Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to Swim On Your Back in a Straight Line while Outside

I've been getting a number of comments at my outdoor pool about my ability to keep a straight line while swimming on my back, so I decided it might make for a worthy inclusion here.

We've all seen those swimmers who when on their backs weave back and forth across the lane. That's fine if you have the lane to yourself, but just imagine if you are sharing the lane with that swimmer! Until a couple of years ago, I was that weaving swimmer, but I've cracked the nut on how to deal with the problem.

Let's start with why swimming on one's back in an outdoors pool is harder than doing so in an indoor pool. The answer is pretty simple, outdoor swimming offers few cues to allow you to keep track of where you are.

My indoor pools (I visit several each year) have any number of ceiling features that generally line up with the lanes. At my pools there are ceiling panels, ventilation pipes, fire suppression piping (yes, in the pool room!!!), wood planking, etc. All it takes to keep a straight line is to keep yourself in line with the selected feature and you're good to go. If you see yourself going left or right of the feature, you're not swimming straight and you need to make a minor correction. Easy, right?

But outdoor pools, generally offer none of the above except blue sky, if you are so lucky, so what's one to do?

My technique is to swim as close to the lane line as I can without rubbing against it. Every few strokes, I'll allow an elbow or hip to gently brush the lane line, just so I'm certain that I am where I intend to be. That's it. Very simple. It will work in any pool that has lane markers.

A couple notes to keep in mind. Make sure you keep your leading fingertips pointed away from the lane marker - you don't want to jam a finger. Secondly, this technique is solely for training and recreation purposes. For obvious reasons of speed, you don't want to use this approach in competitive swimming as it may subtract from your time, even if it is only for a brief micro-second.


  1. Another tehnique would be to find the exact distance where you would just tuch the lane rope each stroke but never really come in contact with it. We used to use that durring swim practice, and as you said sometimes when doing sprints you would ocasionally hit the lane rope and hurt your fingers but hey , that was part of the practice.
    On a more serious not though, holding a straight line with backstroke requires tehnique training because when you wobble left/right it means you are not actually swimming correctlly or you are pulling stronger on one side or your hips are moving left and right :)

  2. really helpful, I swim outside regularly and find swimming straight on backstroke is virtually impossible! the advice here would also be helpful to any buildings with a curved pattern on the ceiling rather than straight lines.

    Chris - Simply Swim


  3. Thank your share I never swim outside like you said on your blog.

    very useful.


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