UMAC Masters has focused extensively this season on technique. We started in the fall
with an in depth analysis of the catch for all four strokes and how to most effectively grab
water. Starting this spring, we began to explore a concept I’m calling “outrigger canoe”.
This concept allows us to use our arms to both balance our bodies and grab as much
water as possible with each stroke thus improving our efficiency in the water. This brief
on Backstroke will expand upon these concepts and more. The included video segments
should help give a visual to what is described.
For simplicity, I always try and relate a new concept back to freestyle. So, although this
is an article on backstroke, I will start by describing the freestyle catch and drawing out
similarities and differences. In freestyle, I teach a catch on elbow up, fingertips down. I
use a demonstration of wrapping my arm around a big yoga ball to properly achieve this
positioning. In backstroke, there is just a simple replacement of our “yoga ball,” “water
ball,” or “anchor.” Here, the elbow rotates down with the hand to the side. We are
grabbing a ball of water above our head and to the side and pressing as our body slides
past that anchoring. Notice that as Ryan pulls in the video provided below, he keeps his
wrist locked and hand perfectly perpendicular to the water through the pull phase of the
stroke. He does not change his hand pitch or slip through the water in the S-Pattern I so
often see. Rather, he maintains a constant anchor to push himself through. Remember,
increased speed of hand movement through the water rarely equals faster swimming.
With rotation, notice the degree to which the shoulders change angle. Notice that both
shoulders are always pointing in opposite directions (constant rotation, not just moving
one shoulder). He also does not “flip the hand” halfway through the stroke like many
were taught. He exits with his thumb and as his body rotates he allows his hand to. Try
this, stand up where you are and rotate your body from the hips just like backstroke. Now
simulate the arm and hand motion. You should feel as your hand reaches near 11 o’clock
that it naturally wants to rotate. It should be this way when swimming. The pinky does
not rotate down to enter until the hand has almost reached the water. Early forceful
rotation can lead to shoulder problems.
Body Position:
Notice Ryan’s body position. His hips are high just below the surface of the water. His
body is straight not curved or bent as he swims. From his lower back through his head the
body is in alignment. He does not bob his head nor wiggle it (two common mistakes) and
it is not pressed upward or tilted back out of alignment.
Enjoy this clip and look for what was discussed:
Head Position Drills:
For fun during warm down sometime (because we don’t have time for fun in practice),
try doing backstroke top hat drill (same as freestyle, just inverted). Take a yellow or big
red strokemaker paddle and push off holding it squarely on your head. So long as your
head is positioned correctly, the force of you swimming through the water should keep
the paddle square on your head. This drill will also force you to rotate along your long
axis not snake through the water in a wiggling S-Pattern. For those of you who really
want a challenge, try to fully rotate and kick while balancing a bottle on your forehead.
Once that is mastered, try swimming like that. These drills will force you to keep your
head back (in alignment), fully rotate, and keep your body in line. I could not find good
enough videos online but I know more elaborate descriptions can be found. If you have
any further questions or need a more exact description, ask a coach on deck while you
give it a try! More about head position can be read here courtesy of Gary Hall Sr. and
Outrigger Concept:
Imagine an outrigger canoe. It has two long narrow hulls that together make it more
hydrodynamic than one. It is balanced and built for speed. How can we transfer this to
swimming? Kick on your side with both arms down. You should feel a little pull on your
shoulders. Not very efficient right? now kick on your side with one arm extended. Feel
the press on your palm as you stay balanced. You are much more hydrodynamic and
balanced now right? Also notice that while you are on your side in this position, your
reach is the maximum it could possibly be. Now getting this to transfer to the stroke is the
goal. Do a drill like 6-kick switch and feel the extended catch. Now try and swim
grabbing that same amount of water. When paired with the proper catch technique both
lead to a significantly more powerful and balanced stroke.
Watch Ryan’s kicks. The visual I have used is walking on the deck. As we step forward
we have a bent knee. The degree is similar to that we would use when kicking a soccer
ball. Our stationary leg, however, is perfectly straight. You will notice in the video that
the upward kick (for backstroke dolphin kicks) has bent knees and the downward half of
the kick (again for backstroke) is straight leg. Remember that freestyle will be the same
concept of kicking just on your stomach. Too often I see swimmers that are only kicking
up, not down (or down, not up for freestyle). You’re missing 50% of your kick! Think
about how much farther we could go if we really worked both parts. Also notice the
origin of the kick. His upper body is very still as the kick originates from the core. Every
wall is an opportunity to improve this so start playing around with this during practice.
This last video is kind of a fun way to sum all the others up and conclude. Besides, I have
loved watching Tyler swim since I was an age grouper and he was a budding senior level
swimmer. In the shots from above, notice how linear their bodies are. There is no motion
of any kind to the side. Notice the reach they are able to have (outrigger concept). From
the side, watch the rotation, head position, and hand rotation. Underwater, notice the
catch, and dolphin kicks.
If you have any questions about any of what is discussed or shown, please ask your coach
or shoot me an email.
Train Hard, Swim Fast!
Coach Wyatt Bradbury
UMAC Masters
Email: [email protected]