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  #1  
Old 03-17-2009
Jamwhite Jamwhite is offline
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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 07:15 PM. Reason: clarity. Edits in blue
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  #2  
Old 03-18-2009
daveblt daveblt is offline
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[quote=Jamwhite;2282][COLOR="blue"


[ . 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. ]



Just because the arm may feel weightless does not mean it is capable of holding water unless you set up your catch correctly . The palm and forearm should face back as it's ready to pull and at the same time the opposite arm is ready to enter so this is the same thing as in backstroke the catch or wrapping phase combined with the recovering opposite arm.


[ 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. ]


In freestyle you should feel as if you are spearing forward towards your entry hand .In backstroke you also roll toward your entry hand as it goes in to the water so why does it feel different ?




[ 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. ]


You do not have to swim backstroke at 80 degrees .If you roll 45 degrees or so this should be enough to clear each shoulder from 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 throw phase comparing to freestyle would be the recovery arm spearing in to the water and the opposite pulling arm working at the same time to roll you to the opposite side .


[ 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). [color="blue"](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. ]


I am also less aware about my legs in backstroke ,sometimes they have a tendency to bend a little too much so I just try to keep them straight and let them kick naturally as my body rolls and am not concerned about doing a perfect 6 beat kick.


Dave

Last edited by daveblt : 03-18-2009 at 01:46 AM.
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  #3  
Old 03-18-2009
CoachEricDeSanto CoachEricDeSanto is offline
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I agree with Dave that the strokes feel more similar than different. All my best back stroke swims come when I feel the power of my recovering arm falling into the water is timed perfectly with the switch. It is exactly like the spear to me.

One thing to pay attention to is that the balance can't be as perfect in back stroke as free, at least at slow speeds and if you rotate closer to 80 degrees. When I am in (I forget what the newest term is) back skate, Lengthen vessel sweet spot, I can rest comfortably with my top shoulder, arm, knuckles and thigh touching air and I can relax my head back into the water and just clear my nose and mouth. As soon as I roll more of my arm out of the water, I sink a bit putting my face under. As soon as I raise the arm, I sink underwater a couple inches. Just like in free, only 3-5% of your body can be above the surface and this causes sinking. So you have to let yourself sink and hum (to keep water out of your nose) or cheat the balance slightly to breathe. If you cheat the balance slightly, you will have to kick more to keep your head up. I believe rolling closer to 80 degrees puts your arm in a better position to use larger muscles, but it sacrifices tempo and balance. I am still trying to find where my best roll angle is.

I happened to do a lot of back stroke work today and noticed something that may apply. I worked on a drill which I believe is on the DVD. It is basically active balance on the back (kicking and rolling from side to side) and finishing each roll with the top arm raised 30 degrees and holding it there. I found that it took a lot of focus and effort to hold my torso strait in that position. When I could hold it, I could maintain balance with the arm raised and my top thigh touching air. The muscles that hold the torso strait on the back are different than on the front. For example, try holding plank position and reverse plank position. I find one far more difficult than the other. This drill also sets up the kick nicely. Once you get the hang of it, decrease your hold time. I moved from rolling every 11 kicks to 9,7,5, and 3. At 3 you are doing a six beat kick. I will be doing a lot of this drill as it is one of the most effective for my free and I expect it will be for my back. I also did a lot of one arm back to feel the recovering arm falling causing the roll.

Side note, I did a few IMs after the drills and easily held very fast splits (for me anyway) in back. I think that drill is one of the best.

Last edited by CoachEricDeSanto : 03-18-2009 at 04:26 AM.
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Old 03-18-2009
Jamwhite Jamwhite is offline
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Thank you for the insightful replies. I have further comments and questions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by daveblt View Post
Just because the arm may feel weightless does not mean it is capable of holding water unless you set up your catch correctly . The palm and forearm should face back as it's ready to pull and at the same time the opposite arm is ready to enter so this is the same thing as in backstroke the catch or wrapping phase combined with the recovering opposite arm.
If I understand you correctly, you are saying that in backstroke, while your arm remains fully extended in streamline position that you can catch water. I disagree with this. The elbow joint is on the wrong side to catch water in streamline position. As I understand, the reason for the greater backstroke rotation and for the initial "wrap" phase is to catch water. In freestyle, your elbow is on the opposite side and is capable of stroking without breaking streamline.

Quote:
Originally Posted by daveblt View Post
In freestyle you should feel as if you are spearing forward towards your entry hand .In backstroke you also roll toward your entry hand as it goes in to the water so why does it feel different ?
It feels very different because the entry hand in backstroke does not touch the water until last instant, where as in freestyle the same hand's entry into the water is the part of the initial motion, so it is in position before I finish my pull.

This core cordination with the recovery (or entry) hand has been a problem for me in my backstroke.

