On holiday, backstroke gives you the opportunity to enjoy blue skies or even stars overhead, and in a pool, the chance to vary your workout. But the stroke is not without its difficulties, not least because the majority of us are asymmetric, making even swimming in a straight line somewhat challenging!
The following technique tips for perfecting your backstroke will help you learn how to master the stroke and enjoy your swims, anywhere:
Position in the water
Your face should be above the water with your body close to the surface. To achieve this, keep your neck relaxed and your eyes looking toward the sky or ceiling. Push your tummy up toward the surface, engage your core and keep your body straight.
This helps to streamline your body shape so you can move smoothly through the water. If you need to practice holding your body in this position, try using a kickboard until you feel comfortable or Zoggs training Finz to strengthen your legs and your kick.
Once you’ve adopted the right posture and position in the water, it’s time to focus on controlling your arm and leg movements and the rhythm of your strokes and breathing.
Your arms are the driving force in this stroke so begin slowly to get a feel for the correct position.
Your arms should be straight and parallel with your body and be led by your thumb as they come up out of the water. Once the arm is level with your shoulder, rotate your hand outwards so that the little finger is the first to cut back into the water at shoulder-width above your head. This will cause both your upper body and your hips to rotate slightly from left to right as you swim.
Keep your fingers relaxed but held together with your palm flat and open. This makes your hands work like paddles that will catch the water and propel you forward. The most common mistake that is made in backstroke is that swimmers will pull their arm down in a wide sweeping arc, either under or to the side of their body resulting in the loss of a large part of the potential propulsion that your arm can provide, as well as, in many cases a face full of water!
Each arm stroke should incorporate; the catch, where your arm first begins to move down and you angle your hand to capture the water; the skull or S-shape similar to that of front crawl as your hand passes your head and upper body; the propulsion, following the S movement, your hand returns to your side at around waist height and is then used to push the water down and away until your arm is fully extended next to your body, resulting in the majority of the propulsion from the stroke. Many swimmers miss this last part of the arm stroke and lift their arm too soon, causing them to lose power and speed from the stroke.
Your arms should work something like a windmill; while one is coming up out of the water by your side, the other should be going back in above your head. Although your arms create the majority of the propulsion in this stroke, the legs help drive you forward and stabilise your position in the water.
Keep your legs close together, relax your knees and ankles and point your toes down to elongate and streamline the shape of your leg and foot.
Kicking movements should be led by the hip and follow through in a fluid movement right to the tips of your toes. Kicking should be rhythmic and continuous
Safe, comfortable and controlled swimming requires good breathing technique and this is one of the easiest strokes to develop that in. You can take breaths at any time but try to create a rhythm that matches your stroke. Once you’ve established a breath-pattern that works for you, you’ll be able to swim without focusing on it.
Staying in a straight line can be particularly difficult when swimming backstroke, not only because you tend to have a stronger pull on one side, but quite simply, because you can't see where you're going! Pick a line on the ceiling of your pool, if you have one, and try to follow it, or if there's no line or markings, you can use the wave breakers that separate the lanes. If you swim fairly closely to the wave breaker, you should be able to sense your position in relation to it, as well as using your peripheral vision to keep a check on it from time to time.
This stroke, particularly for beginners, can cause a fair amount of surface splash so it’s wise to wear goggles. They keep water out of your eyes and if you’re in a swimming pool, can help you to focus on a straight line on the ceiling overhead. Likewise, you should safeguard visibility by tying long hair back or by wearing a swimming cap.