As with any workout, it’s important to focus on keeping muscular balance throughout your body. Keeping all of your muscles around the same strength prevents injury, corrects posture, and assists in better body mechanics. When using swimming for exercise, many people gravitate towards freestyle for their workouts because it is typically thought of as the easiest and most efficient stroke. While this isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just as important to train the other strokes as it is to train freestyle. Learning how to swim backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly can assist in building strength all throughout your body, and will allow you to mix up your routine, keeping you from getting bored. Read on if you want to learn about our next swimming stroke – the backstroke.
Last week, I broke down freestyle into its most basic components, so this week I’m going to focus on backstroke. I personally find this stroke to be the easiest to perform besides freestyle. In fact, you can even think of it as an upside down freestyle. Because of its similar, yet completely opposite movements from freestyle, backstroke produces the best countermovement, providing the best opportunities to create muscular balance.
Learning to swim, especially on your back, can be intimidating at first. Breaking down the basic components of the stroke and slowly progressing from a float to a full-on stroke can make it less difficult. Backstroke can be separated into five steps of progression:
- Back Float
- Backstroke Kick
- Beginner Arms
- Backstroke Arms
Phillip Toriello, the same competitive swimmer and swim instructor who broke down the basics of freestyle, also breaks down the backstroke progression in the video below. It’s important to not get frustrated if you’re a bit slow progressing. Swimming on your back can be intimidating, but the more frustrated you get, the tenser your body will become, which only makes it that much harder to stay afloat. Stay relaxed and focus on the steps.
Some Additional Tips/Tricks:
- To practice the thumb-out, pinky-in method (what you do with your hands), pretend you’re holding a teacup in your hand. You don’t want to spill any tea out of the cup, so your hand will naturally come out thumb first, and go in pinky first.
- As with freestyle, it’s important to make sure you’re rotating at the hips when you’re stroking with your arms.
- To make sure you’re keeping your head both back far enough and still enough, put a small object on your forehead (like a rubber ducky, small rock, or even that cup for tea). If the object falls off or slides down the front of your face, you’re either moving your head too much, or are not keeping it back far enough.
- If you tilt your head too far forward, your hips will sink, making it harder to stay afloat, which also creates a less efficient stroke.
Like I mentioned before, backstroke is great for countering the muscles used during freestyle. Looking at the video below, you can see that the movements are almost an upside down image of those used in freestyle.
If you’d like, you can also reference the image below to view the muscles used during each of the strokes. Freestyle primarily uses your triceps, pecs, glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Backstroke uses a lot more of your latissimus dorsi, which is the muscle that stretches across your back, in addition to your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. When swimming, you’re actually using almost all of your muscles, but certain ones are used more for certain strokes. As you can see, in any of the strokes your core muscles are being constantly engaged, as well as some of your shoulder muscles and a few of your arm muscles.
Written by Mckinzie Halkola, Fitness Intern at Elite Sports Club – Brookfield
Mckinzie will be receiving her B.S. in Kinesiology with an emphasis in exercise and fitness in August of 2018. She was captain of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s swim and dive team, was named two-time swimmer of the week by the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC), Athlete of the Week by the UWO athletic department, and made second-team all-conference for her efforts in the 200-yard backstroke. Her certifications include Adult and Child First Aid/CPR/AED from the American Red Cross (ARC) as well as a lifeguarding certification from the ARC.