Most swimmers view backstroke as one of the most beautiful strokes out there.

When swam correctly, the swimmer appears as if gliding on top of the water with rotating arms in a smooth motion.

Let's have a look at how it is done.

There are several aspects that you need to focus on

  • head position
  • leg movement  
  • hip rotation  
  • arm motion

I'll dissect these, one by one below.

Head Position

The head could be at two different levels, depending on what distance you are swimming.

The main position of the head is similar to when sleeping on your back and resting your head on the pillow.

Eyes look to the sky, the neck is relaxed and chin is NOT on the chest.

You should not be looking at the walls while swimming, only at the ceiling.

If you have the correct position of the head, your hips and legs will be at the surface which will create a nice and less resistant swimming glide.

Backstorke head position
Keep your head low - only the eyes and mouth should be out of the water

This technique is great for 200 backstroke event, however, for sprints, you should have the chin tilted a little bit forward in order for your legs and hips to drop lower below the surface.

Now you are asking, why would I want to do that?

Well, if you are sprinting, you need to kick like mad and if your feet are right at the surface, you really can't do that really well, so by allowing your legs to drop down just a slight bit, you are actually creating more room for your kicking power.

At the same time, your body is angled more like a boat trying to swim over the top of the water rather than through it.

It turns out this kicking room compensates nicely for the inconvenience of having your hips a little lower below the surface.

Leg Movement

Well, there is a lot to say about the backstroke kick, but the basic principle applies.

If you can't kick well, you will probably not be any good at backstroke.

In fact, backstroke is a very kick driven stroke, so go get your kick on first.

Don't bend your knees.

Motion starts with the hip and undulates forward to your toes.

Relax your ankles.

Be sure to practice quite a bit of dolphin kicking on your back off the walls (best dolphin kick exercise there is).

Keep your hips up during backstroke
The hips should ride high at the surface

Hip Rotation

Hips are also a very important part of backstroke swimming.

You should be moving your hips from side to side with each stroke.

Backstroke is not swum flat.

The hip should lead your arm pull.

Meaning: Before you get your arm in the water above your head, your hip should already be there.

In other words, the hip is the first thing to rotate and the arm stroke follows.

Arm Motion

The normal rule - "thumb up" (when you arm comes out of the water at your hip) and "pinky in" (when you enter above your head back in the water) is perfect.

However, the question is, when do you rotate from "thumb up" to "pinky in"?.

Well, your best bet is to try it for yourself and see the result.

If you are a good observer, you notice that if you rotate your hand too early into the "pinky in" position, your triceps will tighten; hence you are using energy you could have saved.

So, my recommendation is to rotate to the "pinky in" position right before your arm is about to enter the water, that way your arm is relaxed above the water almost the entire time (as it should be in all the strokes).

The rest of the tips are the good ol’

  •  keep your elbows locked above the water  
  •  do not cross over your body axis with your arms when they enter the water  
Backstroke arm rhythm
Keep the hand relaxed and elbow locked

When in the water, to achieve maximum efficiency your hand should be about 30 cm (1 foot) below the surface.

Backstroke underwater pull
Underwater pull not too deep and not too shallow

Feel free to leave any questions in the comment sections, I will do my best to address them.

Happy stroking :).

Swim Advice Topics

Backstroke Magic (How To Properly Swim Backstroke?) is part of the following categories: Backstroke and is meant for swimmers in: Level 2 - Beginner

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Comments (13)

Aida said...
Hello I have a question:!

I have a defect and through the years still I dont know what is the cause. When swimming bkstrk I tend to jump in the water .. perhaps the speed of my stroke is too fast and less efficient. .. How can I know the cause and how can I improve my style?

