Backstroke is vastly different from other swimming disciplines because you either keep moving forward or sink, says Diocesan Boys’ School’s elite swimmer Matthew Chung Cheuk-hei.
“You need to master the pulling motion, which is one of the most important techniques in backstroke,” says the 18-year-old. “When you sweep one arm underwater, the other arm comes up above the water. These motions can help you move forward while staying in the right lane.”
So how does Matthew improve his pulling power? He has a very unusual but fairly effective method. “My coach usually ties a resistance band to my waist. When I swim, he’ll try to forcefully pull me back. It’s sort of like a wrestling match between me and my coach. This way, I can strengthen my upper body muscles and create powerful propulsion,” Matthew tells Young Post.
However, a strong upper body doesn’t mean you’ll swim faster. Matthew says it’s more important to balance the entire movement. “The upper body can help you move forward, but don’t forget your core muscles, shoulder / hip rotation and kicking,” he says. “Aerobic conditioning – such as long-distance running – and planks are essential for strengthening core muscles. Shoulder / hip rotation doesn’t mean moving them 360 degrees, but you need to move your shoulders and hips fast enough so you can move forward at a good pace. Such rotation can generate great pulling and kicking power. The flutter kick can help you move forward, but you need to kick rhythmically.”
Matthew says he has been inspired by Japan’s backstroke expert Ryosuke Irie. “He has the most graceful technique [among back-strokers] because of his excellent body movement. His arm / leg synchronisation reduces resistance, making it all look very smooth. I hope to learn his skills and become a well-rounded backstroke swimmer.
The DBS star has tasted success in many international competitions. He scooped a gold medal in the boys’ (15-17 years) 50m backstroke event at the 2016 Milo/Pram Invitational Age Group Swimming Championship in Malaysia. He also won gold in the boys’ 50m backstroke event in a record time of 27.10 seconds at the Schools Interport Swimming Competition held in Guangzhou last year.
Matthew has set his sights on the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, but he admits he has difficulty handling stress, especially in international competitions.
“I get nervous easily when I participate in large-scale events, for example, the Fina/airweave Swimming World Cup 2016 which was held in Hong Kong last October,” he says. “In the next few months, I’ll be taking part in more overseas competitions. I am confident these experiences will help me boost my confidence and become mentally tougher.”
What food would you never give up?
Iced lemon tea. It has a special taste – a mixture of sweet and sour - and always energises me.
If you could have the abilities of any animal for one competition, which would you choose and why?
A tiger shark. They are undoubtedly sprinters as their fins and lobes help them to maintain a good balance and speed. Most importantly, other fishes are intimidated by tiger sharks. I need that fearless feeling during competitions.
Which fictional character would you choose as your teammate?
Luke Hobbs from The Fast and the Furious movie series. He is a brave, intelligent and practical person. He has excellent coordination skills and is mentally tough. With him on board, the DBS team would be able to continue their supremacy in inter-school swimming competitions.
Who is your favourite athlete?
American swimming superstar Michael Phelps. Apart from his wonderful swimming skills, I really like his positive attitude; he is also a very humble person.