Backstroke is also commonly referred to a back crawl. Learning how to swim it is not particularly difficult - certainly not as much as a stroke like butterfly - but it can be tricky to master. The basics of the backstroke are easy enough and even novice swimmers can get into the rhythm of the stroke without too much of a problem. However, if you are looking to decrease your length times and improve the efficiency of your stroke, then more advanced techniques are required. These take a little time to apply properly, so don’t be put off if they don’t have an immediate effect. Remember to apply yourself in each swimming session and that the effect of all the measures you take will be cumulative. No one masters their swimming technique overnight.
Make Sure You Are Doing The Basics Right
Before working on anything new in your backstroke technique it is a good idea to make sure your basic stroke is as good as you can get it. Ask someone with some experience to watch your technique over several lengths. The proper backstroke usually starts out well with most swimmers, but problems of ‘lazy’ technique creep in as they tire. If possible, make a video of your swim session so that you can review your technique for yourself.
Something good to check on is your flutter kick process. This should be right-left-right-left in a rhythm that is going at twice the rate of your arm stroke. Look at the amount of splash your feet are creating. Excessive splash is a sign wasted effort, so try to minimise this. Your legs will bend at the knee but this should not be excessive. All said, your leg and spine should be lateral and just below the waterline.
With your arm stroke, lean into it so that your body swivels on an imaginary axis that runs down your middle - from head to toe. Begin with your body rotated to the side that you will begin your first arms stroke with. On that side of your body, whether right or left, your corresponding hip and shoulder ought to be underwater with your mouth just above the surface, allowing you to breath. Once your arms stroke is completed, you should be in the same position, but on the opposite side.
Improving Your Speed
Backstroke arm technique is tricky to master. Your arm should hit the water at a full out stretch, and be in line with your shoulder. Imagine your hand is holding onto a shelf with your fingertips pointing toward the walls. Your hand should hit the water side on, like a karate chop, but as soon as it is under swivel your forearm to make a scoop which will push as much water past your body as possible, improving your speed.
As you pull through with your arm stroke it is not necessary to keep your arm straight at the elbow. By allowing it to flex you can actually push more water. However, try not to allow your arm to go floppy. Use your strength to hold it in a bent position as you push. When you reach the end of your length try tumble turning. This takes some effort to master and to time correctly, but it will vastly improve your overall speed. Watch the ceiling as you swim to judge how close you are to the wall so that you can time your turns perfectly.
When racing, swim under the water in a dolphin-like style with double leg kicks, following your initial breakout from the wall. Keep your body in a streamlined position when under the surface but ensure that you break the waterline before 15 metres have been swum.
Make sure you are generating equal rotation on either side of your body, when swimming backstroke competitively. Try to avoid favouring your ‘strong’ side and pull some weights on your ‘weak’ side to even things up.