Fitter And Faster Drill Of The Week: Backwards Freestyle


Welcome to the “Drill of the Week” sponsored by The Fitter and Faster Swim Tour presented by Swimming World will be bringing you a drill, concept, or tip that you can implement with your team on a regular basis. Each article is designed to be easily understood, outlining the what, why, when, and where of each concept in addition to pictures and videos. While certain weeks may be more appropriate for specific levels of swimming (club, high school, college, or masters), Coaches Corner excerpts are meant to be flexible for your needs and inclusive for all levels of swimming.

This week’s drill is backwards freestyle. This is a fun exercise to do with your team that provides a break from the normal routine of practice while also developing greater body awareness in the water. See the info and video below to learn how to implement this drill with your team!

The What:

This a drill that is very much what it sounds like: swimming freestyle backwards! Starting from the wall, your swimmers will position themselves with their feet facing the opposite end of the pool and their arms on the wall. Pushing off the wall, have your swimmers swim freestyle in reverse, breathing as they normally would throughout their stroke.

Swimmers should aim to use their arms almost in a “reverse catch” position, pressing the water toward their heads to propel themselves forward while simultaneously keeping a linear body position.

Push Further….

Use a snorkel to focus in on body position and take the breathing out of the equation. While this makes this drill easier, it also allows you to create sets where your swimmers may seamlessly transition from normal freestyle to backwards freestyle so they are challenged to do the drill over longer distances.

The Why:

On the surface, this doesn’t look like much of a drill at all. But what seems like a simple and playful exercise can also teach your swimmers how to move through the water efficiently. In our sport it is easy to get caught up mindlessly repeating bad habits over and over again. Poor body position, a weak kick, or a mis-timed breath can all go un-noticed by a swimmer throughout the course of a workout or even a season. This drill disrupts those harmful habits and makes your swimmers hyper-aware of what they are actually doing when moving through the water.

Think of this drill as a reset button. Taking time to slow down and force your swimmers to move through the water in a different way will help direct their attention inward and focus on what movements are wasteful or ineffective. When your swimmers then switch back to “normal” freestyle, they will be more aware of the intricacies of their stroke and have greater ability to correct any mistakes they are making in body position. Just like a timing drill in breaststroke would help to spot “dead spots” in the stroke, this drill will help your freestylers do the same.

It is normal for some swimmers to struggle with this drill. The coordination, balance, and patience required make it frustrating for some, so be prepared to deal with some resistant athletes. Be on the lookout for certain “tricks” that will help them get the drill right: Are their feet at the surface? Are they using their whole arm to move water forward or are they sliding through their “catch”? Is their head position stable and in line with the rest of their body line? Asking these questions will help them realize what to look for to be successful with this drill.

The When:

Backwards Freestyle can be implemented at any point throughout the season. As with any skill, practice makes perfect, so introduction into workouts earlier rather than later will help your swimmers continue to master the skill while practice intensity increases during the year. Working this drill into warm-up, get ready sets, sprint sets, and even warm down can help your swimmers reset and stay focused throughout a workout.

Push Further:

Combine this drill with short sprints to disrupt old habits and bring attention to the little details that go into swimming fast. Backwards Freestyle can then act as both recovery and another chance for them to focus on their technique. Try a set like this:

4 Rounds:

     25 fast breakout

     25 build to fast finish

     25 backwards freestyle

     25 full sprint

     50 easy

In Conclusion:

This is an exercise to develop greater awareness of body position in the water in a fun and different way. This drill will help break old habits and make swimmers hyper-aware of how they are moving through the water. Did this drill work for your swimmers? Comment below to share how your athletes reacted to this quiet drill and don’t forget to check back for regular postings of Coaches Clipboard!

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