Thanx ...Aida!
libor said...

thanks for the post. There could be several reasons for the jumping. Without seeing you swim, might be tough to determine. However, my hunch would be that you are not rotating your hips, you keep your arms straight during the underwater pull or your arm movements are not synchronized in smooth motion (e.g. swimming catch up swim). I'd suggest drills, such as kicking on your side with your arms at your side and rotating from one side to the other while your head is afixed, looking at the ceiling, so your body is rotating from a neck down (imagine your head being in clamps). Furthermore, you can swim with a pull buoy that you stick between your legs. This will help with buoyancy and you can concentrate on relaxing your arms and moving them correctly as described in this post.

I hope this was helpful.
Anonymous said...
i am so thankful to have found your blog as i learned a lot of techniques here. i've just recently learn swimming and would like to learn the backstroke. my problem is the water gets into my nose when i do it. is it necessary to get a noseclip?
libor said...
There is one technique you can try to stop water going into your nose before going for a nose clip. Most swimmers just curl up their upper lip towards the nose, to create somewhat a flap that covers the bottom of your nose, thus covering the holes. This way no air escapes and no air gets in. (tough to do with a moustache :)). This takes a bit of practice, so keep trying. However, if you feel that this is too much, do not worry about it and just get yourself a nose clip. I actually gave noseclips to all of my backstrokers and it was a great help for underwater backstroke kicking and quite cheap :). let me know if there is anything else, i can help with.
Anonymous said...
how do you do a great backstroke start?
swimator said...
I'll try to put some backstroke start tutorial together for you. Stay tuned!
sanuj srivastava said...
A constant leg motion is required. This doesn’t mean you have to hammer with the legs, but rather keep a gentle steady motion.
Anonymous said...

I've got a huge problem with body position and kicking in backstroke.
When I practise only kicking with my arms next to the body (completely without arms) everything is quite all right.
When I use my arms my legs go sinking and I'm not able to get them to the surface.
The same happens when I want practise just kicking. When I extend my arms, legs go immediately down to the bottem.
How can I fix it?

Libor J said...
Hi Rob, thank you for your question. If I understand your difficulty correctly, it is a very common problem that the lower part of the body sinks. It usually has to do a lot with your lat muscles flexibility. If you are not able to lay on the floor on your back and lay your arms extended on the floor above your head without feeling a lot of tension in your armpits then this could be the cause. Because basically, your arms push your body into the water if you cannot properly lean on them in front. One sure way to help is of course stretching, but this is difficult for many and takes a long time, so you can instead focus on rolling your hips more where you swim from side to side (like freestyle) and be sure to lean on the front arm (put weight on it while it is up front) and leave it there until the arm comes out of the water. If all fails, you can try picking up a pair of fins to help with the legs. Hope I shed some light on the issue. let me know how it goes and good luck.
Anonymous said...
Thanks for your answer.
I think it might be caused by poor flexibility of lats.
Fins are even worse for me. But I think I might have also problem with core strength.
We've tried some drills or lets say exercises from synchro swimming just for fun and I was unable to perform this exercise on the video (at the time 1:30 )
I just couldn't get my legs to the surface. But when I try swimming on the back and doing breaststroke kick everything's fine.

Anonymous said...
Thanks for your answer.
Yes I think I might have problem with flexibility of lats.
Fins are even worse for me.
But I think I also might have problem with core strength. Although my second hobby is crossfit. So we do lots of exercises for core. But I'm unable to 'tighten' my core properly in the water.
We've tried some drills from synchro swimming just for fun.
And when I tried this exercise (see on 1:30 in this video ) I struggled with getting my legs to the surface as well. I couldn't relaxed while lying on the back. But when I try swimming on the back and doing breaststroke kick I have no problem with relaxing.
Libor J said...
@Rob: no problem. The synchro sculling exercises are actually quite advanced, so I am not sure that is a good way to start and if I were you I would not concern myself if you weren't able to perform them. I'd suggest getting your body better balanced and positioned in the water and that should in turn help a bit on backstroke. Try this: /blog/legs-of-steel-my-legs-sink-like-rock
Anonymous said...
Thank you again.
Sorry I might have send the question twice because I wasn't sure if it had sent off yesterday :-)

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