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Backstroke Training Drills to Refine your Technique


They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you always get in the pool and swim your stroke without thinking about the different elements that are involved, you’re not likely to make big improvements. Breaking the stroke down into specific exercises or drills that isolate a certain part, whether it is the kick, an arm action or the breathing, will help you to identify weak areas and refine your technique.

Here are some common training drills for Backstroke. They’re useful both for beginners who want to understand and learn each part and for strong swimmers who want to optimise their stroke.

Single arm with a float:

Using a float gives you support whilst you focus on one arm at a time. You can think about a smooth hand entry, feel the resistance of the water as you push back and focus on pushing the water instead of scooping your arm. Doing one arm at a time helps you to recognise whether one arm is stronger or weaker than the other. You should let your body roll whilst doing this drill, to ensure you get a deep push under the water.

Single arm without a float:

For swimmers who don’t need a float for support or confidence, the single arm drill without a float requires a little more strength in the push and kick. You can hold your resting hand over your chest or keep it down by your leg. Some people like to hold their resting arm out wide as a stabiliser, but this prevents you from rolling and getting a strong, deep arm stroke.

Using a Pullbuoy:

Using a pullbuoy can help you focus on your arm pull in full stroke rhythm (rather than isolating one arm at a time). If you normally kick furiously just to stay afloat, a pullbuoy will keep your legs near the surface allowing you to focus on arm technique at a calm pace. Because the backstroke kick normally acts like a rudder to balance your body, using a pullbuoy can cause your legs to snake from side to side as you swim. You can either ignore this feeling, or you can tense your oblique muscles (those around the sides of your waist) to keep your legs straight.

Switch Arms:

Sometimes, swimmers get into a bad habit of doing a full rotation of one arm, keeping the other resting by the leg, before doing a pull with the other arm. Ideally, when swimming backstroke, both arms are moving all the time, staying generally opposite each other. The switch arm drill helps to get a swimmer out of the habit of pulling one arm at a time. To do this drill, hold one arm at the entry position above the head and hold the other arm at the exit position down by the leg. Kick for a while, then switch arms so that the one that was up above the head pulls down under the water and is now down by the leg and the arm that was by the leg passes over the water to the entry position above the head. Kick for a while and switch again. Gradually, you shorten the duration of kick between each switch until you are smoothly pulling a continual backstroke.

Using fins:

Fins (or flippers) can provide a good workout for your leg muscles and strengthen your kick. They amplify both good and bad technique, so if your ankles are stiff, you will find that the fins slice or slap the water and you won’t move very far or fast. With loose ankles and good technique, you will go really fast in fins! Because you can travel very quickly in fins, it is ideal to hold the arms up above the head so that they touch the wall at the end of the length and protect your head from impact. Otherwise, use flags or markers around the pool to recognise when you are close to the wall and turn on to your front before you collide with the end of the pool.

Increasing cadence:

Backstroke can be a gentle, relaxing way to swim, especially as your face is out of the water and breathing is more comfortable than front crawl. However, if you are interested in racing or improving your fitness, then it is worth challenging yourself to speed up when you swim. It is easy to get into the habit of a slow and steady rhythm, so start your length in the normal way, then attempt to increase the rate in which your arms rotate over the course of a length. Of course, with the added speed, be mindful of banging your head against the wall at the end of a length and take measures to prevent this.

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