The breaststroke is a graceful swim stroke in which you use both hands simultaneously to pull yourself through the water while you complete a frog-style kick. Both the arm and leg movements of the breaststroke call for vast strength and flexibility to avoid injury. Stretches for both your upper and lower extremities can help fine-tune your performance and keep you healthy.
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Leg Rotation Stretches
The leg adductor muscles and feet both play a large role in the breaststroke kick. When you bring your legs together in preparation for the kick, you contract the adductors; executing the kick contracts the quadricep muscles of the thighs. The force of the kick, along with the surface area of your feet, pushes you through the water. Stretching all of the muscles involved can increase your flexibility, increase your power and prevent pulled muscles and strains.
Rotating your feet at the ankle, both clockwise and counterclockwise, keeps your joints flexible to help your feet act as paddles. Manually stretching your feet is also an effective stretch for breaststrokers. Grab the middle of your foot and pull up on the ball of your foot to stretch your arches. Stretch your foot and leg with a medial rotation. Stand on one leg while lifting the other off the floor and bending it at the knee. Keeping your knee bent, take hold of your foot at the instep and keep it steady. Move your knee forward and backward to feel the stretch in your foot and lower leg.
Stretching your arms gives you the flexibility and strength you need to pull yourself through the water. The arm portion of the breaststroke begins with both hands meeting in front of your body, then pulling the water aside in a scoop-like downward motion that puts significant stress on your arms and shoulders. Swimmers of all strokes, including the breaststroke, can benefit from a rotator stretch that works arms and shoulders at the same time. Hold a broom vertically, with the stick behind your shoulder and elbow. Place your arm so that your hand faces up and your elbow forms a 90-degree angle. Grab the top of the broom with your hand and place your other hand on the stick below your elbow. Use the lower arm to move the broomstick forward, stretching out your arms and shoulders.
Shoulder injuries are common in swimmers, though not quite as prevalent in breaststrokers as those who swim the butterfly. However, the shoulder and rotator cuff accept a lot of wear and tear from the arm work required in the breaststroke. External rotation of the shoulders provides two benefits: stretching the muscles to maintain adequate suppleness and range of motion and strengthening the area to prevent injury. Stand up straight with shoulder blades back and chest lifted up. Place your hands 6 to 8 inches apart and encircle them with an exercise band so that there is one large circle of band in front of you. Bend your elbows and keep them tucked into your sides. Move your hands away from one another, pushing against the bands' resistance. As you move your hands, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
The repetitive movement of your legs during the breaststroke can contribute to pain in the hips and knees. If you develop joint pain, consult a doctor before stretching, as the exercises could increase your discomfort.