Backstroke is a captivating swimming discipline that combines grace and technique with the challenge of navigating through the water while on your back.
The backstroke, also known as the back crawl, is one of the four swimming techniques approved by FINA for competitive events. It is unique among these styles as it is swum on the back. It’s a sport that starts with a B character.
In this sport, swimmers perform a flutter kick and a rotating arm motion to propel themselves efficiently. Backstroke not only demands skill and precision but offers a unique perspective as athletes navigate the pool while gazing at the sky, making it an exhilarating form of competitive swimming.
History of Backstroke
The backstroke is an ancient swimming technique that gained popularity thanks to Harry Hebner. It became the second stroke to be used in competitive swimming, following the front crawl. The inaugural Olympic backstroke event took place at the men’s 200-meter race during the 1900 Paris Olympics.
The primary source of forward movement in backstroke is attributed to the arms. The arm stroke can be divided into two main sections, namely the power phase (comprising three distinct parts) and the recovery.
Starting from the starting position, the arm is submerged slightly in the water and rotates the palm outwards to initiate the catch phase, which is the first part of the power phase. The hand enters the water in a downward motion, with the pinkie finger leading, and then pulls out at a 45-degree angle while effectively grabbing hold of the water.
In order to get ready for the recovery phase, rotate the hand so that the palms face towards the legs and the thumb side faces upwards. As one arm starts its power phase at the beginning of the recovery phase, the other arm begins as well. The rules of Backstroke are given here.
- Starting Position: Swimmers start in the water, holding onto the wall or a backstroke starting device. Their bodies must be parallel to the water’s surface.
- Stroke Technique: Backstrokes use a flutter kick and an alternating arm motion. The arms should remain in continuous motion, and there should be no underwater pull.
- Rotations: Swimmers must remain on their backs throughout the race. Rolling onto the stomach or a vertical position is not allowed, except during the turn.
- Turn Rules: Swimmers perform a flip turn when approaching the wall. They must touch the wall with some part of their body and execute a continuous turn without a pause.
- Finish: The race concludes when swimmers touch the wall with any part of their body while remaining on their back. A vertical turn is not allowed for the finish.
- Lane Etiquette: Swimmers must stay within their designated lanes and avoid interfering with others. Crossing into another swimmer’s lane can lead to disqualification.
- Backstroke Flags: These flags are usually positioned above the water to signal the approaching wall. Swimmers use these to time their flip turns.
- Distance: Backstroke races can vary in distance, from 50 meters to 200 meters in competitive swimming.
- Disqualification: Common reasons for disqualification include rolling onto the stomach, not touching the wall during the turn, and using an illegal underwater pull.
- Breathing: Swimmers can breathe freely during the backstroke, but they must not use an alternating motion with their legs or flutter kick during the arm pull.
These rules may have variations in different swimming organizations and competitions, so it’s essential to check specific event regulations for accuracy.
Technique of the sports
There are many types of techniques available here.
1. Arm Movement
In the power phase, the hand traces a curved trajectory from the initial catch to the side of the hip. The palm consistently faces away from the direction of swimming, maintaining a straight alignment as an extension of the arm. Additionally, the elbow consistently points downwards towards the bottom of the pool.
The purpose of this is to enable both the arms and the elbow to exert maximum force in pushing the water backward, thus propelling the body forward. When the shoulders are at their highest point, both the upper and lower arms should form a right angle of approximately 90 degrees. This particular phase is referred to as the Mid-Pull in terms of power.
An alternative is to perform the arm movement in unison rather than alternating, resembling an inverted breaststroke. This method is simpler to coordinate and allows for a higher peak speed during the phase of combined power. However, the speed is significantly slower during the phase of combined recovery.
Typically, the average speed of the elementary backstroke, also known as the alternating stroke, will be lower than the average speed achieved. The elementary backstroke was a popular swimming technique in the 1900 and 1908 Olympics. However, it was replaced by the backcrawl as the competitive backstroke after 1908.
