Mar 162012

I’ve been concentrating on backstroke a lot this past year. At one point in my swimming, I absolutely hated backstroke. It was so frustrating to me! I was crooked in the lane, struggled to ever feel smooth in the stroke, and it just felt awful. Let’s face it, I sucked at backstroke.

A few years ago, I decided to spend time with the stroke, the weak link in an otherwise solid IM. This past year, when my knee injury wouldn’t allow me to do breaststroke kick, I thought, “what the heck, I’ll declare myself a backstroker”, and my focus on backstroke really blossomed. Gotta tell ya, it has really been a lot of fun. Backstroke has become my go to stroke in practice, and at meets. How far I’ve come from those days of hating the stroke.

In my journey along the way, I’ve picked up some key pointers from videos, websites, swim clinics, and other swim coaches. One of the most helpful for me personally, deals with rotation. Like freestyle, backstroke is a long-axis stroke, which means we need to rotate hip-to-hip when swimming those two strokes.

As a coach, I’ve observed that many masters swimmers struggle with understanding hip rotation or executing that rotation properly. The amazing Olympic Champion, Aaron Peirsol, said something that really resonated with me. Instead of thinking “rotation” (which can seem rigid when executed), Peirsol talks about feeling “as if I’m sliding my hips back and forth in a bowl”. When I hit the pool and tried that, it felt smoother and more natural.

You see, when you say “rotation” there is a tendency to 1) over rotate and 2) execute that rotation from other body parts, not the hips. We are often guilty of trying to execute from our head, out shoulders, or even our feet, and we end up snaking all over the water.

To make sure you are executing from the hips, here are a couple of pointers.

  1. When you think about rotating, first concentrate on tightening your core.
  2. Next, rotate from the core, but try to keep your ankles, hips, and shoulders all on the same rotational line. To do this successfully, you must maintain a very steady flutter kick. Never stop your flutter kick in backstroke. You don’t have to kick “hard”, but you do have to kick steady.
  3. When you recover the stroking arm, use your hips to place that hand in the water. Do not reach back with your hand.
  4. Your hand should slice through the water, straight off your shoulder or even slightly outside. It is the side of your hand (pinkie finger side) that slices through the water. Don’t let the back of your hand slap the water on entry.
  5. Note that your head is not mentioned in the rotation. That is because your head stays PERFECTLY STILL. Don’t let the head travel with the shoulders, don’t bob your chin up and down. Keep it still, with eyes up. The bowl of your face should be dry with water hitting 0n your chin, just under your bottom lip, and water hitting on your forehead above your goggles.
  6. Now, when you put it all together, think about sliding those hips back and forth in a bowl – just remember to tighten your core!

Ready? Get out to that pool and give this a try. Let me know how you do. And as always, please feel free to comment or question this post!

  2 Responses to “Backstroke Rotation”

  1. Thanks I’m a swimming teacher in the UK and some of my more advanced swimmers are snaking all over the place as if the top half of their body is dis-jointed from the bottom half. I will try those teaching points


    • Julie – great! Glad to know you found some possible new ideas. One of my favorites to correct snaking backstrokers is simply having the swimmer pull backstroke. I like to start them out wearing the pull buoy up between their thighs. Instruct them to hold their core tight, pull in that belly button, and get long in the torso! They also need to keep their feet together and be aware of how much they sway in the feet. The key is awakening their awareness. I like to have them think of connecting their shoulders, hips and ankles. With free, pulling this way is okay, but definitely more challenging to have them put the pull buoy at their ankles.

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