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Be a Safer Swimmer - 360swim SaferSwimmer

May 21, 2006

Backstroke Magic (How to properly swim backstroke?)

Most people view backstroke as one of the most beautiful strokes out there. When swam correctly, the swimmer appears as if gliding on top of the water with rotating arms in smooth motion. Let's have a look how it is done.

There are several aspects that one needs to focus on - head position, leg movement, hip rotation and arm motion. So let us dissect these one by one.

Head Position: The head could be in two different levels, depending on what distance you are swimming. I'll touch on that later. The main position of the head is similar to when sleeping on your back and resting your head on the pillow. Eyes are looking to the sky, neck is relaxed and chin is NOT on the chest. One should not be looking at the walls while swimming, only at the ceiling. If you have the correct position of the head, your hips and legs will be at the surface which will create a nice less resistant swimming glide. This technique is great for 200 backstroke, however, for sprints one should have the chin tilted a little bit forward in order for ones legs and hips to drop lower below the surface. Now you are asking, why would I want to do that? Well, if you are sprinting, you need to kick like mad and if your feet are right at the surface, you really can't do that really well, so by allowing your legs to drop down just a slight bit, you are actually creating more room for your kicking power. It turns out this kicking room compensates nicely for the inconvenience of having your hips a little lower below the surface.

Leg Movement: Well, there is a lot to say about the backstroke kick, but the basic principal applies, if you can't kick, you will probably not be any good at backstroke as backstroke is a very kick driven stroke. Don't bend your knees. Motion starts with the hip and undulates forward to your toes. Relax your ankles. Be sure to practice quite a bit of dolphin kicking on your back off the walls (best dolphin kick exercise there is).

Hip Rotation: Hips are a very important part of backstroke swimming. You should be moving your hips from side to side with each stroke. Backstroke is not swum flat. The hip should lead your arm pull. Meaning: Before you get your arm in the water above your head, your hip should already be there. In other words, hip is the first thing to rotate and the arm stroke follows.

Arm Motion: The normal rule - "thumb up" (when you arm comes out of the water at your hip) and "pinky in" (when you enter above your head back in the water) is perfect, however, the question is, "when do I rotate from thumb up to pinky in?". Well, your best bet is to try it for yourself and see the result. If you are a good observer, you notice that if you rotate your hand too early into the "pinky in" position, your triceps will tighten; hence you are using energy you could have saved. So, my recommendation is to rotate to the "pinky in" position right before your arm is about to enter the water, that way your arm is relaxed above the water almost the entire time (as it should be in all the strokes). The rest of the tips are the good ol’ – keep your elbows locked above the water, do not cross over your body axis with your arms when they enter the water. When in the water, your hand should be about 30 cm (1 foot) below to surface to achieve maximum efficiency.

Feel free to leave any questions in the comment sections, I will do my best to address them. Happy stroking :)Just a side note, all pictures are provided as a courtesy of swim.ee (great technique tip resource)
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.