Breaststroke is an interesting and somewhat more complex stroke to master, at least initially. One reason this is so is that it has what appears to have two separate and distinct propulsive phases. Yet when done correctly there is continuous propulsion; meaning that either the arms or legs are always working.
The two main technique errors seem to be: 1) being out of streamline position at most or all of the time during the stroke cycle and 2) gliding at the end of the kick phase.
Here is the contradiction: the fastest breaststrokers spend more time in the streamlined position than they do in the pull or kick phase and yet they never stop to glide. How can this be, you wonder? The answer is easier to give than to accomplish in the water: they never stop pulling or kicking...hmmmmm.
Get someone to time your complete stroke cycle from when your hands begin to separate on the pull to when your heels come together at the end of the kick's propulsion. (There are several different ways to time a stroke cycle; this is simply the one we use. It matters not which one you use so long as it incorporates a complete arm/leg cycle.) The fastest folks are no longer than 1.7 seconds and most are 1.3 or 1.4. What this means is that they are really moving at a fast tempo which allows them to be in a streamlined position for more of the cycle.
One common error is that as your hands begin to separate for the pull you will be bringing your feet up toward your hips to kick. If you do this then you are pulling your body in a non streamlined position since your feet and thighs will be dragging in the water. The other common error is as you begin to push with your feet your arms begin to drift apart anticipating the pull part of the stroke. When this happens you are also kicking a wider surface than if your hands were together in a streamlined position.
How do you fix these problems? Start with a pull buoy and go one lap simply pulling yourself with as short a pause after each pull as you can manage. Don't be alarmed if this leaves you breathless. Then take the pull buoy and hold it out in front of you and kick with as short a pause as you can. Do several one lappers this way alternating pull and kick. Then tackle a one lap swim with both arms and legs, making certain that you pull with your legs straight behind you and that you kick with your hands together in front of you. At first this may seem rushed to you but if you stick to shorter distances with enough rest to do it properly you will find that you can manage to do this correctly.
Remember: pull then kick and keep the recovery of the arms and legs moving quickly as well. We also recommend that you count the number of strokes you take for a lap as a reference point. Over time you will find the balance between tempo and distance per stroke.
Of course, if you want to sign up for a video analysis we can help that way as well. Let us know how it goes for you!