How to Reduce Excess Knee Bend in Backstroke

How to Reduce Excess Knee Bend in Backstroke

Jeff Conwell, head coach of the Piranha Swim Club of Palm Springs, California, shares a corrective drill for backstrokers to clean up their kick. 

You see it all the time–the overly enthusiastic young backstroker who pumps their knees with such vigor that they clear the water completely. Up and down, throttling into the water, making a lot of splash, but not a lot of propulsion.

Piranha Swim Club head coach Jeff Conwell likes to use the “Board Over Knee” drill to help calm those raging knees and get fluidity and grace back into your backstroke kick.

Here is how to do it.

How to Reduce Excess Knee Bend in Backstroke
Not a knee in sight.

The Backstroke Board Over Knee Kick

In our backstroke drill progression the first step focuses on body line and posture then adding in the kick.  To be effective the kick shouldn’t disrupt the body line but help it which in turn will help rotation.

The kick should be big enough that toes break the surface but small enough that a six beat kick can be done at a rate that matches the tempo you hope to be racing at.

By far the most common problem with this and beginners is bending knees too much in the kick.  The bigger the angle of the knee the less water your feet are moving.

Key Points on How to Perform the Drill Correctly:

  1.  Kick on back with arms at your side.
  2.  Hold the end of the kick board at the round end so that it reached your knees at the flat end.  The smaller kick boards don’t always work for this drill.
  3.  Kick with the board over your knees.  The board has to be laying flat on the surface,  not too up.
  4.  2 goals for the swimmers to achieve: Kick without your knees hitting the board, and to make the water boil from your toes breaking the surface.

Make sure hips and legs don’t sink under to avoid knees hitting the board.  Hard to do if toes are breaking surface too.  Also make sure the legs are not apart so that the knees still come up but don’t hit the board.

Special shout-out to Jeff for sharing this drill with us. You can catch-up with Jeff on Twitter, or stay up to date with the Piranha Swim Club at their official website.

See Also:

Missy Franklin’s Favorite Backstroke Drill: The Water Bottle Balance. The world record holder in the 200m backstroke has a drill that she unleashes in practice and during warm-ups in competition. Here is why and how to do the drill.

The Backstroke: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know. From the history of the backstroke to tips on how to perform it properly, here is everything you should know about the backstroke.

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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