Pulling Correctly in Backstroke

by SwimSwam Partner Content 2

October 24th, 2018 Training

Courtesy of Gary Hall Sr., 10-time World Record Holder, 3-time Olympian, 1976 Olympic Games US Flagbearer and The Race Club co-founder.


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One of the most common mistakes in technique that we see in all strokes is in the pulling motion of backstroke. Part of the reason for this technical error is that to pull correctly, a swimmer needs to rotate the body significantly from one side to the other. That involves more work. To avoid that extra work, swimmers often choose to minimize the amount of body rotation. To avoid breaking the surface of the water with the hand moving backward, which reduces power, swimmers find an easier solution. Keep the arm straight on the pull.

A straight-arm pull in backstroke is worse than a deep-arm pull in freestyle. While the latter increases frontal drag, it does enable a swimmer to pull with more propulsion. In backstroke, a straight-arm pull increases frontal drag AND reduces propulsion; two good reasons to avoid this poor technique.

The key to improving your backstroke is to learn to rotate the body first. With enough body rotation, the swimmer is in a position to pull correctly and with more power. The body rotation enables a swimmer to bend the elbow enough to reduce frontal drag, while also generating important kinetic energy as a coupling motion for the pull. Our favorite swimming drill for learning this technique is the one-arm drill, with one hand held at the side. However, before the swimmer enters the water to perform this drill, we first teach them how to do the proper pulling motion on land while standing straight up. We find that once swimmers understand the biomechanics of the correct backstroke pulling motion on land, they can more easily duplicate this motion in the water. Both of these drills help the swimmers learn the important technique of rotating the body and the concept of pushing water backward, as opposed to pulling or scooping the water backward.

This week in Lanes 2-4 on our subscription service, you will find an important classroom discussion on backstroke, how this important drill is done with Race Club campers and finally, how world-class backstroker, Luca Spinazzola, uses the one-arm drill to improve his powerful backstroke pulling motion.

For those that are subscribed to Lanes 3 and 4, you will also find a beautiful webisode of world-champion backstroker, Junya Koga, simulating the correct backstroke pulling motion while standing. Junya performs this precise backstroke pulling motion gradually increasing his stroke rate, with and without using boxing mitts for the correct elbow bend.

Here’s to a faster backstroke! Hop in Lanes 2-4 today.

Backstroke Pulling Motion – One Arm Drill

Standing Backstroke

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

Gary Hall, Sr., Technical Director and Head Coach of The Race Club (courtesy of TRC)

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Old Fan

Expected more details, like how important is to enter with the pinky first and why or where in the rotation should you be when entering the arm or how important it is to throw your arm back through the air to increase the rotation of your body as a coupling motion. Anyhow all content is great! I just wish there would be more

gary hall sr

All important topics and will be the subject of future Aquanotes. This one is more about how to pull correctly, once the hand is in the water. Stay tuned!

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