Swimming in Germany/Altdeutsch-Rücken

At last I have discovered what these people who annoy me at the swimming baths are doing. It’s an old-fashioned German swimming stroke. The person swims backwards, moving both arms up, back and forward again simultaneously, in a crablike manner, and taking up an inordinate space in the pool – almost as bad as two women chatting to each other.

The clue was given by a commenter to an entry (in German) by Kaltmamsell. Kaltmamsell swims a lot and I have often envied her fitness and indeed youth, not that I could swim that far when I was younger. She wrote this entry on the problem of large numbers of people in the Olympiabad in Munich. In the smaller pools I go to, it is not so much the young swimmers but the old who cause problems. I also notice at water gymnastics that nearly all old Germans, including the men, make a big point of keeping their hair dry. I can’t help thinking that swimming with your neck bent could lead to vertebra problems, but maybe the sport makes up for that.

I found the above illustration in German Wikipedia:

Altdeutsch-Rücken (oft nur Altdeutsch oder auch Deutscher Kraul sowie Rücken-Gleitzug) ist ein Schwimmstil in Rückenlage. Dabei wird auf dem Rücken die Brustbeinschlagbewegung (Grätschschwung) in Kombination mit einem rückenkraulähnlichen Armzug, bei dem jedoch beide Arme zeitgleich bewegt werden, ausgeführt. Das heißt, sowohl Arme als auch Beine werden jeweils simultan und in jedem Moment symmetrisch zur Körperlängsachse bewegt.

It says one advantage of this stroke is that you can see where you’re going – if you bend your neck far enough.

I have also seen a kind of backwards swimming without arm movements, which I believe is supposed to be good for your back, though I don’t know why.

I found a Dutch site, Overview swimming strokes, with English, which shows 150 swimming strokes, with diagrams and animations. Here is a screenshot of part of their big diagram:

I can’t work out which the German backstroke is – it might be the ‘backstroke of Löwenstrom’.

Another peculiarity is that most people swim breaststroke with their heads out of the water. It seems that this is what is taught at school. I started with crawl. Here is some discussion between English-speaking parents in Germany on the topic at Toytown Germany.

So here’s me picturing my kids back in Oz in a few years time —- bobbing up and down in the sea doing breaststroke with their heads above water, getting absolutely nowhere as their cousins have tears streaming down their faces from laughing so hard! (“Don’t worry about us in out in the surf Mum – we learnt this breast-stroke thing in Germany! See we’re not even getting our faces wet!” … and out to sea they drift!)

14 thoughts on “Swimming in Germany/Altdeutsch-Rücken

  1. This piques my curiousity. I’m having a hard time imagining how it works though, so if you happen to run across a video I hope you’ll post it.

    • There were five of them doing it today! and three doing the other stroke, where the arms don’t come out of the water. I had not watched closely before, but today I looked more closely. Did you see the animated diagrams on the Dutch site? But they don’t give a good impression. At the very end of this dreadful Oliver Pocher quiz video:
      at about 4 min 35 sec, you can see a film. The style is pretty like ‘normal’ backcrawl, but both arms move simultaneously, so it’s mouch more obvious when they stretch out sideways underwater.

  2. Gedanken des Instruktions-Schwimmlehrers
    W. Mehlmannn, Arbon (CH), im Jahre 1936:
    Jugend und Kraft

    • Good heavens! I even found a longer quote from this on Wikipedia.

      So does this mean you can do this stroke, Adrian? You always seemed so young.

  3. Funny you, Margaret, should mention that. Yes. I as a one-time competitive Surrey schools swimmer – before turning into an old man – can do that and most other strokes, including ‘U-Boot gliding’.

    NB on a more sombre note, members of that ‘Christian’ side of the family from Switzerland migrated to Munich a year later and even joined the NSDAP a.k.a. Nazi Party of the Third Reich. Talk about skeletons in the cupboard or closet.

    • This is remarkable. You mean you actually did it in England, or just that you can do it now? If the former, what was it called?

  4. It’s called the Backwards Dolphin a.k.a. Backwards Butterfly Movement http://vimeo.com/3514447.

    At my school in Southern England, it was called the ‘backstroke butterfly’. And, yes, I – with the school team – used it, albeit in swimming practice only.

    It’s quite possible it’s called something else in other English-speaking countries, esp. those with a strong swimming tradition, such as the US, Canada, South Africa and Oz. But AFAIK it’s never – so far – been a competitive stroke.

    PS underwater(U-Boot gliding!)swimming races used to be an Olympic sport back in 1900.

    I’m glad you didn’t draw me on the family Nazis…..

    • This [url=http://members.quicknet.nl/sdebest/nostalgicswimming/EN/IndexEN.html]backwards dolphin[/url] is not the same. I see the whole body moves, just as in the forward butterfly (I have swum that, but not for many years now) and the legs are together. This German stroke does not have the undulating body movement, and the legs spread out wide somewhat like the legs in breaststroke. And incidentally, it apparently was once used in competitions, at least in germany. I think it is what these people call the stroke of L

  5. Flutter-back finning is my last offer. This website also refers in the same breath – or should I say stroke – to ‘inverted butterfly’ which L

  6. Here in Germany this Breaststroke is sometimes teached as an optional Stroke. We use it at the Training to refresh between the other Strokes.

  7. It is actually my favourite and fastest stroke. I am faster than most non-competitive (non-club) freestyle swimmers

    you can breathe any time you want
    You develop great back muscles and lats.

    when you swim fast, there is some strain on the outer knee
    you don’t really see where you are going

    If it matters: I am German ;)

  8. Well, lots of swimmers are faster than me (I do a mixture of bad front and back crawl and breaststroke) but I have not yet seen this done fast. Perhaps I should try it to develop my muscles.

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