Backstroke – Arm Only

BKA01 Category: Single Arm Backstroke


Normal backstroke but only stroking with one arm, the other arm down by the side.  It is critical to exaggerate the rotation for each stroke.  The arm should rotate under the surface about 1 foot or more before engaging the catch.  The wrist should flex backwards just prior to the outsweep.


Single arm drills allow the swimmer to focus on all details of the catch, stroke, push, outsweep, and recovery.   As we are not symmetrical, it is natural for problems to occur with 1 arm and not the other.   Single arm drills allow swimmers to isolate their own problems with each arm.


Variables that can be incorporated into all variations:

        • No buoy  (which can improve the T-press of the chest and front-to-back balance)
        • Buoy between thighs
        • Buoy between ankles with 1Flexband as safety strap to improve balance
        • Touch Paddle is ideal to help improve the ‘push’ prior to outsweep (GIF)(Full Video Link)
        • Precision paddle is ideal to improve the EVF catch and holding the water through the forearm (GIF)
        • Power Bags on feet to train to keep feet close to surface for less drag


BKA01-01 Side-of-Pool Drill

        • Lay on the edge of the pool  with 1 arm hanging over the side
        • Break the arm stroke into 5 steps so the swimmer STOPS at each step (the coach can correct each step until the swimmer gets it right)
          • Start with the arm straight up over the body in the air with the pinky rotated to point to the head.
          • 1st  ‘ENTER” – Drop the hand straight back above the head and stop the arm directly above the head, about 8 inches below the edge of the pool.  Be sure the pinky is pointed down so it enters the water first.  Be sure the elbow is straight.  Be sure the hand is directly above the shoulder
          • 2nd  ‘BEND’ – Engage the catch phase by keeping the elbow in position above the head and bending the elbow so the upper arm moves away from the body
          • 3rd  ‘FINISH’ – Finish the stroke with the wrist bending back so they hand is pushing water until thumb touches the side of the thigh (with fingers facing upward as it stops at the thigh (note: conventional wisdom says to flip the wrist downward toward the bottom of the pool.  This has NO value and merely creates resistance)
          • 4th   ‘LIFT’  Lift the thumb out of the water first and keep the elbow straight.  Continue lifting until the arm is directly overhead (with elbow straight)
          • 5th  ‘ROTATE’  Rotate the hand from thumb forward to pinky forward


BKA01-02 Non-stroking hand up

        • Incorporate the steps and terms from BKA01-01
        • Having the non-stroking arm extended forward greatly limits the body rotation needed on the backstroke so this drill should be used sparingly.


BKA01-03 Non-stroking hand down

        • The rotation is not as greatly hindered when the non-stroking arm is down to the side.


BKA01-04 Anchor The Hand

      • place hand on an outer corner of a wall or on the lane line to pull their body forward
      • Can train the basics of the catch
      • Also ideal to help train the push just prior to the outsweep
      • With the lane line drill, you can put a whiffle ball in the other hand and simulate the action of ‘throwing ‘ it at your feet .  Can also use the Precision paddle instead of the Whiffle ball.


BKA02 Category: Alternating Arms Only


Pull only backstroke drills without a kick.  


These drills are ideal to build upper body strength with a wide range of resistance options and buoyance variables.     Front-to-back balance can be enhanced with these drills.  The lack of kicking increases the risk of a reduced rotation.  The rotation problem means that added attention must be paid to the rotation of the hips synchronized with the shoulders. These drills can help focus on proper backstroke breathing (breath in with one arm and out with the other).


BKA02-01 No buoy, Backstroke Arms only without Kick

      • Like a kickboard, the use of a buoy can be overdone.  The lack of a buoy forces the swimmer to press their ‘T’ (i.e. their buoyant chest/torso) and raise support their lower regions through core muscles

BKA02-02 Buoy between thighs

      • Perhaps the most common ‘pull only’ drill for backstroke is with alternating arms and a buoy between the thighs
      • Be sure to ‘mix things up’ by regularly rotating other variations of this drill to improve power development and technique.

BKA02-03 Buoy between ankles with 1Flexband as safety strap

      • The use of a buoy between the ankles is one of the very best ways to improve technique and side-to-side body balance.
      • The inherent ‘imbalance’ of pull-only drills with a buoy between the ankles is an excellent way to improve technique of the catch, power phase, and recovery of the stroke

BKA02-04 Touch Paddle

      • The Touch power Paddles (3 sizes available) greatly intensifies the value of pull-only drills for muscle development
      • The Touch is also ideal to help create and improve the ‘push phase’ of the stroke just prior to the outsweep
      • Mix this up by using a buoy between the ankles with the 1Flexband as a safety strap

BKA02-05 Precision or Brute displacement paddles

      • The Precision and Brute paddles are ideal to help the swimmer focus on ‘holding maximum water’ with a high elbow EVF catch and solid contact of the water with the forearm and wrist
      • The use of displacement paddles can be deceiving as merely only technique devices but swimmers will quickly learn that they are much harder to use (due to their instability in the pull phase) and will develop a much better range of muscles when used regularly

BKA02-06 Power development with added drag (Power Bags on feet, calves, parachute, skirt) (GIF)

      • In addition to improving muscle development with Touch power paddles and Precision/Brute displacement paddles, various forms of drag can be a nice change of pace.
      • Resistance can help develop more power while working on stroke technique
      • Power Bags can provide optimum drag for pull sets while being ready to help power kick sets at the same time without any equipment changes needed


BKA02-07 Hold squeezable Med ball between knees

      • The opposite of a buoy between the thighs.   Holding a squeezable med ball between the knees requires the core to work harder to keep the legs up on the surface while focusing on technique on the pull.


BKA02-08 Kickboard between thighs (for rotation improvement)

      • Place a kickboard between the thighs  (perpendicular to the body) so that half of the board sticks up in the air
      • Now swim backstroke arms, focusing on having the board touch the water on both sides.  
      • This helps create proper rotation to both sides