Discovering the Origins of Breaststroke: A Remarkable and Competitive Aquatic History

Breaststroke, also known as racing breaststroke, is one of the oldest and most elegant strokes practised in the world of swimming. Its history dates back to ancient times, and it has evolved over the centuries to become the refined discipline we know today. In this article, we take a look at the fascinating origins of breaststroke, with a particular focus on its link to competition.

Antiquity: the first embers of breaststroke

The earliest references to breaststroke go back to ancient times, when it was practised by various civilisations. The Greeks and Romans used synchronised arm and leg movements to cross rivers, often in a military context. At that time, breaststroke was more a method of survival than a competitive sport, but the basics of the technique were already there.

Evolution in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, breaststroke continued to be used as a means of crossing rivers and canals, but it also gained in popularity as a recreational activity. Swimming competitions were rare, but breaststroke was sometimes included in local events, marking its first steps into the competitive arena.

The 19th Century: Breaststroke Emerges as a Sporting Discipline

The real turning point for breaststroke came in the 19th century with the development of organised water sports. In 1844, two British swimmers, George Corsan and William Wilson, introduced a circular arm movement to breaststroke, known as the “breaststroke stroke”. This revolutionary move gave breaststroke a more defined structure and marked the beginning of its evolution into a formal sporting discipline, paving the way for specialist swimming competitions.

The Early Twentieth Century: Breaststroke’s Roots in Competitions

At the beginning of the 20th century, breaststroke was integrated into swimming competitions alongside other swimming styles. Rules were gradually established, and breaststroke technique continued to evolve. In 1904, breaststroke was officially recognised as a distinct style of swimming at the Olympic Games in St Louis, marking its entry into the competitive world at an international level.

The Modern Era: Breaststroke in the Contemporary World

Over the decades, breaststroke has continued to develop, with swimmers from all over the world making technical improvements. The International Swimming Federation (FINA) has established specific rules for breaststroke, governing arm and leg movements. Today, breaststroke is a respected discipline practised worldwide, with swimmers constantly pushing the limits of human performance in fierce competitions.


Breaststroke has come a long way from its humble beginnings in ancient times to become an exciting and respected competitive discipline worldwide. From its pragmatic use as a crossing to its current status as an Olympic discipline, breaststroke has followed a fascinating journey through the history of competitive swimming. By exploring its origins, we discover not only the evolution of a swimming technique, but also the history of humanity and our relationship with water in an exciting competitive context

Come and learn the most ancient swimming style !

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