Differences Between Elementary Backstroke & Breaststoke


The elementary backstroke and the breaststroke are closely related swimming strokes. Both call for symmetrical movements of the arms and legs, and both can be used safely in survival situations. Additionally, both of these strokes use either the whip kick or the frog kick, depending on the swimmers' preferences. Despite these similarities, there are some important differences between these two strokes.

Pronounced Difference: Body Position

  • The most pronounced difference between the elementary backstroke and the breaststroke is the swimmer's body position. In the elementary backstroke, the swimmer floats on his back. Because the swimmer's face remains out of the water at all times, he can breathe freely. Swimmers do the breaststroke on their stomachs, coordinating their breaths with their arm and leg movements.

Arms in Motion

  • The arm motions in elementary backstroke and breaststroke are similar, but they have some important differences. In the elementary backstroke, all of the arm movements occur on one plane, just below the surface of the water, and the arms typically don't move above the shoulders. The swimmer begins with her arms by her sides, drags her hands up the sides of her body until they reach shoulder level, extends them out to the sides of her body, and pushes them back down to her thighs. In the breaststroke, the swimmer begins with her arms above her head. She opens her hands, keeping her elbows straight, until they reach the level of her shoulders. Then, she bends her elbows so her hands drop down under her body, coming together just under her chin. She then extends her arms back to the starting position.

Stroke: Timing is Key

  • The timing and coordination of the arm and leg movements is different in the elementary backstroke and the breaststroke. In the elementary backstroke, the arms and legs work together. When the elbows bend, the knees bend. When the elbows straighten, the knees straighten. In the breaststroke, the arms and legs do not perform the same movements at the same time. Instead, the swimmer pulls his arms to the side. This lifts his head out of the water slightly so he can breathe. At the end of the breath, he starts his kick, finishing it forcefully so he can glide through the water before starting the cycle again.

Visual Lines

  • Because of the body position in the elementary backstroke, you cannot readily see where you are going. When you do the elementary backstroke in an indoor pool, you can rely on the flags over the pool to give you an indication of your location in the water. With the breaststroke, you face the direction in which you are traveling, and you pull your head out of the water with each stroke. This gives you a clear line of vision, so you know exactly where you are headed.

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