The First 50 of the Men's 100m Breaststroke


Kevin Cordes, left, swims in the semifinals of the 100 breast. (Small)By Matt Barbini//High Performance Consultant

Last month I wrote an article analyzing the acceleration of the women’s 200 breaststroke from 1992 to 2012. What I found was that the driving force behind the largest drop in 200m world record time over that time was the application of tempo. In my research for that article, I also looked at other breaststroke races, and in revisiting that data this month, I was struck by the evolution of another race.


Since 1992 the men’s 100m breaststroke world record has been lowered by 2.83 seconds, an improvement of 4.6%. This is similar in percentage to what the women have accomplished over 200m (4.3%); however the method for this acceleration has been quite different. In general, over 100m the men do not follow a consistent trend in terms of tempo. Rather, the best men’s 100m breaststrokers of today have utilized early speed to their advantage. On average, the first 50 splits of the finalists in the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships are over 1.5 seconds faster than the splits of the 1992 Olympic finalists. However, the separation has not been as great on the second 50 with today’s competitors averaging only about 0.75 seconds faster. See below.


  1992 Olympics  2012 Olympics  2013 World Champs 
Average First 50 Split   29.30  27.74  27.79
Average Second 50 Split   32.62  31.87  31.79

This variance clearly indicates that certain evolutions have played a significant role on the first 50 of the race. Two significant changes are obvious. In 1992, all eight athletes in the 100m breast final started with both feet at the front of the block and in mid-air performed a knee bend that drastically altered their body lines. Also, an underwater dolphin kick was not yet allowed.


However, there is also a technical element at play that is still relevant today. Rather than completing the arm pull with the legs in streamline and kicking the arms into the glide, athletes in 1992 were arriving at the highest point of their stroke with their legs fully bent creating a greater amount of resistance and limiting the potential of their initial speed. Now we see our best athletes working to maintain a consistent body line throughout the stroke thus generating a higher top-end speed. In many respects this evolution of the stroke is on-going and proper timing, hip position, and overall body line are important elements for everyone to continue to keep in mind.