Learning Backstroke 5 Steps

Learning to Swim Backstroke: 5 Easy Steps

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Learning to Swim Backstroke on the Pool Deck: 5 Easy Steps

In teaching swimming technique, I find more swimmers using poor technique in backstroke than in any other stroke. The most common mistakes being made are:

  1. Poor body rotation
  2. Improper pulling motion
  3. Bad body and head position
  4. Slow stroke rate

I find it easier to teach proper backstroke technique on the deck than in the water. Here are five easy steps you can use to improve your swimmer’s backstroke technique. You can see how I accomplish these steps on the video release this week with elite Masters swimmers, Rich Burns and Laura Val.

Step 1. Rolling the shoulders to the chin

Have the swimmer stand and face you. One shoulder at a time, roll the shoulder forward and upward to reach the swimmer’s chin. Do not move the head. Bring the shoulder forward and upward to reach the chin. In so doing the other shoulder gets pushed deeper backward into the water. Repeat 10 times on each shoulder.

Step 2. Rotating the shoulders with arms elevated.

Have two swimmers face each other about 6 feet apart. One swimmer should lift the right arm and shoulder directly forward and the other swimmer should lift the left arm forward, pointing toward each other, keeping the shoulders square. The fingers of the hands should be about 6 inches apart. The other arm is lifted to shoulder height with the elbow bent 90 degrees, upper arm pointing to the side. The two forward pointing arms are now elevated and extended further forward by rotating and lifting the shoulders until the fingers of the two swimmers touch. Repeat 10 times, while pushing the shoulder of the bent arm backward each time. Repeat using the other arms.

Step 3. One arm backstroke pulling motion with body rotation.

Using one arm at a time, with the other arm at the swimmer’s side, take the arm through the complete backstroke cycle. Start with the arm pointing forward. Rotate the shoulder of this arm forward until the shoulder reaches the swimmer’s chin. While in this hyperextended position, have the swimmer reach as far above the head as possible directly above the shoulder, turning the little finger backward. At the same time, the opposite shoulder should rotate to reach the swimmer’s chin. Once the extended arm above reaches a point high above the head, where the hand is past the shoulder, the elbow should bend and the hand should press in a straight line downward toward the ground. Have the swimmer point the elbow at the sky or ceiling as the hand moves directly downward, keeping the hand between the elbow and the chest of the swimmer (surface of the water). Don’t allow the hand to get behind the elbow or in front of the chest. Fingers should be pointing out to the side as the hand moves downward. Complete the end of the pull by flipping the hand over, just behind the waist and release the hand forward with the thumb leading the way. Keep the arm straight and straight forward on the recovery, elevating the shoulder maximally forward as it comes up to meet the chin. The head should be kept still the entire time, in alignment with the upper body. Once the swimmer achieves the correct pulling and recovery motions, repeat with the other arm.

Step 4. Backstroke Swim with both Arms

Now the swimmer simply repeats the motions of step 3 using both arms. The swimmer may initially pause the hand at the bottom (completion of pull), in order to get the motions right. Eventually, the swimmer should be able to complete the pulling cycle with both arms and great body rotation, without stopping the arm motion at the bottom or anywhere else in the cycle.

Step 5. Coupling motions

The final step is the same as step 4, except the swimmer must learn to simultaneously throw one arm upward toward the sky or ceiling, while finishing the end of the pulling motion of the opposite arm, pressing aggressively downward. By doing so, the increased energy from the recovering arm and rotating shoulders will increase the propulsion from the pulling hand.

Once you can get the swimmers to do these five steps, they will be ready to learn to swim backstroke correctly in the water! For a better visual image of these steps, please check out our video release this week.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

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