Tips for Learning the Backstroke


Some swimmers think that backstroke is a relaxing stroke. One of the biggest draws to swimming backstroke is that you get to float on your back and breathe whenever you want, rather than having to time your breath. However, backstroke can be a fast and competitive stroke that provides a great workout for muscle groups that don’t get used as much in other types of swimming strokes—while yes, still being able to breathe however you want.

Here are four tips and backstroke drills that you can practice to get even better at learning how to swim backstroke. 

Head Positioning

One of the most common mistakes when learning how to backstroke is over-tilting the head. The temptation for most is to tilt their head too far toward their feet or stomach. When you tilt your head too far, you start to sit up in the water and bend at the hips. This will cause you to slow down and even sink. 

A drill that you can do to fix this is to fully exaggerate the proper head position by tilting your head back with your face underwater. Carefully swim a full length of the pool in this position, coming up for air as needed. On the following length, tilt your head up as you swim so that your head is relaxed and water is barely missing contact with your goggles. You should feel the water on the center of the top of your head, or even close to your forehead. The next length of the pool, exaggerate the problem by looking at your stomach. By focusing on the exaggerated problem and solution, you should be able to feel the head position that causes the least amount of drag and helps support your body. 

Tight Core

During the backstroke, your body’s position can drop at the neck, but it can also bend and drop at your hips. If you drop your hips too far, it can affect how your kick propels you. Instead of pushing yourself toward your head, your kick will be forcing you diagonally up and out of the water, which will slow you down.  

To make sure that your core and hips don’t drop, tighten those muscles as you swim. Imagine a string trying to pull your belly button toward your spine and trying to hold it there while you are swimming. To help elevate your hips, squeeze your butt together. While this might feel awkward at first, this will engage both your abs and glutes to keep your body from sinking. 

Body Rotation

When learning how to do the backstroke, you might be tempted to keep your core perfectly stationary while your arms and legs push you through the water. This can work, but to get the most out of this stroke, your shoulders, core, and hips need to rotate. Backstroke should involve your entire body working together.

A backstroke drill that can help with body rotation is to do a shoulder-out drill. During this drill, you swim backstroke with a slight variation on your arm movement and speed. Anytime you finish your stroke and your arm is by your leg, keep your arm resting on your leg and do eight flutter kicks, and then finish the arm movement. 

During this pause in movement when you are only kicking and your arms have come to a rest, focus on your shoulders. Your shoulder, for whichever arm is resting, should be out of the water. Your shoulder arm that is stretched above your head at this point should be completely submerged. Once you have this exaggerated body rotation down, start to reduce the amount of time that you pause with your arms on your leg from eight kicks to six, to four, and then to your regular rhythm, making sure that throughout the process your shoulders rotate and come out of the water. 

Arm Movement

For the most power, you need to push for as long as you can in the right direction. If you push the water the wrong way, your energy will go that way and you’ll end up getting tired and not going as fast as you could. 

You should not be doing large arm circles as you swim backstroke because a lot of your energy when doing that will be spent getting your arms up and out of the water or pushing you in the wrong direction. For the best arm movement, you want to focus on pushing water toward your toes. You can have a broad, fast arc as your arm travels above the water, but when your hand goes into the water it should be pushing toward your toes. 

A drill to help with this movement is to drag your hand against the side of your body. Let your arm start high above your head, then pull your hand down to your armpit, trace it down your side and to your hip and leg. 

Backstroke and More with SwimJim

The backstroke can be a fast and powerful stroke if you are willing to focus on your movement and body position. To really master advanced swimming techniques like body rotation, backstroke starts, and flip turns, you need a great instructor. Contact SwimJim to get started and advance your swimming skills today.