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Old 03-17-2009
Jamwhite Jamwhite is offline
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Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Duvall, WA
Posts: 92
Jamwhite
Default A question backstroke mechanics

[I went back and reread this after my swim this morning. Additional comments in blue.]

So my general question is "does anyone else swim backstroke this way?".

In freestyle, when the recovery arm enters the water, numerous simultaneous things happen: the legs kick to help rotate the hips, the recovery arm spears to rotate the shoulders, and the weighless arm anchors to hold your position while the core turns. When properly balanced, this should cause a nice gliding actions.

For me, the most confounding thing about backstroke is that the mechanics are different. That was the thing that I really had to get use to. In fact, for the most part, unsurprisingly, it seems that the mechanics work backwards.

The initial motion of the stroke is reversed from freestyle. In freestyle, the recovery arm's position of greatest potential energy is right before it enters the water. So, at least for me, the feel of freestyle is that it is driven by the action of the recovery arm.

Like freestyle, backstroke has a setup for greatest potential energy, but that setup primary involves the weightless arm. To get in this position, the recovery arm is lifted out of the water to between 30 and 90 degrees. Once the initial motion of the recovery arm starts, the weightless arm will enter the "wrap" phase (as described on page 75 of Extraordinary Swimming for Everyone). The purpose of the "wrap" phase is to hold water. This phase is unnecessary in freestyle, because the relaxed weightless arm is capable of holding water already.

With the recovery arm up, and the weightless arm in the "wrap" phase to hold the water, you should have both a store of potential energy and leverage. You unleash the potential energy though core drive (I am not convinced yet that it is primarily your hips, so lets say "core" to be neutral). This is done by turning your core away from the weightless arm.

I feel like this motion is opposite of freestyle. In freestyle hip drive feels more like the body turns towards the recovery arm as it spears forward, while backstroke feels more like my body is turning away from the weighless arm.

After the "wrap" phase is the "wrestle" phase, this should happen primarily by the physics of turning your core away from the "westling" arm. (Edit)For me, this is very similiar pull in freestyle, one early problem that I had is your body is in a very different position at this point with the recovery arm still in the air and the body less fully rotated. While this phase is happening, the core body is rotating on the pivot of the spine with both shoulders working in unison to cause the rotation. The recovery arms downwards motion turns the shoulders as does the wrestling motion in the opposite direction. Backstroke seems to be powered by this duel shoulder rotation more than the freestyle-like hip-shoulder rotation.

In freestyle, you swim with your body around 30-45 degrees off axis, while in backstroke, you swim with body closer to 80 degrees off axis with both your hip and shoulder out of the water. Because you must rotate further, in backstroke there is another phase that is not in freestyle. That is the throw phase. For me, it seems that the throw phase gives me that last push from about 60 degrees to 80 degrees. I think of it as putting me into streamline.

The legs is backstroke perplex me more than any other stroke. This is partly because I require my legs to keep me in streamline. This may just be a problem with my stroke, but I do not believe so because Terry points out that backstrokers almost universally use the 6-beat kick, which indicates to me that they too have issues keeping their hips high.

I am admittedly somewhat new to backstroke, but here is how I kick. Advice is highly welcomed. I do not continuously kick in backstroke. Instead, I do two kicks (which effectively resets my legs) followed by a hard kick during the wrestle phase to help get me to that 60 degree position and I glide while I finish the "throw".

Unlike freestyle, I do not feel that my legs are tightly connected to the stroke because too much of their use is holding me high and there is too much distance for them to turn me for me to completely get their with just my legs (that is some of my hip rotation comes from shoulder rotation). (Edit) The legs in backstroke also seem to have much less leverage that in freestyle which is a major part of why I feel them less connected.

Although I have just started my focus on bringing my backstroke up to my other three strokes. I feel like the mechanics described here are close to correct mechanics. I look forward to reading comments. Thank you.

Last edited by Jamwhite : 03-17-2009 at 06:15 PM. Reason: clarity. Edits in blue
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