One Arm Backstroke Drill

Two of the most important ways of getting a faster backstroke is by reducing frontal drag and by increasing propulsive power. The one arm backstroke drill accomplishes both tasks. Rarely do I ever find a drill that can teach a swimmer more than one fundamental at a time, but this drill does just that.


The propulsive power of the underwater pull is increased by the coupling motion of the rotating body and the mechanical strength of the shoulder in the rotated position (avoiding a negative angle). Frontal drag is reduced in backstroke by bending the elbow, rather than pulling with a straighter arm.

In my experience, swimmers like to take the easy route, rather than the harder path, even if the latter leads to a faster swim. Rotating the body quickly from one side to the other and sustaining that motion over and over again, either in the backstroke or freestyle, requires a lot of core strength and fitness. Instead, swimmers often opt for little rotation in backstroke, a much easier choice. In doing so, if they bend their arms properly in order to reduce frontal drag, they will likely encounter a big gulp of air with the hand midway through the pulling motion. The hand leaving the water in the propulsive part of the pull leads to a big loss of power.

To fix the problem, the swimmer’s solution is to pull with a straight arm, hoping to avoid the hand breaking the surface. That compounds the problem. Less power from little body rotation and more drag from the straight pulling arm are the result. It’s a bad combination.


The one arm backstroke drill, as in the freestyle drill, enables the swimmer to really think about what is going on with the body and the pulling arm. By having the swimmer keep the non-pulling arm at the side, by emphasizing the body rotation, having the swimmer bring the upper shoulder to meet the chin, and by having the swimmer bend the elbow to 120-140 degrees under water, a coach can kill two birds with one stone. Create more propulsive power and reduce frontal drag. When a swimmer comes to train with us, we combine this drill with many others, depending on the swimmer, to allow them to reach their potential speed. Now, all the swimmer needs is lots of core dryland exercises to get the core ready to keep those motions going throughout the backstroke race. Oh yes, and lots of good backstroke training.

Watch One Arm Backstroke Drill Video

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

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