SwimmersBest Drill of the Month: One-Arm Backstroke

By Shawn Klosterman
May 31st, 2018

SwimSwam thanks SwimmersBest for sponsoring “Drill of the Month.” This is a SwimSwam recurring feature that brings drills and idea submissions from various creative and innovative coaches all over the world.

Sidni Meister is one of the most natural backstroke specialists we have ever had the pleasure to work with at Berzerker Swimming. At an early season practice one day, we noticed that our two best backstrokers, Sidni being one of them, could not properly perform a drill we called “up-down-up.” As coaches, we had to step back and re-evaluate the purpose and effectiveness of the drill because ideally we want our team to take on the attributes of our top backstroke swimmers, rather than the other way around.

After taking some video, we noticed two things that separated these two swimmers from the rest. First, these two swimmers had a much more effective catch due to their arm position relative to their body rotation. Second, that arm and body position made an immediate catch and pull easy to perform seamlessly and without hesitations.

We immediately dropped the “up-down-up” drill from our toolbox, and decided to seek exactly which drills might help the rest of our team learn to bring their backstroke to this level. What we discovered was that those very two backstrokers who struggled with the “up-down-up” drill, were also leaps and bounds ahead of their teammates in the performance of proper “one-arm backstroke.” Those who don’t have the timing, catch and continuous, immediate pulling pattern struggled to swim a steady one-arm back, and would often look bouncy, snaking around much more than their teammates who were more effective.

What we look for in the performance of one-arm backstroke drill:

  • “canoe-back” position, meaning that the low back is rounded, rather than arched so that the thighs are at the surface, rather than the hips.
  • steady, continuous and small flutter kick with a small, white splash, with no splitting of the rhythm and no heels going deep.
  • body rotation that is “allowed” to accommodate the arm rotation, rather than “forced” and trying to lead the arm rotation
  • arms “opposite” due to an immediate catch. No “catch-up” backstroke with pauses at the stroke hand entry or finish
  • catch position close to the body, elbow toward the floor for a large vertical paddle, and the majority of propulsion from a “push” motion, parallel to the body line

Sidni Meister is a 12 year-old Sectional Qualifier and Arkansas LSC Record Holder from Parsons, Kansas. Berzerker Swimming, founded in 2000 by current C.O.O and Head Coach, The Screaming Viking, is based out of Webb City High School in the far South West corner of Missouri. The team is named for the highest of the Viking warriors, who were reputed to have fought with such fervor in battle that “neither fire nor iron could harm them.”