Thursday, October 7, 2010

I Learned the Backstroke! Why (I think) it is important for Freestyle

I learned the Backstroke tonight! It really wasn't that hard, you just had to break it down to its core elements and then build it up.

Kicking on your back is all about balance and propulsion. Balance is keeping yourself perfectly horizontal in the water and propulsion is kicking from your hips to MOVE.

Here were my steps to learning the backstroke:
  • #1 Kicking on your back with fins
  • #2 Kicking on your back with fins, one armed backstroke
  • #3 Putting the two arms together and doing the backstroke with fins
  • #4 Kicking on your back, NO fins
  • #5 Kicking on your back with NO fins, one armed backstroke
  • #6 Putting the two arms together and doing the backstroke with NO fins
So basically I started off with the fins for confidence, propulsion, and flotation aids, especially when introducing the arm elements. The flotation aid and confidence thing go hand and hand, since worrying about sinking and getting water in your face and up your nose distracts you from your shoulder rotation and arm swings. Take that out of the equation, and you can concentrate on what your shoulders and arms ARE doing.

The added propulsion you get with using the fins also aids your balance. The faster you go, usually the more balanced you go. Its kind of like riding a bike. You know how if you go REALLY slow that your balance is more unstable? And once you get moving pretty quickly its really easy to balance the bike? Same thing in the water.

So once I graduated to doing the one armed backstroke, I concentrated on leading and following action: aka you use your shoulder rotation to garner the movement to get that arm out of the water. You aren't simply swinging your arm straight up and out of the water, its a WHOLE body movement. You are using your core to drive your body's rotation to get your arm out of the water. The more shoulder rotation, the easier the arm is going to come out of the water.

After 4 x 25 of one armed, I put the two together. It was a bit of a coordination effort, but once I figured out the timing, it became quite smooth and I was on autopilot from there.

Then I took the fins off.

And it was frustratingly slow. Fins make you go FAST.

So I started all over (step #4 listed above) and built my way back up. Other than going slower, my balance was still good and I got it figured out.

Done and done!!! (I have now accomplished 2 out of my 3 swimming goals this off season)

Things to note:
  • DONT lift your head. You will immediately sink and water will go over your face and up your nose. When this started happening to me, I looked up and the problem went away.
  • Once you cross the flags, you have about 3 strokes and then its time to flip over, else head meets wall and OUCH!
  • When you are lifting your arm out of the water, imagine a line that is going directly over the middle of your body. You want your hand to go through that line. Correct body rotation will allow this.
AND now for why (I think) backstroke is important for freestyle:

I will admit that my freestyle rotation sucks. I get lazy with it. After a 100 yards of backstroke, flip over for some freestyle and you will be AMAZED at the ease of rotation you will suddenly have. Remember, rotating that core is added propulsion!

I am a new follower of Laura @ Authentic Living and she has a GREAT post on freestyle rotation. Its a great read and has given me a lot of great swimming tips and ideas. Thank you Laura!


  1. I love doing backstroke--it's actually my favorite stroke except I have trouble with backstroke flip turns (and not freestyle for some reason)

    And it is definitely important for freestyle! Good for you for learning it!

  2. I really like to do backstroke too! I'm glad you learned how to do it!
    Thanks for the link to a new blog looks like a good one!

  3. I always slam my hands into the wall.. OUCH! next up - butterfly! :P

  4. So THATS what the flags are for!

  5. Backstroke works many different muscles as well, making you a better balanced swimmer and athelete. Plus, on your back, you can balance a beer on your belly as you look at the clouds.

  6. I usually do a few lengths of backstroke during my warm up and cool down for the same reason.

    As for the flags, tip #1: make sure the flags are in place.

    Once, I didn't notice they took the flags down for a water polo match the night before. I was just beginning to think, "That seemed like 25 yards" when *thunk*, there goes my head into the pool wall. Not at all pleasant.

  7. SAWEET!!! I shout out! Thanks man! I have more to add after last nights session, but will have to wait until later today! :)

    Basically ROTATION!! one armed freestyle using your rotation instead of pull. SLOW going, but money on feeling your core do the work!

  8. Nice Jon! Gonna add the backstroke to my winter list too .. you sold me!

  9. Tell me more! How long did you rest? Were swimming and biking okay? I HATE, HATE, HATE being injured. If you try and tell me not to cross train I will pummel you in LP next year!

  10. 100 back and 200 free were my events when i use to swim competively.

  11. I luv my fins! But they can be addictive.

  12. Funny... when I competed in swimming (5th - 9th grade), I *hated* free. HATED hated hated. I was a breast stroker all around... but did back every once in a while. Being put in a free event was like punishment from the coach!

    Learning efficient rotation can take SO much time off!! And head positioning! And kicking from your hips! Haha I am taking swimming as a class right now (my major needs 5 PE credits) and I feel like I'm learning something new every day! Just goes to show... there is always room for improvement!


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