Backstroke is the only type of competitive stroke on the back and also the one that starts from inside the water. It is very similar to the Front Crawl except for one significant difference: the head is in a neutral position facing up, eyeing at the ceiling, unlike the pool floor in front crawl. Also, backstroke is ahead of the breaststroke in terms of average speed. Competitively it is one of the most difficult to master in spite of being of the easiest to learn as a beginner. Ryan Murphy, Aaron Piersol, and Lenny Krayzelburg are some of the greats who mastered the stroke. The one common attribute of their success was the fact that each one of them stuck to their basics while building their supremacy. Here are some advanced tips to help improve your performance in backstroke swimming.
Flat body with the head pointing the ceiling
This is probably the most important as well as the most challenging task to achieve while practising the stroke. The entire body is supposed to be as flat as much possible to reach the maximum speed in the backstroke. The human instinct while swimming on the back is to look around. This the last thing you would want to do if you would commit before getting out of the race. The face should be pointing straight up. Use the ceiling or clouds to keep yourself straight. Moving down, the hips tend to go gown inside the water if you try to bring your ears out. This will work but reduce your speed a lot. Be comfortable with the ears underwater and try to focus on the form more than anything. Besides ears, try to keep the hips as close to the surface of the water as much possible. But the hips should still be slightly underwater with flutter kicks similar to that in front crawl. Meanwhile, don’t forget to keep your neck relaxed in the process.
Work on arm action and speed: Backstroke Swimming
Arms are used to pull the water beneath the back such that the body moves backwards. They are the primary source of power in backstroke swimming. Proper shoulder rotation leads to fluid arm motion by the ears to bring the best results. The thumb should lead while bringing the arm out of the water.
On the other hand, the little finger should enter the water first with the straight hand, palm facing outwards. Make sure that the arm movement is motored by shoulders and not the other war round. Also, the arm should pass by the ears in the motion.
After entering the water, scull your hand outwards and downwards. With elbow bent, pull the water till it reaches a position in a line between upper chest and shoulders. Now, rotate your palm to face your feet and push through the water before lifting it out of the water.
While keeping the form intact, work on the arm speed and try to accelerate the above motion as much as possible. The shoulder muscles have to dominate more in this move than they do in other strokes. So work on building the shoulder strength both in and out of the pool.
Flutter kick from the hips not knees
Instead of the knees, kick from the hips while keeping the legs close. For speed, thrust your legs as hard as you can but for longer endurance, go for brisk and clean movement. Also, the knee should be slightly bent. The muscles in the lower leg also play a critical role in the backstroke. Don’t forget to keep your ankles relaxed in the process. Because the goal isn’t to push water up or down in the backstroke kicking, rather push water back. Flexible ankles are essential in getting it right. To plant the top of the foot and push the water back, you need to have better flexibility to go along with strength. Work on the same while you are off-pool and try to execute the motion as close to perfection as possible. Watch the video for better understanding and drills on the same.
Avoid holding breath: Backstroke Swimming
Unlike other forms of competitive strokes, backstroke swimming allows you to keep your nose out of the water all the time. Still, the strenuous motion makes people resort to holding the breath unconsciously. This will never help you get better results in the long run. Try to sync your breathing with the arm movements. Typically, swimmers inhale when one arm passes the ear and exhale as the other does the same. This assists in keeping up with the pace for hands as well as breath.
Master the flip turn along with dolphin kicks
To be able to turn in the laps efficiently is one of the critical aspects of excelling in the sport. The flip turn is something used in all the strokes competitively but has just the opposite approach in this one. Rotate your body on to the front as you approach the end and stop both arms at the thigh. Now, perform a full forward somersault underwater and plant the feet on the wall. Kick powerfully form bent legs while staying on your back and elongate your arms to ears to cut through the water easily. Remain streamlined and parallel to the water surface to start the dolphin leg kick underwater. This will help you get ahead while you are still underwater. Start rotating your hands as you move to the surface to begin the backstroke swimming again.
Other muscles used in backstroke swimming
There is extensive use of small muscles of the rotator cuff, especially the subscapularis and the teres minor. Doctors advise patients with back problems to try this swimming stroke as it will help in relaxing the muscles and straightening it.