How to Master the Backstroke

November 27, 2020

Rumor has it, the British didn’t like having their face underwater…and that’s how we ended up with the backstroke! 

The backstroke is often thought to be the fastest and easiest stroke to learn. Though it might appear leisurely compared to the other strokes, there are a few unique challenges to being belly up — like being blind to everything in front of you and having to rely on your Spidey senses. Not to worry…CA’s swimming pros have your back (no pun intended!) with essential tips for improving your backstroke technique. 

Proper Body Position

According to CA swim instructor Carl Barr, finding the right body position is your first priority in any stroke. To swim the backstroke quickly and efficiently, it’s important to keep your body as flat as you can to the surface of the water.

“The tendency is to let the head come up so we’re looking towards our feet. But if that happens, our feet sink,” said Barr. “Our hips want to be under the base of our head, so we need to make sure we’re pressing our head back, chin up. This keeps our hips up and means all our efforts to propel ourselves down the pool will have greater success.” 

Here’s a quick checklist for success:

  • Keep your head, chest and hips as close to the surface of the water as possible.
  • The water level should cover your ears.
  • Your eyes and nose point straight up toward the sky.
  • Relax your neck to help straighten your body out.
  • While the body rotates in this stroke, you’ll want to keep your head still.
  • Make sure your hips are under the base of your head.

Watch out for: Tucking the chin and looking toward the feet. This will sabotage your efforts to maintain a higher position on the water! 


Arms & Hands 

Similar to the freestyle stroke, backstroke arms should alternate; so as one arm goes into the water above your head, the other is exiting the water by your hip. The arms will stay in continual motion throughout this stroke.

Columbia Clippers coach Kelsey Lord breaks down the basics: 

  • Lift one arm up straight out of the water toward the ceiling with your thumb facing up.
  • Once your arm is pointing straight up, rotate your hand so your pinky will enter the water first as your over your arm back toward the water next to your ear. 
  • As that arm pushes down to your thigh under the water, bring your opposite arm out of the water as described previously. 
  • Continue moving your arms in the alternating fashion being sure to push the water down toward your side with each stroke. 

“As you become more comfortable with your stroke, you can focus on rotating your hips and shoulders with each stroke as your arm enters the water to allow for a deeper and easier pull underwater,” said Lord.


Legs & Feet

Your backstroke kick needs to be strong and consistent during the entire pull. As you hold a steady kick, try to rotate from the hips. 

Here’s Lord’s best tips:

  • Your feet and ankles should be relaxed, with your toes pointed. 
  • Kick up and down in a continuous alternation motion starting from your hips and thighs.
  • Aim to keep your legs straight to keep your knees from popping out of the water. Your body should stay in one long straight line. 

Remember, the need for relaxed ankles is to help push the water back, not up or down. Fast kickers have flexible ankles! 

Watch out for: Kicking with bent knees. Your knees shouldn’t break the surface of the water, nor should your kick originate from your knees. When your kick comes from your hips, it has a smooth ripple-like effect down through your toes.


Want Expert Help Mastering The Backstroke?

Our last tip for backstroke success? Don’t forget to breathe! Keeping a consistent breathing pattern is vital to the rhythm of your stroke. 

When we’re swimming, it’s easy to make mistakes that we’re not even aware of. If you’d like the eyes of a professional to help you work on your backstroke, CA’s coaches and swim lesson instructors are more than happy to assist. CA offers one-on-one swim lessons for all ages and skill levels. Learn more here.

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