Backstroke – “Topher” Drill

Young swimmers have a HUGE tendency to pull with a very straight arm in backstroke. A great drill for correcting this is the old pull-on-the-lane-line drill, but that creates its own problems.


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Here’s a fun way to correct a straight-arm pull that pretty much goes against EVERYTHING we know about teaching backstroke… but seems to work a bit for one swimmer named Christopher… hence the name: ‘Topher Drill.

Why Do It:
Teaching impressionable swimmers that the backstroke pull is NOT done with a straight arm is extremely important in their development. Failure to create a nice bent arm pull can lead to shoulder problems, slow turnover, slow times, depression at meets, and an incredible dislike of BACKSTROKE!

How To Do It:

1.  Start by swimming regular backstroke.

2.  Initiate the catch as you normally would. Don’t worry too much about the first part of the pull, just get think about the next step and see what happens to the catch.

3. During the press to the hips, SPLASH the water ABOVE the surface. This is where it goes against what we’re USUALLY working on… good rotation to get the hands beneath the surface here. Don’t worry, we’ll eventually work back to that.

4. Make this splash happen CLOSE to their body, and be careful that the splash is heading BACK and not ACROSS the body. This will indicate that the push is more linear than a sweep. Now you know the hands are pushing you in the correct direction.

5. After a few laps, do the EXACT same thing… except… DO NOT splash the water above the surface. Voila!

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
This drill will FEEL less powerful than a straight-arm pull, but it’s actually MORE powerful. A straight-arm press outward at the beginning of the pull is actually a very weak move; it feels powerful only because you’re working very hard to move the arm in this way. A bent-arm pull delivers more power.

The swimmer may perceive this as all WRONG, but as long as they’re being watched by a highly skilled professional (you, their friends, constant readers of our website), they’ll be instructed to do it correctly.