Written By: Austin Pillado
As a former swimmer and within the early stages of my coaching career, I used to think hard work would be the only way to improve in swimming. Little did I know that hard work is just a small percentage of what it takes to be successful. Soon enough, I found out that patience, consistency, and balance all play a significant role in the journey to success. In my opinion, the stroke that requires the most amount of patience, balance, and consistency is breaststroke. Try to rush it, you’ll start spinning. Take too much time with it, you’ll start sinking. Time it just right, and it all comes together!
We, as coaches, are always trying to find ways to help our athletes become more efficient in the water. When we think about improving efficiency, we usually think about improving technique with drills. While that may help from time to time, I have always found that the most beneficial way to improve one’s breaststroke technique and efficiency is through different forms of resistance training. I like to use stretch cords (both pull cords & the long belt), drag socks, parachutes, and weight belts.
When utilizing forms of resistance in breaststroke drills and in the regular stroke, we force the athlete to engage muscles in different parts of their body a bit more than normal. Some forms of resistance I utilize with my swimmers include:
Weight belts can be used to help athletes engage their core and work on getting their hips up. Breaststroke pull with a dolphin roll and arms back kicking are some great drills that can focus on getting the hips up and rolling forward within the stroke. I even use weight belts for vertical kicking to improve propulsion.
Parachutes can be used to focus on getting the body position in-line, as well as creating a stronger pull and kick. Underwater pullouts, 2 kicks 1 pull, 2 pull 1 kick, and some fast efforts are beneficial ways to strengthen the stroke as a whole.
Drag socks can be used to help catch more water in the kick and improve force development in their kick, and in the initial pull when the socks are on the hands.
The long belt cords are very dynamic, in that they can be used in a variety of ways. They can be used to strengthen the pull outs, the kick, the pull, and enhance the body line to improve hydrodynamic efficiency. Underwater pullouts, sculling in place, kicking and pulling in place, and fast efforts against the resistance will help prime the body for a more efficient swim.
The pull cords are a great tool to use to work on proper pull form with resistance. I typically do a lot of different scull patterns (front scull & windshield wipers) against resistance, breaststroke pull, pulldowns to target the pullouts, and isometric holds to help with body awareness.
During training sessions, I usually incorporate a series of drill and swim progressions with different forms of resistance before going into a main set. When using resistance tools during these progressions, I have found that my athletes are forced to focus a bit more on the task at hand. They must exaggerate getting their hips up, catching more water on the pull and kick, engaging their core, etc. Then, when they take the equipment off, swimming in a much more efficient and fundamentally correct manner will seem effortless!
Pillado joined the Penn State Swimming & Diving Coaching Staff in September 2021. He coaches the breaststrokers, mid-distance freestylers, and IMers. Pillado comes to Happy Valley after spending time as an assistant coach at Saginaw Valley State from 2020-21. Pillado ran daily training sessions, spearheaded the recruiting process and monitored academic progress. SVSU had seven school records broken at the GLIAC Championships. Prior to Saginaw Valley State, Pillado was a volunteer assistant coach for the women's team at Texas A&M, from 2017-2020, where he helped to run practices and daily workouts. For the Aggies, Pillado helped run daily training sessions and coached the post-grad/professional group in his final two years in College Station. Pillado helped guide the Aggies to back-to-back SEC Championships in 2018 and 2019 and a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 2018. During his time at Texas A&M, eight school records were broken and the Aggies captured 11 individual conference championships, including two relay teams. Pillado helped coach 33 All-Americans and aided four swimmers to finish in the top-eight in the 200 breaststroke at the 2018 NCAA Championships. Pillado coached five Olympians and multiple national team swimmers, from various countries, during the 2017-2020 tenure. Pillado attended Davis & Elkins College and was a member of the swimming & diving team from 2013-17. He held nine different program records at one point. His 400 freestyle relay and 800 freestyle relay records still stand. Pillado was the first and only swimmer in school history to achieve all-conference honors at the Bluegrass Mountain Championships in 2016 for his performance in the 1,000-yard freestyle. He was named the Male Athlete of the Year in 2016 and was an Academic All-American every semester as a student-athlete. Pillado competed in track & field for the Senators in 2017 as well and still holds the school record in the javelin, an event where he was a GMAC finalist. Pillado, a native of Coral Springs, Florida, earned his bachelor's degree in sport management from Davis & Elkins in 2017. He earned his master's degree in sport management from Texas A&M in 2020.