Should You Emphasise The Back Of Your Stroke?

Many swimmers are under the impression they should complete the back of the freestyle stroke with a big push as the hand passes the hip. You can reduce your strokes per length doing this but over-emphasising the push can cause swimmers numerous problems:

- It tends to fling your hand out of the water by your hip giving an unbalanced arm recovery action. Not only does this harm your rhythm but it can also cause you to snake which creates lots of drag.

- When emphasising the push, many swimmers push upwards not backwards, this is wasted effort and can act to sink the legs down, again increasing drag.

- Locking out your elbow by pushing hard causes a delay in the stroke timing. Since your other arm is extended forwards at this point it naturally causes a dead-spot at the front end too. Dead-spots harm your efficiency because you decelerate and then have to re-accelerate on the next stroke. In other words, over-emphasising the back of the stroke can harm your efficiency by turning you into an overglider.

- The amount of extra propulsion you gain is really quite small and it's inefficient because it overloads the small tricep muscles. The effort required is normally too high to sustain for more than a few laps. Swimming is quite deceptive in this regard, things that feel easy for 25m can quickly become unsustainable beyond 100m.

If you watch elite swimmers racing, you'll see that they don't complete each stroke with a distinct push and they don't lock out their elbows straight. In fact, they normally finish the back of the stroke with a distinctly bent elbow. Here's a nice clip of Ian Thorpe showing this:

Great swimmers like Ian finish their stroke naturally as a consequence of their body rotation and stroke timing. We suggest you target the same thing: work on your catch, stroke timing and rhythm, and the back of the stroke will follow and naturally click into place when everything else is right. When you find this natural timing you gain speed and efficiency - it's the cause of the 'sweet spots' you can find with our ramp test.

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! I thought about it, looked at the YouTube video of Ian Thorpe, went to practice and got two (not just one) compliments from our master's coach on my stroke.

Anonymous said...

How far back should the stroke go? My coach tells me that I'm sloppy at the back of the stroke. He tells me to rub the thumb against the thigh at the back of the stroke. Right or wrong?

Adam Young said...

Hi Anonymous, you can certainly try brushing your thumb past your thigh to see it it helps but don't overdo the emphasis at the back of the stroke for all the reasons above.

What's your posture like in the water? If you tend to slump your shoulders forwards and crossover in front of your head this will kill your body rotation. In turn this will make your stroke shorter than it could be.

Anonymous said...


I didn't think of this as related to posture, but it could very well be so. I'll keep working on the stroke (and body rotation) and see how it goes.

Anonymous said...

I've just noticed through watching a few Ian Thorpe videos that he doesn't actually breathe every 3 strokes but every 2 usually and therefore always on the same side. I like to breathe on alternating sides while swimming anyway but I was just curious to if there was a reason he breathed that way while swimming? Is it just that he is such a good swimmer anyway that it doesn't affect his technique?

Thank you - Rebecca :)

Paul said...

Good question Rebecca - Ian Thorpe was able to breathe equally well to both sides...he switched between the two to keep an eye on his closest rivals. This was most noticeable in the final of the men's 200m at the 2004 Athens Olympics when Thorpe won over Pieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps using this technique.



Anonymous said...

Ok, that makes sense.
Thanks Paul :)


Anonymous said...

I watched a fairly recent german DVD called "Scheller schwimmen" with Holger L√ľning and Jan Sibbersen. (There was an booklet with the same name with it too.) In that they put emphasis on the back of the stroke. There were some drills to practise that too.

Anonymous said...

Correction: "Schneller schwimmen". a booklet.

Anyway, I don't know how you bother with competitor products, especially in foreign languages.

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