaststroke, the arm movements can be divided into five phases:

  • Glide Phase
  • Outsweep
  • Catch
  • Insweep
  • Recovery

Let’s discuss these arm stroke phases in more detail.

Glide Phase

To start our discussion, let’s consider that you are in the glide phase.

1) You are gliding forward on your chest, being horizontal in the water.

2) Your arms are extended forward, your hands are close together, with the palms facing downwards.

3) Your legs are straight, held together and your feet are pointed.

Breaststroke Arms - Glide


Now the outsweep of the arms begins.

Breaststroke Arms - Outsweep

Your palms turn slightly outwards, and your arms slide sideways until they are outside of the shoulders.

You keep your arms straight and your elbows close to the water surface.

Seen from above your body forms a Y-like shape. This phase is not propulsive.


During the catch, you change the orientation of your arms so that your forearms and palms are facing backward. This sets up the propulsive phase of the arm stroke.

Breaststroke Arms - Catch

To do so, at the end of the outsweep, you bend your elbows once your hands are spread apart wider than your shoulders.

Then move your forearms downward and backward while your elbows stay close to the water surface.

Do this until your forearms are vertical and facing backward and your palms are in line with your forearms.

This phase is also not propulsive, so avoid using any force before your forearms are vertical.


The insweep is the propulsive phase of the arm stroke.

So once you have made the catch with your forearms, move your arms backward, then inwards and upwards so that you sweep diagonally backward against the water.

Breaststroke Arms - Insweep

During the insweep, you bring your hands below your chest and your elbows toward your rib cage.

At the end of the insweep, your palms should be facing each other.

Breaststroke Arms - End of Insweep - Start of Recovery
End of Insweep – Start of Recovery


Once your hands are close together under your chest at the end of the insweep, move them forward just below the water surface, until your arms are extended again, ready for the next stroke cycle.

Breaststroke Arms - End of Insweep - Middle of Recovery
Middle of Recovery

Once your arms are extended, you can again observe a short glide phase.

Breaststroke Arms - Glide
Back into Streamlined Glide

Arm Speeds and Force Applied During the Stroke Cycle

The arm speeds and force applied while swimming breaststroke change during each phase of the stroke cycle:

1) During the outsweep and catch you should not apply any force because otherwise, you will only push water sideways or down.

As a consequence, your arms should move at a moderate speed.

2) The insweep is propulsive, and henceforth you should push with your arms against the water and move them quickly.

3) The recovery should also occur swiftly but without using force because otherwise, you will only create unnecessary drag.

Related Pages

You may also be interested in the following articles that cover the breaststroke’s swimming technique:

14 thoughts on “Swimming Breaststroke – Arm Movements and Technique”

  1. Avatar

    Found this site to be really useful, more so than many others apparently offering similar context on how to swim various strokes.

    Unfortunately, I live in China where YouTube etc. are prohibited.

    Any chance you can record and post the video content in something more “friendly” to residents of China?

    1. Christophe

      Hi Peter,

      I didn’t know that Youtube is prohibited in China. This is good to know.

      I plan to move most of my videos to Wibiya in the following months. Do you know if videos hosted on Wibiya are also banned?

      Also, there are certain videos on my site which are hosted on Youtube, for example, those featuring Michael Phelps, which I will not be able to host myself as I don’t know their copyright status.

  2. Avatar

    Christophe – Awesome job… Such a good explanation in all your posts.

    This is a great service that you are doing for everyone who is trying to learn/improve swimming or maybe just wants to know more about swimming job.

    Wish you all success in life, God Bless!

  3. Avatar

    I think I have understood all phases of the stroke but the insweep. Do you push the water in with the forearms, squeezing it in?

  4. Avatar

    I don’t understand, how is the insweep propulsive since you are just squeezing water?

    It is during the catch, you pull the water and hence push yourself forward.

    Correct me if I am wrong.

  5. Avatar

    Just a question.

    My shoulders and head do not seem to rise above the water as much as I noticed in the videos.

    Why is it so?

    1. Christophe

      Hmm. Could be that you don’t recover your feet far enough to the buttocks, and so your hips and legs don’t drop enough.

      Could you have someone check out your underwater leg action?

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