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Backstroke – Thumb Backstroke

Swimmers seem to have a gene that makes them search for the style of swimming that feels the most productive. Because of this, they frequently put themselves into positions that aren’t necessarily productive.


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Take the backstroke pull, for example. Pulling with a straight arm can FEEL productive. In most cases, it’s the way the stroke is taught, so this is a common problem that’s built into the stroke from the beginning. A combination of limited natural rotation, and the desire to feel a STRONG pull tends to make the arm stay straight, and sweep wide.

Why Do It:
This drill is just one of the things a swimmer can try in order to get a better bend in the arm, earlier in the catch. Anything that helps you develop a bent-arm pull, whether it’s pulling on the lane line (drill), or focusing on more rotation, can help with this aspect of your stroke.

How To Do It:

1. Start by swimming normal backstroke.

2. When you begin your pull, think about the path of your thumb. Think of your thigh as the target, and send your hand directly to the target. You want to sweep…or touch…the thumb to the thigh upon the finish of the DOWN sweep.

3. As your hand sweeps downward past the thigh, make sure the thumb makes contact with the thigh.

4. Send the hand out of the water and into the recovery, and repeat with the other hand.

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

Have a teammate or coach hop into the pool and watch you from under water. Determine how soon you initiate the arm-bend. You’ll probably feel MUCH more narrow when you do this, and feel like you’ve given away all your power.

You’ll have to decide if you’re truly more powerful with a straight arm, or with a bent arm. To do this, try to lift your entire body out of the pool without bending your arms.

This drill is much easier to do if you rotate. And it will probably let you rotate at a quicker rate than normal. The bent arm allows you to develop more power and this, in turn, enables you to pull your arm through the water more quickly. This higher rate, linked with more power, is one of the keys to swimming FAST backstroke.