4/15/05 Backstroke Spin Drill
Text and Photo/Video by Glenn Mills
Demonstrated by Lenny Krayzelburg and Jeff Rouse

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Lenny Krayzelburg and Jeff Rouse have many things in common. They’ve both held world records in backstroke. They’ve both won Olympic gold medals for the USA in the 100 backstroke and 400 medley relay (Lenny in 2000 and Jeff in 1996 and 1992). And they both have the same favorite drill. Take a look, try it for yourself, and you’ll under-stand why the Spin Drill rules.

Backstroke Spin Drill is one of the most FUN drills in swimming because it lets you do all the things you’re not supposed to do, and lets you do them in a BIG way. No splash? You want to be covered in spray when you do this drill. Stay hidden and bal-anced? Fugettaboutit. Look up? Rotate your hips? Soft, clean hand entry? No way! No time!

In Backstroke Spin Drill, the key words are aggressive…fast…and quick. You want to move your arms through the recovery phase as fast as you can, and send your hands IMMEDIATELY into the catch.

Why would you want to ignore all the rules? They’re good rules, of course, but some-times you have to shake things up a bit to add a new dimension to your stroke. In backstroke, sometimes we spend too much time thinking about a soft, clean, and smooth hand entry. This is an OK thing to think about, but it can lead to a slow recov-ery, slow rotation, and over-reaching. The tendency is to let the hand “sit” on the sur-face of the water, when what you need to do is drive it THROUGH the surface and into a deep catch. Think of a golf or baseball swing. Would you stop your arms, or pause the rotation of your body, just before you hit the ball? No. You’d send everything THROUGH the movement until WAY after the ball has been struck. Letting the hand hesitate on the water in backstroke is the same as slowing your baseball swing to hit the ball.

How To Do It;
1. Get ready to ATTACK! This drill is so intense that you should do it for only 12 1/2 yards, so remember: no more Mr. Nice Guy. Forget all the rules and think AGGRES-SIVE.

2. Push off on your back and come up right away (see, you’re already breaking one of the rules)! You should be SPINNING your arms before you get to the flags.

3. When you come up, you should be WAY UP. You should feel as if you’re almost sit-ting in the water. Your head and shoulders should be completely out of the water and your eyes should be looking back at the wall, or at your feet. To hold your body out of the water like this, you must do two things. First, you have to keep the arms moving very quickly. If you take too long between strokes, you’ll sink. Second, you need to send the hands THROUGH the surface of the water. This will send you up rather than forward, but remember: Don’t get hung up on rules. This drill is all about breaking rules to learn something valuable in your stroke. When it’s time to lie back in the water and settle into your “normal” stroke, you’ll have a better under-standing of how to send the hands deep and hook into the water immediately.
4. Get UGLY! Be BAD! This ain’t no time to worry about smoothness, flow, and grace. Grit your teeth, grunt, groan, and get MEAN. You can barely see Lenny in these pho-tos, right? That’s because HE’S CRANKING! Your goal is to spin your arms as FAST as you can. You can’t do this AND be smooth or graceful. You’ll be able to see this when you watch Jeff Rouse in the accompanying video clip.
5. When you stop SPINNING, it’s always good to ease into a couple strokes of regular backstroke. As you return to a balanced body position, try to maintain the things you learned in the spin drill: fast, aggressive turnover and a deep, immediate catch with the hands.
Backstroke Spin Drill is an intense, fun drill for swimmers of all ages. Usually, the swimmers who do this the best have pink and red arms after the drill. Don’t worry…it only stings for a couple days. The lessons this drill can teach will last forever.

Glenn Mills is Swimming World Magazine’s technical advisor. Check out his website at