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Breaststroke - Pull Buoy Kicking

Posted by Barbara Hummel on Jan 28, 2005 12:01PM

If you think pull buoys are just for pulling, you'll get a real KICK out this new series of drills. It's time to take a fresh look at your favorite pool toy.

If you're like most swimmers, you LOVE your pull buoy. It's the first piece of equipment to get stuffed into your mesh bag, and you love it when Coach assigns a long, hypoxic pull set. But there are other ways to use your favorite piece of equipment. KICKING is just one of them.

Why Do It:
Kicking breaststroke with a pull buoy has benefits for every level of swimmer. If you're just learning breaststroke, kicking on your back with a pull buoy allows you to focus TOTALLY on your legs, ankles, and feet because you don't have any worries about getting air. It allows you to peek down and see that your knees aren't coming up too high. It ensures that you'll learn a narrow recovery (rather than a spider-like recovery), and it helps to eliminate the dreaded scissors kick that plagues many young swimmers (and a few Masters swimmers, too!).

For more advanced swimmers, kicking breaststroke with a pull buoy helps you develop a narrow recovery of the legs, and helps you focus on pushing water with the INSTEP portion of your foot. If you don't use the INSTEP when you do this drill, you'll find that you go nowhere.

Pull Buoy Kick Drill
How To Do It:
 Hold your pull buoy between the thighs, just as you would for a pull set. You'll find that, for kicking, a one-piece pull buoy (such as the Zura Team Pull Buoy) is a little easier to hold in place than a two-piece pull buoy.

2. Push off on your back with your hands at your sides, and start kicking breaststroke. You'll quickly realize that you have to turn out your ankles and push with the instep to get any power. If you don't go anywhere at first, be patient and keep working on turning out the ankles. The swimmer in the photo is a national-level, age-group breaststroker, and he can touch his heels to his fingertips. This is something to work toward as you do the drill.

If your pull buoy keeps popping out, it usually means that you're letting your knees separate too much on the kick. Just be patient and try again, A narrow kick uses slightly different muscles than a wide kick, so you have to gradually awaken and strengthen the new muscles. Keep in mind that you won't SWIM breaststroke with your knees locked together like this (they'll naturally separate when you take off the pull buoy), but using the pull buoy is a good way to awaken the right muscles for a powerful kick.

3. Once you've mastered this drill with hands at your sides, try it with your arms in streamline.

4. Finally, flip it over and swim whole-stroke breaststroke, but with the pull-buoy still in place. This will help you work on a lot of things in your stroke: Keeping the feet together with toes pointed during the recovery - Hiding the feet and calves behind the thighs during the recovery - Using the insteps to push water.

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
1. Try to touch your heels to your fingertips on each kick. This will allow you to get maximum leverage and power.

2. When you go to whole-stroke breaststroke with the pull buoy, focus on getting the hips up and over after each kick, and focus on riding in perfect streamline after each stroke.

Archived Comments

Responded Jan 28, 2005 11:25AM

Usualy drill of week is followed by explanation by auther then discussion in all of previous articles

In this article discussion is started first

Responded Jan 28, 2005 12:12PM

You beat us to the punch. We updated our database, and turns out, it's set an hour off, so it caught us a bit by surprise. Hopefully what's up now is a bit more like you're used to.

For those of you who didn't see this... NOTHING WAS WRONG. :)

Responded Feb 12, 2005 12:27PM

Well, you've spurred me to try once again with my swimmers the buoy drill that you presented, even though I have avoided using any kind of restraint on the motion of their legs for the last 15 yrs! Perhaps I am a bit behind the curve, though, as evidenced by the decrease in the number of competitive breastrokers that I have helped develop in the last five years.

From 1980 to 1991, I experimented with buoys and tubes (wrapped around the lower thighs) but such devices produced more problems than they solved. That was a time prior to the widespread acceptance of strength training and was the beginning of the soccer boom. Most of the kids in our area (Pa.) that went out for swimming were "rejects" from other mainstream sports. Many of the kids that came to me for coaching had grown into prepubescence without adequately stressing their joint structures, some could not even run.

I was the only age-group coach that I knew of at that time that trained "even percentages" of each stroke (in terms of yardage per practice) and, since I was having tremendous rates of improvement among my trainees, relative to their competitors, using my system, I thus had no intention of changing my course. I was also the only coach that I knew of that strength trained prepubescents. But I discovered that it usually took a year or two before the strength training that we did stabilized the joints of the young and the new kids enough to be able to handle 25% or more of their monthly yardage being done breaststroke.

So, rather than train the young and the new 75 to 85% freestyle like my peers were doing, I stopped using anything that restricted any joints range of motion. I could find no reason to continue to use physical restriction devices, so I abandoned them. Even my more experienced swimmers did not seem to want or need such devices as they were able after a few years, through the kind of strength training that we were doing, to develop sufficient coordinative control to make stroke adjustments at will.

But now, thanks to you my interest is renewed in using pull buoys when performing breast Kick. Your guidance about using the thighs to hide the feet and ankles while on the back was especially thought provoking.

Responded Feb 12, 2005 02:53PM

Hi, Doug. If you swim, try this drill so you can actually FEEL what I'm talking about. I find that by using a pull buoy to do whole-stroke breaststroke, I can really focus on keeping the toes pointed and the feet together (and hidden) all the way through the recovery and to the last instant before your feet start to break apart to get ready for the kick. It also helps you focus on streamlining after each kick. For some reason it feels really good to streamline when you're using the pull buoy.

Responded Nov 03, 2006 04:33AM

Great exercise! I tried it this week and could really improve my kick -- but I also got sore muscles in the adductors ...


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