Practice Makes Perfect: Mastering the Elementary Backstroke

Child Doing Backstroke

Elementary backstroke is one of the first strokes taught. It’s a relaxing stroke that requires only the ability to float. While it is not performed competitively, the elementary backstroke is one of the eight major strokes and should not be forgotten. Read on to learn proper techniques to start backstroke swimming with ease.

Start Floating

The elementary backstroke starts with a back float. Being able to float on your back is the main body movement to swimming the elementary backstroke, so it’s important that you get it right. 

Everyone can float. Though you might not be able to just jump into a pool and float straight back up to the surface, everyone, no matter what body shape, size, or muscle density, has the ability to float. The biggest problem with floating that most people run into is how they position their body.

When you are floating, you want to push your stomach out towards the surface. This will arch your back slightly, which is what you want. To help your feet from sinking, and to keep you floating, you should tighten the muscles in your lower back and bottom. The easiest way to do this is to squeeze your butt together. This will make your legs stay together and make floating a bit easier.

The most common complaint from people who say they can’t float is that their feet sink and then pull the rest of their body under with them. If you experience this difficulty, it means that your legs are heavier than the buoyancy that is provided in your upper body, but even so, you can still float.

Consider floating like trying to balance a seesaw. Since your feet are too heavy, you have to make your upper body heavier. If you keep your arms out like you are trying to float, and then lift your fingertips out of the water, you can change the focal balance in your body. If your fingertips are not enough to balance the scales, lift your palms out of the water too. Your feet will not droop under the water, and you will start floating. 

Monkey – Tree – Rocketship

Swimming the elementary backstroke is usually broken down into three parts: 

  • Pulling your arms up under your armpits like a monkey
  • Stretching out like a tree
  • Pushing down by your side tight like a rocketship

Depending on where you learned it, you might have called it monkey, tree, rocketship or even chicken, airplane, soldier, or even tickle, T, touch. When you first learned it you moved from one pose to the next to help move your body through the water. 

As you master the stroke, it’s important to fluidly connect these parts together. You shouldn’t be robotically moving from one pose to the next, but using them together in one motion. The only time your arms should stop moving is when they are resting by your side. 

Cup Your Hands

Make sure to cup your fingers together like you are trying to drink water out of them. This will help you push and move the water, which will give you more strength in your pull. 

To practice this, stand in water that is waist to chest-deep. Wave your hand back and forth in the water. First, do this with your fingers spread out and try to get your fingers as wide apart from each other as possible. You’ll notice how easy it is for your hand to travel through the water. 

Then, try cupping your hand and moving it the same way. You should be able to feel that it is more difficult and takes more strength to move your hand. Having resistance and feeling like it is taking more energy to move your hand back and forth is a good thing. This means that you’re moving the water, and trying to push and pull it rather than gliding through it.

To really master advanced swimming techniques, you need a great instructor. Contact SwimJim to get started and advance your swimming skills today.