Quote:
Originally Posted by daveblt View Post
You do not have to swim backstroke at 80 degrees .If you roll 45 degrees or so this should be enough to clear each shoulder from the water.
My 80 degree reference is from _Extraordinary swimming for every body_ page 71. As I view Terry in the photo, he is swimming as far over on his side as possible, which I judge to be about 80 degrees before the head must move. Also on that page:

Quote:
Feel each hipbone touch the surface in turn. Lenny Krayzelberg said "When I swim, I try to feel one hip at the surface, then the other.
45 degrees is insufficient for me to get my hipbones to touch the surface. I use to swim backstroke at 45 degrees and recently changed to swim much further on my side.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CoachEricD View Post
One thing to pay attention to is that the balance can't be as perfect in back stroke as free, at least at slow speeds and if you rotate closer to 80 degrees. When I am in (I forget what the newest term is) back skate, Lengthen vessel sweet spot, I can rest comfortably with my top shoulder, arm, knuckles and thigh touching air and I can relax my head back into the water and just clear my nose and mouth. As soon as I roll more of my arm out of the water, I sink a bit putting my face under. As soon as I raise the arm, I sink underwater a couple inches. Just like in free, only 3-5% of your body can be above the surface and this causes sinking. So you have to let yourself sink and hum (to keep water out of your nose) or cheat the balance slightly to breathe. If you cheat the balance slightly, you will have to kick more to keep your head up.
This is a very interesting point on balance. I'll definately experiment with this next swim session.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CoachEricD View Post
I believe rolling closer to 80 degrees puts your arm in a better position to use larger muscles, but it sacrifices tempo and balance. I am still trying to find where my best roll angle is.
I understand why balance is affected, but why do you think that you sacrifice tempo? Do you think the less rotation has greater efficiency?

Last edited by Jamwhite : 03-18-2009 at 07:10 AM. Reason: clarity
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Old 03-18-2009
CoachEricDeSanto CoachEricDeSanto is offline
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In Extraordinary swimming, Terry also mentioned (I don't know the reference) that backing off the rotation is helpful. THat is where I got the idea.

As for the entry, I think I see it as more similar to free because I pay attention to the elbow in both strokes not the hand. In both strokes, the elbow and the shoulder enter the water almost simultaneously. You are correct that the hands are different. But to me, the focus on the elbow connection to the body is more useful than focusing on the hands.

As for the catch, again, there are obvious differences, but I try to think of them more as similar. In free, I try to maintain streamline from elbow to toes as my arm catches. In back I do the same. In back, the catch is out to the side for me, while in free it points more to the bottom, but concept is the same.

Terry has mentioned a lot lately that intention, somehow, can be more powerful than what is actually physically changing. This discussion may be about what we intend to do as much as what actually happens.

AS for tempo, cutting back on rotation cuts the distance my body parts have to travel in one cycle. It is the same in free. At slow tempos I can finish each pull at my thigh. At high tempos, I have to release just above my hip. I can do this without loss of stroke length. As I cut back on rotation in back stroke, I need less of the push phase to rotate my body so I can get my hand out of the water and recovering more easily. This gives me a more quiet and less rushed stroke which, I believe is more efficient overall. It feels the same as widening the tracks in free. Again, the main sacrifice of this for me is my pulling arm is never fully in front of my body which is a less powerful position. I am still working out how much rotation is best for me.
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Old 03-18-2009
madvet madvet is offline
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I do a 2-part pull, not the 4-part catch/wrestle/wrap/throw.

After my hand enters, I relax the shoulder, letting the elbow drop down and the forearm to drop back by allowing the shoulder to rotate (you can make this passive, by allowing the water to drive the hand back, or make it more active by adding a little pressure but not changing the mechanics) -- this is analogous to the catch in freestyle.

Step 2 is to pull. I have found that if I have my arm in the "correct" position it is superfluous to think of wrestle/wrap/throw as 3 separate actions.

2 sources of strain:

if my tricep is overactive in extending the arm as I do step 1.

If my biceps don't relax as I do step 2.

My biggest problems now:
Keeping my hips from dropping as I pull. It seems like as I pull down I want to kink in the middle.

Kicking: I find it hard to maintain a steady 6 beat kick. I just let the legs do what they want to do, which is a little more active than a 2-beat kick. I think it is necessary to do a more active kick than freestyle in order to get a little higher in the water. But I have trouble maintaining it consistently.
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  #7  
Old 03-19-2009
Jamwhite Jamwhite is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by madvet View Post
After my hand enters, I relax the shoulder, letting the elbow drop down and the forearm to drop back by allowing the shoulder to rotate (you can make this passive, by allowing the water to drive the hand back, or make it more active by adding a little pressure but not changing the mechanics) -- this is analogous to the catch in freestyle.
That is interesting. Do you pause in streamline at all?

I have always found the elbow drop to require pressure. I will experiment with a more passive catch.

Edit: We did primarily backstroke in Masters tonight. Experimenting with a passive catch, I used less energy and maintained the same relative speed at the same tempo. I tend to rotate less though, so I am curious if more rotation would increase my speed.

Last edited by Jamwhite : 03-19-2009 at 05:50 AM.
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Old 03-30-2009
as as is offline
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thanks for posting - your points about the differences between rotating towards vs away - and your skepticism on hips (my hips are pretty far from my shoulders) were especially helpful.
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