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Backstroke – Pull-Buoy Swimming

If Coach is always telling you that you over-reach in backstroke, here’s a drill that can help.


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What’s over-reaching? Draw an imaginary line that runs right through the center of your body and out the top of your head. Imagine that this centerline extends for 2 or 3 feet above your head. Now swim backstroke. If your hands cross this centerline when they enter the water, you’re over-reaching.


Why is over-reaching a bad thing? Because it’s hard for your hands to find traction and power in that centerline area and because it makes you zigzag down the pool. You can experiment with this on land. Extend your right arm over your head and let the right hand go across the centerline. Notice what happens to your torso. Is it straight, or have you started to lean? Now try to grab some air with your hand. If that air were water, which way would you be heading straight down the lane or off to one side? Now extend your right arm so that the hand is directly above the shoulder, or even off to the side a little bit  at 1 or 2 o’clock. Check you spine, is it straight or leaning? Now grab some air/water, will you send yourself straight or to the side?

It’s easy to find the right entry point when you are sitting or standing on land. It’s harder when you are swimming and rotating and trying to go fast. Most swimmers THINK that their hands are entering at 11 and 1 or 10 and 2, when in fact they’re over-reaching. No wonder it seems like coaches are always nagging about this.

Why Do It:
Pull-Buoy Backstroke is 99% guaranteed to make your hands enter at the right spot. The buoyancy from the pull buoy allows you to sit up a bit in the water so you can actually SEE where your hands are entering. The pull buoy also prevents you from kicking, so you will want to speed up your arm cadence a bit, to keep from sinking. The faster turnover, forces you to enter wider than usual and to enter deeper than usual, which is another element of good technique.

How To Do It:

1. Grab a pull buoy and position it as you would for freestyle.

2. Push off in streamline on your back and start to swim backstroke.

3. Sit up a bit so you can see your hands out of the corners of your eyes.

4. Make sure your hands enter the water pinkie first and at 11 and 1 or 10 and 2. The hands should enter deep and should immediately catch water. It may feel like you are chopping a bit. This is GOOD.

5. Swim about 13 yards like this, then lay your head back in the water and swim the rest of the length as normal backstroke, but with a wide and deep hand entry. Repeat this for several lengths.

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
When you first try the drill, aim for a slightly choppy feeling with the arms and hands. You don’t want to SPIN your hands or be fast and furious with this drill, but a choppy feeling is OK because this will imprint sending your hands deep into the catch.

As you get better at the drill, smooth it out a little bit. Focus less on the CHOP and more on the CATCH.

After several drill lengths, do a set of short intervals of backstroke. Focus on wide and deep hand entry.