Swim Drill Of The Week: Underwater Backstroke Recovery

Welcome to the “Swim Drill of the Week”. Swimming World will be bringing you a drill, concept, or tip that you can 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), Drill Of The Week excerpts are meant to be flexible for your needs and inclusive for all levels of swimming.

This week’s drill is Underwater Recovery for backstroke. Similar to underwater recovery for freestyle, this drill works on developing a strong hold on the water to create a more powerful and effective pull. Because of the nature of backstroke, this drill is a little bit more complicated than when doing it for freestyle.

Starting on their backs, swimmers will initiate a backstroke pull as they normally would, starting with their arm overhead in line with their shoulder and pressing all the way down to their hip. During the pull phase of the stroke, the elbow should be deep and the hand should be shallow, creating a strong hold on the water that allows the swimmer to dig in and really accelerate during all phases of the stroke.

Once swimmers complete their pull, instead of bring their arm overhead with a straight arm recovery, they will slide it along their torso back to the starting position of the pull. This is an inherently unnatural movement, but that is part of the point of the drill. Swimmers will need to utilize their rotation and kick to keep a good body position in the water as they move their arm back up as they begin their next stroke.

When first doing this drill, it is helpful to only concentrate on a single arm so that swimmers get used to the feel of the drill. Once they are proficient with one arm, you can work on alternating arms, as if they were swimming normally.

This is an especially useful drill for more more advanced swimmers who may struggle with backstroke. By focusing just on the pull, it allows swimmers to see where they may be slipping in their stroke while also reminding them of the importance of the core and kick in maintaining a good body position. As a coach, watch for swimmers who may be pulling with a straight arm or who  may not be finishing their stroke powerfully. 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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