3. Leg Movement
The leg motion in the backstroke is comparable to the flutter kick utilized in the front crawl. The kicking action plays a significant role in propelling the body forward, as well as providing substantial stability.
The leg movement changes, as one leg descends straight to approximately 30 degrees. Starting from this point, the leg quickly kicks upwards, initially slightly bending the knee and then straightening it horizontally. However, there are also variations where four or only two kicks occur in each cycle.
In backstroke, it is comparatively easier to breathe compared to the other swimming strokes because the mouth and nose are typically positioned above the water surface.
Competitive swimmers inhale through their mouths while one arm is recovering, and exhale through both the mouth and nose during the pulling and pushing movements of that same arm. This technique is employed to remove any water from the nose.
5. Body Movement
The body has a tendency to rotate along its long axis because of the asynchronous movement of the arms.
To enhance their performance in backstroke swimming, swimmers have the opportunity to improve their effectiveness. It is crucial to maintain a straight horizontal body position in order to reduce drag. However, beginners often face the challenge of allowing their posterior and thighs to sink too low, resulting in increased drag.
6. Turn and finish
When swimmers approach the wall, they face the challenge of not being able to see their destination. Many competitive swimmers are aware of the number of strokes required to complete a lane, or at least the number of strokes after passing the signal flags that mark the separation between lanes.
Although turning the head is an option, it can result in a decrease in speed for the swimmer.
Read also related sports: Balance beam
- Swimsuit: A streamlined swimsuit designed for reduced water resistance is essential for backstroke. Swimmers typically wear one-piece suits made of materials that minimize drag.
- Goggles: Goggles protect the eyes from chlorine and provide clear vision while swimming on the back.
- Swim Cap: A swim cap helps streamline the head and reduce water resistance, improving overall performance.
- Backstroke Flags: These are positioned above the water at a specific distance from the wall to signal an approaching wall during the backstroke. They assist swimmers in timing their flip turns.
- Pool Lane Lines: Lane lines help separate swimmers and minimize splashing and turbulence from neighboring lanes.
- Starting Blocks: In competitive swimming, starting blocks provide a platform for swimmers to dive into the water for the start of the race.
- Backstroke Flags: Flags are often placed above the pool to signal an approaching wall. Swimmers use these to gauge their proximity to the wall when executing a flip turn.
- Kickboard: While primarily used for training, kickboards can assist backstroke swimmers in practicing their flutter kicks.
- Hand Paddles: Swimmers may use hand paddles during training to improve arm strength and stroke technique.
- Pull Buoy: Another training aid, a pull buoy, is placed between the legs to isolate upper body strength and technique while practicing the backstroke arm motion.
- Stopwatch: Coaches and swimmers use stopwatches for timing laps and assessing progress during practice.
These equipment items are crucial for both competitive backstroke swimmers and those training to improve their technique and performance in the pool.
Competitions of It
Competitive backstroke swimming includes three standard distances, which can be swum in either a long course pool (50 m) or a short course pool (25 m). Additionally, the United States uses short-course yards, which are measured in a 25-yard pool.
- 50 m backstroke swimming
- 100 m backstroke swimming
- 200 m backstroke swimming
Swimming other distances is also done occasionally.
The backstroke is included in the medley for the following distances:
- 100 m Individual medley is a swimming event that is only conducted in a short course pool measuring 25 meters.
- 200 m individual medley
- 400 m individual medley
- 4 × 100 m medley relay
The rules that swimmers must adhere to during official competitions are provided below by FINA.
Prior to the commencement signal, swimmers are required to position themselves in the water, facing the starting end, with both hands firmly grasping the starting grips. It is strictly forbidden to stand in or on the gutter or to bend the toes over the edge of the gutter.
In conclusion, backstroke is a captivating and technically demanding sport that showcases the grace and skill of swimmers navigating through the water on their backs.
Its unique perspective, combined with precise rules, makes it a fascinating discipline within the world of competitive swimming.