FINIS Tip Of The Week: Backstroke Hand Entry

Welcome to the “FINIS Tip of the Week.” Swimming World will be bringing you a topic that we’ll explore with drills and concepts for you to implement with your team on a regular basis. While certain weeks may be more appropriate for specific levels of swimming (club, high school, college, or masters), each tip is meant to be flexible for your needs and inclusive for all levels of swimming.

This month’s tip series is on backstroke, and our first tip will focus on the hand entry. While this is just one element of the backstroke pull, an incorrect hand entry can lead to a poor catch that will create a domino effect of weakening the pull, disrupting the stroke tempo, and throwing off rotation that will ultimately make the stroke significantly more inefficient.

Thumb Out, Pinky In…

At the most basic level, you want to make sure you are exiting the water with your thumb (as if you are giving a thumbs up) and entering the water with the pinky side of your hand with each pull. Once the hand is in the water, the hand and arm moves immediately to the side and pulls perpendicular to the body.

When you enter the water, the arm will be moving downward before quickly changing direction to begin the pull phase of the stroke. Entering with the pinky side allows you to find your hold on the water as quickly as possible once the hand is in the water and create a powerful pull.

With younger swimmers there are plenty of drills you can do to reinforce this hand position including L drill or big ben drill, but even with older swimmers you want to make sure they are entering correctly and

Accelerate Into The Catch…

The entry into the water should be fast. Speed when the hand is entering the water allows you to quickly move from having your arm straight overhead to initiating the pull out on the side of the body.

A good cue for explaining this is to imagine that you have small weights taped to your hands, giving them the feeling that they are “throwing” their hands into the catch (as a drill you can call this “heavy hands”). You can also practice this doing single arm backstroke or any drill that plays around with backstroke tempo (2-2-2 drill, spin drill, etc.).

One of the most challenging parts of the backstroke pull is quickly finding a good hold on the water so you have a strong, powerful catch, so you want to make sure your hand entry is putting you in the best possible position for a strong catch (which we will get into next week). Happy swimming!

All swimming and dryland training and instruction should be performed under the supervision of a qualified coach or instructor, and in circumstances that ensure the safety of participants.

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Author: James Sica

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James Sica is the Men and Women's Assistant Coach at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been an assistant coach at CMU in Pittsburgh, PA (2015-2017), a volunteer assistant coach with the Harvard women’s program (2014-2015) and an assistant with the Ithaca College men's program (2012-2014).

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