The Benefits of the Backstroke for Triathletes

Learn why the backstroke is helpful to triathletes.

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The benefits of the backstroke for triathletes are numerous. It counteracts swimmer’s “shoulder slouch” by engaging upper-back muscles and lengthening pectorals, it can provide an opportunity to calm breathing (see below) or clear goggles during an open-water swim and it breaks up monotony in the pool. Plus, kicking while on your back serves as good cross-training for major cycling muscles such as the hip flexors, core and quads.

Want the Benefit of the Backstroke? Try These Sets

  • 4×75 with 15 seconds rest (25 free/25 back/25 free)
  • 1×600 [4x(100 freestyle strong effort/50 backstroke easy)]
  • 8×50 on 1:15 (25 back/25 free) descend time 1-4, 5-8

Five Backstroke Technique Tips

1. Tilt chin up and look at the sky. This puts head and spine in good alignment. Do not look toward your toes, as it causes hips to sink.

2. Push hips toward the surface and maintain a steady up and down flutter kick. Keep feet just below the surface of the water. Do not rotate feet with the rest of body.

3. Hands exit the water thumb first and enter the water pinky first. This requires a slight wrist and shoulder rotation as a straight arm moves through the air.

4. Arms enter the water straight up from shoulders and do not cross the centerline overhead. Swimming backstroke in a straight line is difficult without following pool lines. Keep zigzags to a minimum with consistent arm placement.

5. The key to backstroke is good upper-body rotation with a motionless head. Try to roll your left shoulder to your chin as the right pinky enters the water and vice versa.

Backstroke As a Safety Stroke

A safety stroke is one that you are comfortable doing in open water when you are feeling tired, anxious, or just need to adjust your goggles. Its main purpose is to allow you to catch your breath and lower your heart rate at any moment during an open-water swim. Occasionally using a stroke other than freestyle can make your race experience more enjoyable and relaxed. The goal is to become so comfortable with your secondary stroke of choice that your automatic reaction when stressed in the water is to immediately switch to your safety stroke instead of panicking or having any other kind of unproductive reaction.

It’s not uncommon to need a little “time-out” break during the first leg of a triathlon. Perhaps the ultimate benefit of the backstroke is being prepared for the unexpected.