The backstroke is a relaxing and less strenuous swimming stroke, since you don't have to keep your face under water during the stroke, but the proper technique required to be fast at it can be difficult to master. To improve your backstroke and increase your speed, it's important to point out and fix any mistakes in your backstroke technique. Backstroke swimming drills, along with practicing the backstroke regularly with the correct technique, will help you improve your competitive backstroke.
Improve your Technique
Check your turning technique and correct as needed. Turning is when you turn around at the wall after finishing a lap, so you can swim the opposite direction. The goal is to turn with minimal effort and maximal speed. When you get close to the pool wall, rotate forward underwater and do a somersault, with your hands tucked next to your legs. When your feet become close to the wall, push off from the wall with your feet using your leg muscles, with your knees open. Arrive on your back and straighten out to perform the backstroke.
Bring your awareness to your body's position when you do the backstroke. Keep your body relatively parallel with the surface of the pool. Avoid dropping your hips low beneath the water; you want to be as flat as possible in order to increase your speed, but there will be an inevitable dip in the hips, as the leg action happens underwater. Tilt your head slightly back so that the water covers your ears and you can see behind you; trying to hold it up will slow you down by making your hips drop too low. If you tuck in your chin while swimming the backstroke, it will create resistance. Relax your neck, which will allow your body to naturally straighten.
Practice the correct kicking technique that will propel you forward the fastest when swimming the backstroke. Your legs should be together when you kick. Do not kick from the knees, as this is inefficient; your knees should be straight. Instead, kick from the hips, so that the entire lengths of your legs are used to kick and propel you across the water. Relax your ankles. Without sacrificing this proper form, you want to kick as hard and as quickly as possible when performing the backstroke.
Correct your arm action as needed; make sure your thumb leads as your hand leaves the water and your pinky finger leads when your hand re-enters the water, which means your palms face away from you. Keep your elbows straight; arm movement happens from the shoulders. Keep your arms close to your ears when they pass them.
Drills to Improve your Backstroke
Do single-arm backstroke drills to strengthen your arm action for the backstroke. Keep one arm relaxed at your side and use the other arm to do the backstroke arm action. Focus your awareness on your body's position in the water and your hip and shoulder rotation to improve your form and technique. Remember to do both arms.
Do the rhythm drill to strengthen your arms for the backstroke. Alternate doing two strokes with your right arm, then two strokes with your left arm. The arm that's not working should be relaxed by your side. Focus your awareness on the rhythm of your hip movement, and check your body position.
Do the hesitation drill to improve your timing of the backstroke. Timing is important for the backstroke because it makes you faster and more energy-efficient. Swim the backstroke, but when one arm just starts the recovery phase, pause and hold it at a 30-degree angle out of the water. At this point you're rotated to the opposite side, and if your arm timing is correct, the moment you paused your other arm, your opposite arm should be in the "catch" position, which is where your hand is 8 inches below the water surface and your elbow just below the surface. Hold for three seconds, then finish the stroke and repeat on the other side.
Lindsay Haskell enjoys writing about fitness, health, culture and fashion. She is a contributor for "Let's Talk Magazine" and "The Wellesley News." Haskell is completing her B.A. in philosophy at Wellesley College. She's also a fiction writer whose work can be read online.