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Backstroke Float & Double-Arm Backstroke
Karlyn begins her clinics by having swimmers float on their back. Extend your arms over your head so that they form a “V,” and push off at the surface. Kick just enough so that your legs don’t drop. There should be a 4- to 5-inch gap between your ear and your shoulder.

This “V” position may feel really wide, but if you start every stroke of backstroke with the hand in this position, you’ll avoid one of the most common stroke errors, which is over-reaching.

Start by floating on your back with arms in a “V” position.

Now, gradually move your hands to the center -- to “high noon” on the clock face -- and notice how much extra tension this creates in your shoulders. Also notice what it does to your body position. Then bring your hands back to a “V” and hold it.

The “V” position should feel good, and this is where you want to start each stroke. A wider hand entry on backstroke is a more natural position for your shoulders. It allows for a greater range of motion, and lays the foundation for a solid catch and pull.

Double-Arm Backstroke
Once you’ve established your “V” position, swim a few lengths of double-arm backstroke with either a flutter or breaststroke kick.

As you recover the arms, keep your chest open by bringing the arms up and around in an ARC -- as if you were drawing a rainbow -- and not directly up and over your head -- as if you just scored a touchdown. This may feel too wide, but it’s probably right were you need to be for a 10 and 2 hand entry.

The hands enter the water pinky first. Slice them down... and tuck your elbows into your rib cage. Cup the hands and shove water toward the opposite wall. By tucking the elbows in, you establish a bent-arm pull and avoid the common mistake of pulling with a straight-arm.

As your hands enter the water, make it a quick entry and maintain that hand speed as you drive the hand down into the catch...then tuck the elbows in and use a bent arm to push water toward the opposite end of the pool.

As you pull, keep your wrist firm and straight. Imagine there’s a metal plate that runs from the middle of your palm along your wrist, keeping it nice and firm. And when you go to cup the hand, cup with your wrist and not with your fingers.

Think of using your entire arm -- fingertips to elbows -- as one unit. And as you push water toward the opposite wall, think about getting your thumb pointed toward the sky for a clean hand exit.

Notice how Karlyn never lets her hands “get stuck” at her thighs. She avoids this common mistake by thinking about having slippery thighs. She sweeps the hand quickly up and into the recovery.

Start with three or four strokes of double-arm backstroke, focusing on a wide hand entry and entering pinky first, then bend the elbow as you cup the hands and shove water toward your feet.

Then switch to regular backstroke, holding on to your wide hand entry, bent-arm pull, straight wrist, and clean, quick exit.

Head Back/Head Down
A good contrast drill is to swim one length of backstroke with your head tilted back and your eyes looking for the other end of the pool. Try it and see what happens to your body, and how much water you get up your nose.

Now exaggerate your head position in the other direction. Swim a length with your chin tucked to your chest and your eyes looking at your feet. Notice what happens to your hips and your kick.

Now try a length with your head in neutral, with eyes looking straight up -- or looking up at a point just above your feet.

Neutral usually feels better and faster -- because your body is more horizontal and your kick is more productive.

Big Kick/Little Kick
Another good contrast drill is to swim one length of backstroke with a big, bent-knee kick...

...and one length with a small, quick kick, pointing your toes and allowing your toes to tap each other.

Which feels more efficient? Which feels like it puts your body in a more horizontal position? Usually, the smaller your kick, the faster you’ll go with the least expenditure of energy.

And the smaller your kick, the easier it is to rotate your hips and maintain a quick rhythm with your arms.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with some bad swimming -- exaggerating a common mistake...

...and then correcting it with a drill or with your new style of swimming. Remember: With any change in your technique, it takes take time for “weird” to start feeling like “normal.” Contrast drills will help make you aware of WHY the new technique is better.