Backstroke Best Practices:
*Head still and neutral with the only the eyes, nose and mouth out of the water
*Shoulder out of the water before the arm recovery allowing for a deep pull
*Pulling arm is bent 90 degrees with the fingers pointing to the side wall
*Paddle is made up of the hand and fore arm with a strong neutral wrist
*Opposite hip of pulling arm is up allowing deeper pull
*Long kicking legs with knees underwater
*Feet pointed and extended, great ankle flexibility
*The body is rotated and not flat while keeping shoulders, hips and legs on the surface and not sunk.
The Catch and Pull
During the catch and pull in backstroke, the key is to use your body to get more leverage on the water.
- After the hand enters the water, think about where your hips are. If they’re flat on the water, chances are your shoulders will be, too, which means reaching back. Roll the opposite hip of the stroking arm towards the sky. Your shoulders will follow and you’ll get a better catch.
- Think about grabbing an armful of water and throwing it to your feet.
- Rotate your whole body as one piece.
- Pay attention to where your hand finishes. If it’s palm down under your buttocks, then you’re using your hand to make the rotation happen and not your body.
- Dip the little finger towards the bottom of the pool before you initiate the catch and pull. Make sure you’re deep enough so that your fingers don’t break the surface on the pull.
Having a strong and steady kick is essential to backstroke. Out of all of the strokes, backstroke requires the most vigorous and continuous of kicks.
A few important aspects to work on:
A constant leg motion is required. This doesn’t mean you have to hammer with the legs, but rather keep a gentle steady motion. If the kick stops, the whole lower half of the body sinks, so a steady kick is vital to keeping a long buoyant position on your back.
If you are looking to improve your leg endurance, focus on pure kick sets whilst on your back. Leg strength is one of the most important aspects of backstroke.
When kicking, the ankle should remain relaxed but pointed, not flexed. The ability to bend and point your ankle allows for a snapper motion. Increasing your ankle flexibility will benefit your kick greatly. Try ankle stretches on land or kicking sets using fins.
When kicking, bend into your knees. A misconception is that your legs must remain straight. Hips are long and straight but you shouldn’t lock out at the knees. Instead, allow your knees to naturally bend like a hinge. Imagine you are kicking a soccer ball, you are bending into your knee and focusing on the power coming off your foot. Keep your kick small and narrow. Avoid taking long leg strides (like when running or biking), the feet should not travel further than half a foot up and down.
Backstroke kick momentum is upward. Try to flick your toes up and put propulsion in the upward swing of the foot. Don’t think of kicking downward into the water.
A good way to check on your kick is to tilt your eye gaze down while you’re on your back. You should see your toes break the surface, but not your knees, and should feel like your body position is maintained long at the surface.
Watch a pro in action. Check out Ryan Lochte's backstroke below: