The catch and the rotation are two KEY components of backstroke. Neither is instinctive, however, and that can make them difficult too attain for most swimmers.
When people are learning backstroke, they are taught to focus on…. well… being on their back. While this is extremely important, it does tend to start the person off with the understanding that this stroke is done ON the back.
Contrary to popular belief, backstroke is really done sort-of on the back, but mostly on the side. This takes time to learn, but makes a TREMENDOUS difference in the effectiveness of the pull.
An easy way to practice the catch and rotation is Single-Arm Backstroke. It’s a simple drill ‘ just take a couple of strokes with your right arm, then take a couple of strokes with your left arm. The motion is easy to accomplish. It’s the FOCUS that takes some work. The focus is not necessarily on the PULLING ARM, but on the shoulder that’s NOT being used in the pull.
How To Do It:
1. Start in a balanced position on your side. This swimmer has his right arm extended, but you can start with either arm you choose.
2. Initiate the pull with the leading arm. Keep your head still, and don’t let your body move or roll quite yet; stay on your side.
3. As your hand finishes the pull, your body can now "snap" over to the other side. At this point, focus your attention on the pulling arm’s shoulder. Make sure it’s clear of the water to allow for an easy recovery.
4. As you recover the pulling arm, you may notice your trailing hand pushing down a bit, even if you try to relax it. Don’t fight this, because you’re getting a little bonus work here, teaching your trailing hand "the finish" in your backstroke pull.
5. After you’ve taken 2 or 3 pulls with one arm, maintain your rhythm and go right into two strokes with the other arm.
How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
1. When you recover your pulling hand, make sure you’ve cleared the water with your shoulder. Keep your head stable, and direct your fingertips to the sky.
2. After your pulling hand has entered the water, make sure you keep your head stable, but focus now on rolling your body so that the shoulder of the trailing, or relaxed, arm is completely out of the water.
The additional benefit of this drill is a deep, effective "catch’ with the hand. It’s a great way to practice the backstroke pull as well. It forces the pulling hand a bit deeper in the water, which makes it tougher to less likely that you’ll do a straight-arm pull. A deep catch encourages a bent-arm pull, which is more effective.