Swimisodes – One Arm Backstroke

#swimisodes World Champion Junya Koga demonstrates the one arm backstroke drill. This swim drill enables the swimmer to isolate the movement and position of the arm during the entry and underwater pull. Race Club coach, Gary Hall Sr. explains the importance of taking the time to feel the bent arm position of the underwater pull. Along with proper head position and body alignment, bending the arm the right amount reduces frontal drag and allows for greater propulsion. A straight arm pull in backstroke is equivalent to a deep straight arm pull in freestyle, where the swimmer maximizes drag forces. It also weakens the pulling force. In order to swim more efficiently and therefore faster, the right bend in the elbow in backstroke seems to range from about a 120 to 140 degree angle during the propulsive phase. Bending the elbow to that degree, a swimmer must rotate to the side in order to keep the hand from breaking the surface, causing a loss of power. Swimming one arm at a time can ensure the swimmer is bending the arm at the appropriate angle and pulling cleanly through the water.

Junya’s consistent 6 beat kick and strong core allows for full body rotation. With a clean hand entry at shoulder width, he sets himself up for an early catch and reduced drag pull with a bent arm. Another value of the one arm backstroke is that the swimmer can feel the power of the propulsive phase as the hand and arm pulls by the body underwater. While maintaining a proper head position, the one arm backstroke drill can help the swimmer achieve the most efficient pull. The swimmer can concentrate on every aspect of the underwater pull in backstroke with one arm drill.

13 Responses to Swimisodes – One Arm Backstroke

  1. Mike Freshley

    rotation also allows the swimmer to get down to the STRONG WATER and thus grab more water leverage.

  2. Pingback: Why One Arm Backstroke Drill Matters - The Race Club | The Race Club


    Great instruction, now I have to try it.

  4. Dave Johnson

    Thanks very much Gary. It appears that Junya has nowhere near a 120 degree plus arm bend. Am I seeing that incorrectly? Or is this just a matter of an elite athlete doing something nontraditional that works for him?

    • gary hall sr

      Good observation. I have seen a range from around 100 degrees to around 140 degrees among elite backstrokers. When Junya is swimming (not drilling) he is around 120 degrees. On this drill he varies but is more like 140 degrees. The more the bend in the elbow the less frontal drag, but there is a point at which too much bend causes a loss of propulsive power. Like so many things we do in swimming, the underwater backstroke pull is a compromise between propulsion and frontal drag.

  5. Emily

    Hello! I love learning from your videos. I have a question about the finish of the stroke. I have been working under several coaches to gain knowledge on multiple perspectives and I have come across a debate about the finish of the stroke. Some coaches have told their athletes to “throw” the hand down (where the palm would then face the bottom of the pool) about half way through the finish of the stroke or the last third of the finish of the stroke. However, other coaches have said to image throwing a ball to your feet keeping your hand and forearm perpendicular to the wall of the pool. What is your opinion on the two techniques? I personally think throwing your hand down is too much unnecessary movement… but is it suppose to be more powerful? I noticed that Junya Koga does not put emphasis on throwing the hand down. Thank you!

  6. Gary Hall Sr.

    Hi Emily,
    I am in the latter school. Throwing the hand down toward the bottom at the end of the stroke makes no sense, since we are trying to maximize the force backward to move forward. It also delays the recovery of the arm for the next stroke and stroke rate in backstroke is one of the keys to speed.

    • Emily

      Thank you so much for the feedback. I totally agree with the fact that it does not help the swimmer move forward! I recently completed swimming at the college level and backstroke was one of my major strokes. I had never heard of this throwing your hand down business until I started helping with a variety of teams… Again, thank you :)

  7. Ian

    Isnt that rotation a little late ? he seems to complete the pull then rotate. surely the pull and rotation done together will generate more power ? Great web site !!! love it !!!

  8. Gary Hall Sr.

    The maximum speed of the body rotation in backstroke does come later than in freestyle. However, it is still coupling with the arm pull and augments the force of the pull significantly.

  9. Tyson

    James E. “Doc” Counsilman always recommended dropping the elbow once the backstroke arm enters the water.

    • Gary Hall Sr

      As usual, doc was right. Each swimmer must find the sweet spot in elbow bend in order to reduce frontal drag. The range is from 100 to 140 degreess

  10. Pingback: One Arm Backstroke Drill - Aqua Notes - The Race Club | The Race Club

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