Backstroke: Everything You Should Know
Freestyle, breaststroke, and butterfly gets a lot of love and are more of the faster strokes out there. One thing they all have in common? You can actually see where you’re going, which makes for a less scary thought when competing with several other swimmers. Meanwhile, backstroke is performed on your back and you are blind in what you are doing. Despite all the challenges this stroke entails, successfully pulling it off is a reward that makes it all worthwhile.
Before you practice more on your backstroke, here are 8 important things you should know about it.
Kick from the hips, not the knees
Doing a stroke that feels completely topsy-turvy can unconsciously make you do things in reverse. When taking on the backstroke, it’s important that you kick from your hips instead of your knees. Use the ‘flutter’ kick to give you more power without getting sore knees. To do this, straighten your legs, place them close together, and line them up below your hips. Backstroke newcomers often find themselves kicking from their knees, however the key is to feel that your kick originates from your hips, which will ripple down to your toes. If you’re still not sure if you’re doing it right, have someone to take a look and see if you’re breaking the surface of the water while you’re kicking. This would mean that you’re still kicking from the knees.
Unlike other strokes, backstroke does allow you to breathe whenever you want, as your face never fully submerges in the water. Despite this, however, it’s still recommended to breathe once per arm cycle. For example, breathe in as one arm leaves the water, and then breathe out as the other leaves the water. Deep, steady breathing is vital to keep your momentum and pace.
When you’re swimming blind, it’s only within our natural instincts to want to look around. In competition, you’d want to know where other swimmers are at, how fast they’re going, and whether or not you’re close to the wall. To be able to swim backstroke to the best of your abilities requires the strongest will to constantly look up towards the sky or ceiling. Don’t let your head follow your shoulder rotation – five-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer, Miss Franklin Johnson, has a simple drill to help with this. Place a water bottle on your forehead to keep your head and bodyline straight, so you can swim faster and straighter.
Take advantage of your arms
One of the main sources of power in backstroke are your arms. To utilize them to the maximum, there are specific techniques in how to move them in the water. Firstly, you’ll need to be able to grip the water well enough to be able to rotate quick, so you’ll accelerate your arms through the water. Do this by pulling your arm to your hip as fast as you can, once your hands enter the water. Furthermore, avoid crisscrossing in the lane by entering your hands just outside of your shoulders. This neutral position will help you start the pulling motion sooner, so you can move faster in the water.
Relax your neck and ankles
Drag is a swimmer’s worst enemy and you want to do everything in your power to avoid it. When it comes to backstroke, the biggest source of drag is the positioning of your head. When your neck is not relaxed and your chin is tucked in, your head picks up, which will remove the streamline figure and increase drag. Remember to keep your neck relaxed to keep you in alignment and water low. Not only does it keep you relaxed but it will also give you a nice, smooth-feeling in the water. Loose ankles are also good in pushing water back. The idea is not to push water up and down, resulting in huge water splashes above the surface, but to push it back and used as a way to propel you forward. By having flexible and relaxed ankles, your ankles won’t be tempted to kick.
Use the hips
Staying flat on the surface is the goal when you’re doing the backstroke. The biggest challenge is to have your hips float as close to the surface as possible, as most people sink their hips down a little. Being as flat as you can will help with being streamlined, which will help you move through the water faster. However, when it comes to rotating your shoulders, a little bit of hip rotation is needed. Flat hips can limit the rotation of your shoulders, leaving you with a shallow pulling motion. When the hip moves to help your shoulders, you’ll get more out of your pulling motion. Like with everything, moderation is key and it’s vital that you get the right balance between too much and too little hip movement.
Trust everyone else around you
When you can’t see your surroundings, you’re going to have your trust your instincts. You’ll also have to trust everyone else that they are swimming the way they should be. Of course, bumping into other swimmers are commonplace in public pools. However, this doesn’t mean you have to be cautiously looking out for potential grazers. Just remember proper lane etiquette, such as letting fast swimmers pass or delaying pushing off when someone is coming in to turn.
Slipping off the starts are real
Backstroke is the only swimming stroke that requires swimmers to start in the water, compared to other strokes where you would normally dive into the water. Slipping at the start doesn’t happen as often thanks to the introduction of backstroke start wedges. Even with this additional help, your power and explosive start relies on you being firmly planted by digging your feet into the wall. A simple tip is to ‘screw’ your feet into the wall, the same way you would on a starting block. Elite swimmers still struggle with the occasional slip, so don’t feel bad if you’re still trying to get the hang of it.