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by Kerry O Brien

February 22, 2010

Switching strokes mid-lap helps alignment

This Free/Back Combo Drill is a drill that anyone can incorporate into their training. We’ve mentioned time and time again the importance of head position and body alignment and this drill focuses on both of these elements as it transitions between freestyle based and backstroke based swimming. You can use this drill during your warm up or cool down before or after a backstroke set and is great for triathletes as an opportunity to “take a break” from the typical all-freestyle triathlon workout. This drill can be swum short course or long course.

There are three elements to focus on while performing the Free/Back Combo Drill:

  • Rock-steady head position
  • Shoulder/hip rotation
  • Constant kick

Begin by swimming a fifty and alternating five strokes freestyle and six strokes backstroke. By using both an odd and even stroke count, you ensure that you practice transitioning from both sides of the stroke. When you roll from one stroke to the other, make sure to transition at a speed that allows you to maintain body balance—the slower, the better.

Rock-Steady Head

To ensure that you minimize head movement, breathe only during the backstroke cycles, keeping the eyes looking either straight down or straight up.

Shoulder/Hip Roll

Make sure that your shoulders and hips always rotate on the same plane from side to side around an anchored head position. Focus on the entry of the hand being hip-driven in both strokes.

Consistent Kick

Though there are various options for kicks with freestyle, backstroke almost always requires a six-beat kick, therefore use the same six-beat kick for both the freestyle and backstroke portions of the drill. Your goal is to kick so that you rotate on the same plane as the shoulder and hips. Your kick should stay within the width of the body so as to not create frontal resistance and drag by opening up wider than the hips.



  • Technique and Training


  • Freestyle
  • Backstroke
  • Drills