Unofficial Beginner's Guide to Freestyle Swimming

Breaststroke is an entry-level swimming style. Let's start learning breaststroke.

Getting used to the feeling of water#

Getting used to the water environment requires letting go of fear, not panicking, trying to get used to floating, and trying to breathe underwater. For these points, there is a detailed explanation on wikiHow.

Safety precautions#

For safety reasons, it is important to emphasize a few points:

  • Do not swim alone outdoors, do not swim in unfamiliar waters, do not learn to swim in moving water, do not swim in bad weather, do not swim in water that is too cold.
  • Swim within a suitable depth range and be prepared for emergencies.

Getting used to floating#

To learn how to swim, you must get used to floating. Beginners usually use a kickboard or hold onto the edge of the pool to experience the feeling of floating. Below is a diagram of the floating position from


Floating is not difficult, here are some methods:

  • Stay calm. Don't be nervous. It is impossible to float if all the muscles in your body are tense.
  • Your nose and ears are not easily filled with water. There is no need to pinch your nose or plug your ears with your fingers. After entering the water, the air in your nasal cavity and ears will be compressed by water pressure, and then the water will be blocked outside. You may feel like the water is trying to enter your nasal cavity, but this is normal because the air is compressed. Don't be afraid, you won't actually inhale water.
  • Hold your breath and bury your head. Usually, people cannot float because their heads do not sink enough. According to calculations, based on a person's density, on average, a person can float with 2% of their volume. If the head is too far out, it will change the body's center of gravity and occupy more than 2% of the buoyancy volume, causing the person to not float.

    If you unfortunately find yourself in danger in the water, pay attention: struggling with your arms not only tires you out but also occupies that 2% of the volume. If your arms are outside, your mouth will be submerged in the water. The recommended method is to keep your mouth and nose above the water to breathe, and then float and wait for rescue.

  • Relax your fingers. If you are practicing floating by holding onto the edge of the pool, be careful not to use too much force with your fingers. Holding onto the edge of the pool is just for support. If you are gripping the pool edge too tightly, you won't be able to float.

After getting used to floating, you can try letting go of the pool edge or kickboard with both hands. At this point, beginners often face a sense of insecurity in not being able to control their bodies in the water. Once they lose control of their body position, they tend to panic. Often, they will instinctively struggle. In reality, to quickly regain a standing position in the pool, simply bring your legs together. In the floating position (refer to the image above), by bringing your legs together, bringing your thighs towards your abdomen, and folding your lower legs, you can use the buoyancy to stand up. During the process of bringing your legs together, you can also use your hands to push downwards, which will provide an upward force to assist in standing up.

Breathing exercises#

After getting used to floating while holding your breath, you can try practicing breathing while floating. The most recommended breathing method is: inhale through the mouth - submerge into the water - slowly swallow the air in your mouth - exhale through the nose - after exhaling, come up and inhale through the mouth.

Many beginners may not be able to achieve this breathing cycle immediately and may not be able to inhale through the mouth and exhale through the nose in one step. Therefore, some beginners may use the breathing method of inhaling and exhaling through the mouth. The process is very similar: inhale through the mouth - submerge into the water - exhale through the mouth - after exhaling, come up and inhale through the mouth. Generally, exhaling through the mouth is easier than exhaling through the nose.

Why exhale completely before coming up for air? Because time for breathing is precious while swimming. If there is still air in your mouth, when you come up, you need to exhale the remaining air before inhaling, which wastes time.

What if you can't exhale completely? If that's the case, just come up for air. It is normal for beginners to have difficulty exhaling completely. Exhaling also requires practice, and the size of the bubbles and the speed of exhaling can be controlled by yourself.

Breaststroke Crash Course#

Here is an English reference article on breaststroke technique: Breaststroke Tutorial on

Starting position and basic body position#

Sideways, hold onto the edge of the pool with both hands (or one hand), curl up, and place your feet against the pool wall.

Inhale, release your hands, kick off the wall with force, adjust your body direction forward, quickly enter the water, and slide forward using the reaction force from the wall.

During the glide, to reduce resistance, adjust your body position as quickly as possible, which is similar to the floating position practiced earlier:

  • Keep your legs together and straight.
  • Press your palms together and extend them forward.
  • Bury your head between your arms.

Leg movements#

Beginners are recommended to use a kickboard for leg movement practice.

After stabilizing the body position, you can practice leg movements. The leg movements can be broken down as follows, with the image taken from

  1. Propel the legs from the thighs, bring the legs under the body, keep the legs mostly together, and fold the legs (it should feel like the knees are touching the abdomen).
  2. Turn the soles of the feet outward, so the soles face backward (this allows for a larger contact area when kicking, resulting in better propulsion).
  3. Kick both legs simultaneously outward, straighten them, and simultaneously bring them together in a circular motion. Try to bring the knees closer together, keep the feet together, and slightly extend the top of the feet (do not use excessive force, just to reduce resistance) to return to the initial position.

For more detailed breaststroke kick technique, you can refer to the English article Breaststroke Kick on


Arm movements#

Once beginners are comfortable with leg movements, they can remove the kickboard and try incorporating arm movements. Arm movements can also be practiced on land.

The arm movements can be summarized as pulling and gliding. The image is also from

  1. Before starting the pull, turn the palms of your hands outward at an angle of approximately 45 degrees to the water surface. Have a sense of pushing outward and downward against the water.
  2. During the pull, keep the elbows high, and the forearms should pull downward and backward (at this time, there will be a forward and upward force on the body, which is used for lifting the head and breathing during breaststroke).
  3. When the forearms are approximately perpendicular to the water surface, quickly rotate the elbows inward, bring the palms together in a prayer position, and extend them forward (also to reduce resistance) to return to the initial position (with the palms naturally facing downward).

For more detailed breaststroke arm technique, you can refer to the English article Breaststroke Arms Technique on or the article on Sina.



Breaststroke breathing is done in coordination with the arm movements. When the head naturally breaks the water surface during the pull, it is the time to inhale. Keep your neck relaxed, and the head breaks the water surface naturally with the help of the force. It is not about intentionally stretching the neck out!

When finishing the pull and the arms start to extend forward, the head will naturally submerge into the water. The time for inhaling is not long and requires practice.
If you accidentally inhale pool water while inhaling, don't panic. You can exhale the water while exhaling. Occasionally drinking a few mouthfuls of water is also normal.

The time to exhale is when underwater. Exhale through your mouth or nose while gliding and kicking. The speed of exhaling and the size of the bubbles can be easily controlled.

Beginners generally exhale through their mouths. Exhaling through the mouth is easier than exhaling through the nose. You can switch to exhaling through the nose after becoming proficient.

Coordination of Arms and Legs#

The coordination of arms and legs is a cycle of arm movements - breathing - leg movements - glide. The image is from

Here are the specific steps:

  1. Push off the wall.
  2. Perform the arm movements.
  3. Lift the head, inhale, and start the leg movements.
  4. Before kicking, the head should submerge into the water, and the arms should extend forward to reduce resistance.
  5. After the arms and legs have extended and returned to the initial position, glide for 1-2 seconds, then repeat the above movements.


Continuous Practice and Enjoy the Fun of Swimming#

So far, all the movements of breaststroke have been introduced. To master breaststroke, continuous practice is necessary. I hope everyone can enjoy swimming and have fun. Lastly, safety is the most important!

This is an informal crash course on breaststroke. If there are any areas that need improvement, please feel free to add. Thank you.

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