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Breaststroke can be a racing stroke or a survival swimming stroke.
Elementary backstroke and breaststroke have many similarities, but the differences between the two define the breaststroke as a racing stroke. Both strokes use symmetrical arm and leg movements, a gliding phase and a frog or whip kick. Although there are many similarities between the two strokes, breaststroke is a fast, competitive stroke, making use of timing and body position in the water to maximize speed.
The most pronounced difference between elementary backstroke and breaststroke is the body position. Because you swim on your back during elementary backstroke, you can breathe freely with your face out of the water at all times. While the ease of breathing unhindered during elementary backstroke makes it more relaxing for some swimmers, this stroke brings an additional challenge of not being able to see where you are going. For the breaststroke you swim on your stomach, lifting your head to breathe with each stroke, so you always have a clear line of sight.
Both elementary backstroke and breaststroke use a symmetrical catch, sweep and recovery-hand movement, but in the breaststroke all arm movements are in front of the body, while in elementary backstroke arms are extended out to the side and brought back toward the body. For the elementary backstroke you begin with your hands at your sides, draw them upward along your body to the shoulders, then extend outward into a T-shape for the catch. Push down toward your thighs to sweep, returning to the starting position for the recovery. For the breaststroke you begin with hands extended forward in a streamlined position and pull outward for the catch -- with your elbows bent -- in a scooping motion, drawing each arm back simultaneously for the sweep. Draw your hands in close to your body, about the level of your shoulders, then extend both arms forward simultaneously to recover to the start position.
Elementary backstroke and breaststroke may have many similarities, but when it comes to coordinating arm and leg movements, the two strokes differ greatly. Learning the timing of arm and leg movements for elementary backstroke is relatively easy, as the movements are synchronous, with the catch, sweep and recovery arm and leg movements occurring simultaneously. Breaststroke, on the other hand, uses some synchronized movements, and others that are isolated. While you pull your arms backward for the breaststroke, your legs are still relaxed and your body is in a Y-shape. After you draw your arms back, bringing them inward to prepare for the recovery movement, you bend your legs. The final propulsive movement of breaststroke happens when you do a whip kick and extend your arms forward at the same time.
One of the more subtle differences between the two strokes is the angle of the body's movement through the water. While doing elementary backstroke, your body remains horizontal in the water with no vertical movement. Breaststroke uses a propulsive, wave-like vertical movement often compared to a dolphin kick. During the recovery portion of breaststroke, as your arms extend forward and legs come together, move your hips and upper body in a whipping motion. Thrust your upper body downward first, followed by the lower body, in a dolphin kick motion.