Missy Franklin took the swimming world by storm at the London Olympics. The teenager from Colorado stormed her way to 4 gold medals, including both backstrokes, completing the 200m back in world record fashion.
Franklin’s long frame, strong shoulders and excellent technique have helped power her to international stardom, including being recognized as Swimmer of the Year in 2012.
One of the ways that Franklin keeps her technique tight is by doing a remarkably simple and old school drill—swimming backstroke with a water bottle balanced on her forehead.
How This Drill Will Improve Your Backstroke
It will teach you to swim straight. The first time I raced a backstroke event outdoors as an 8-year old was one of the longest races of my life. With no ceiling to keep me swimming straight I bulldozed my shoulders and arms into the lane ropes repeatedly, rolling my head back to see where the wall was. This drill teaches you to keep your head straight, and by extension, helps you swim straight as well.
It stops you from picking your head up. When swimming backstroke—particularly during races—we want to see what is going on around us. Where the competition is, the pace clock, or whether that cute lifeguard is checking us out. It’s tempting to want to pick our head up and sneak a peek at our surroundings, which throws our body-line out of alignment.
Keeps your bodyline straight. Beyond keeping your head stabilized, performing this drill forces you to maintain a straight spine-line in the water. The straighter your body, the less resistance and drag you are competing against. Less drag, more speed.
The feedback is instant. Unlike most drills that you sort of have to guesstimate if you are doing correctly, this one provides instant feedback. If your head starts bouncing around, or you pick your head up, the water bottle goes crash. Simple as that.
Tips for Performing this Backstroke Drill:
- Use a half-empty to empty bottle. You can cheat a little bit by using a half-full bottle which will help stabilize it a little bit. A full water bottle will hurt if it falls downwards into your face, so stick with an empty or half-full bottle.
- Don’t stop rolling. The tendency with some swimmers when doing this backstroke drill is to stop rolling their hips and shoulders. You want to continue swimming backstroke the way you always do—avoid the temptation to swim with flat shoulders.
- Mix it in with your swimming, or use it pre and post race. Franklin commonly uses this drill at competition both during her warm-up and after her races. Use it to help tune up your stroke, or alternate between this drill and regular backstroke in practice to solidify the habit of swimming with a straight head.
- Progress to kicking. If you are just starting out with this backstroke drill do so with straight swimming, and once you get the hang of it move to doing it while kicking for some next level stability.
The next time you hit the pool toss the water bottle on your head, keep it balanced, and swim your way to a straighter, faster backstroke.