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Backstroke – Wave Drill

Backstroke is one of the first strokes a swimmer learns. They get the hang of it in the earliest levels of Red Cross lessons, and then move on to the other strokes. Unfortunately, many swimmers never take their backstroke beyond the kind of flat-on-your-back, windmilling style they learned as a kid. Here’s a drill that helps teach some of the finer points of timing and rotation.


Add to Cart View Cart – Watch Gold Medalist Jeff Rouse and his fantastic recovery.


Why Do It:
If you watch kids in the guppy, tadpole, and goldfish lessons at your local pool, you’ll see a similarity in the way they do backstroke. Most are flat on their back. They send one hand in, take a frantic straight-arm pull, and then STOP the hand at the thigh. When that hand STOPS, they start to lift the other hand out of the water. This kind of stop-and-go timing works OK at the guppy level, but won’t win many races for you.

Wave Backstroke focuses on timing. It helps you learn WHEN to move the arms so that you take full advantage of the natural rotation of the body.

How To Do It:

1. Push off on your back in streamline, and then take one pull so that you end up in Extended Balance (one arm at your side and one arm fully extended above your head). Use flutter kick to keep moving.

2. Lift the hand that is at your side 6 to 10 inches out of the water. Keep the other arm fully extended as you do this. You don’t have to lift the hand very far, just enough to get the feeling.

3. Let the hand drop back gently to your side. Repeat the wave (gently lift and lower the hand) three or four times and then…

4. Complete the recovery and switch to Extended Balance on the other side.

5. Repeat the wave on this new side.

6. The idea is to initiate the recovery BEFORE your initiate the pull. Repeating the wave motion on each stroke helps to burn this timing into your neuro-muscular pathways so that it becomes a natural part of your backstroke technique.

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):

1. Stay long and balanced from fingertips to toes as you wave the bottom hand. Keep the lead arm extended and your head still. The eyes should look straight UP.

2. Lift the trailing arm STRAIGT UP toward the ceiling, and lead with the THUMB. The swimmer in our photos and video is leading with the back of the hand. This keeps the hand and arm nice and relaxed for the drill, but you should switch to leading with the thumb during training and racing.

3. Enter pinkie first with the hand.

4. Keep the head rock steady through the entire drill.

5. Alternate several lengths of Wave Backstroke with several lengths of regular Backstroke with wave-like timing.