Why you should learn Backstroke (Non-Freestyle Strokes Pt. 1)

Most every one of the new swimmers who joins my Masters team or comes in for lessons tells me, “Fitz, I really just want to learn freestyle. I want to be able to {insert goal here – “swim a mile,” “do a triathlon,” “swim for fitness”}. Freestyle is a spectacular stroke. It’s the workhorse stroke that swimmers spend the most time training, even those who specialize in the other strokes or the Individual Medley (IM). It’s the fastest stroke, and there are probably more events for swimming freestyle than the other strokes. Having said all of that, freestyle isn’t the only way to move through the water. There are three other major strokes, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Butterfly; including them in your practices can make your swims more interesting. They can also help make you a better freestyler. Our first post extols the virtues of Backstroke.

Backstroke is a great stroke to learn and throw into the mix if you want to be a better freestyler. Backstroke is designed to be the same stroke as freestyle, just flipped over. So the same rotational and balance concerns you have with freestyle will be honed by working on backstroke. You can’t swim flat and out of balance in backstroke like you can in freestyle – it just feels bizarre. So working on your balance in backstroke will make you more sensitive to what balance and side-streamlining should feel like on your belly. Further, you have to develop a strong, steady, solid flutter kick to do backstroke. I’m told by many triathletes, “I don’t need to kick because I have a wetsuit.” While the wetsuit will help lift your legs, it can’t keep your legs in the tube of the body and teach them to roll with the arms and hips. Backstroke can. Finally, since backstroke and freestyle share the same muscle groups, backstroke can be a great recovery exercise for freestyle sets. It can open up your shoulders and chest and stretch you out after a long freestyle set.

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