Tips for the 100 Backstroke

Tips for the 100 Backstroke

Depending on the time of year, backstroke can find you staring into the blazing sun or up at the ceiling of your home pool as you try to swim in a straight line. Also to be considered are the number of strokes from the flags to the wall, and that doesn’t even take into account head positioning, underwater kick, hand rotation or strong finishes to your arm stroke. Needless to say, there is a lot to think about in a short period of time when racing a 100 backstroke.
As many coaches and athletes will tell you, the key to a successful 100 backstroke is to have all of your technique and strategy prepared and practiced ahead of time, allowing your focus to remain on racing.
This month’s technique tips and race strategy are courtesy of Eric Hansen, head coach at the University of Wisconsin and U.S. National Team member from 1987 to 1992. Hansen was the U.S. national champion in the 100 back in 1990 and has since coached American and world record-holders, U.S. National Team members and has been a coach for several National Team competitions.
Here, Hansen offers a training exercise, stroke drill and race strategy you might find helpful in preparing for the 100 backstroke.
Dryland Exercise: 

  • Stand facing a wall, holding a lightweight physioball in your right hand. Your right arm should be straight and slightly behind your body, corresponding to the final phase of your backstroke arm pull.
  • Raise your left arm to above chest level (corresponding to where it would be in the water based on your right arm position above) and point it toward the wall.
  • Mimic a backstroke arm circle by rotating your left arm above your head and, using the momentum created by your body rotation, drive the physioball toward the wall as your right arm follows through.
  • As you flip your left hand to pinky, recognize that the momentum from your left arm is driving the finish on your right.  
  • Release the ball from your right hand as you properly finish the arm stroke.
  • Repeat for 4 sets of 12, alternating the ball in both hands. 

The key to this dryland exercise “is making sure your hand and wrist don’t get ahead of your elbow,” Hansen says. “Also trying to connect your body with your arm so you can let your body do the majority of the work.” With your body generating much of the power, your pull is stronger than if you were just using your arm to create propulsion.
Stroke Drill:
A plastic cup can come in handy when establishing the proper body positioning and rotation for your stroke.
“It may sound elementary, but it is the quickest way to stabilize the proper axis,” says Hansen. “We kick with it. We drill with it. We swim with it.”

  • Tilt your head back into proper backstroke position and place a plastic cup on your forehead.
  • Begin kicking on your back, arms down, hands together over top of your body.
  • Practice keeping your kicks tight and consistent with proper body rotation while maintaining a stable cup on your forehead. With a proper rotation and kick, the cup will remain in place.
  • Once you have mastered keeping the cup still, you can add additional drills, including double arm drill or arms-to-legs drill where you begin by dragging your feet and focusing on your arms, slowly adding the kick back into the stroke.

Race Strategy:
With only four short lengths of the pool (or two, if you’re swimming long course) in which to perfect your stroke, turns and breakouts, race strategy for a 100 backstroke can be quite succinct.
Hansen encourages his swimmers to swim “fast as they can and still be relaxed and still be in control.” By staying true to the sprint nature of the race, being relaxed and in control enables you to focus also on the importance of transitioning from your underwater dolphin kick to your flutter kick. As you break the surface of the water, lay back into the stroke thereby establishing the proper body position and minimizing drag. Finally, Hansen recommends building off each wall and accelerating the last fifteen meters into the finish.  

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