Backstroke can be a challenge. It’s the only stroke that requires you to be entirely on your back, which raises a few questions — how are you supposed to swim straight? What’s the best way to stay afloat? We’re breaking down six key aspects of backstroke technique to help every swimmer — from beginner to elite — feel more confident on their backs and swim faster with less energy!

What Makes Backstroke Different?

  • Long-Axis Stroke: Like freestyle, backstroke is a long-axis stroke, meaning you’re rotating along an invisible axis that runs from the tip of your head down through your toes. If you’re good at breaststroke, you may find that backstroke feels more challenging for you.
  • Pinky Finger Entry: The optimal backstroke catch involves entering the water “pinky first.” This key mechanical difference sets backstroke apart from the 3 other strokes.
  • Breathing: Perhaps the most obvious is breathing! In backstroke, you’re able to breathe 100% of the time.

5 Mistakes To Avoid in Backstroke

Elements of Perfect Backstroke

Ready to swim your best backstroke ever? Keep these 6 factors in mind during your next workout.

1. Body Position

Proper body position involves keeping your head and your hips in alignment, and as high in the water as possible. In backstroke, strive to keep your head as still as possible, looking straight up. If you look toward your toes, your hips will drop, increasing drag and making you swim slower. Thinking about keeping your belly button “dry” will encourage your hips to stay high, too. Related: Learn to Float in 10 Minutes or Less! To keep your head in alignment, try the backstroke cup drill! Simply fill a plastic cup with water, place it on your forehead, and swim backstroke without letting the cup fall. It’s a challenge! We know many swimmers like to use fins, but we recommend laying off of them until you have proper body position down, especially for backstroke. Fins allow you to slack on proper posture, which can cause your hips to sink. The fins help propel you through the water, so you may not notice the issue.

2. Pull

The backstroke pull begins with your hand exiting the water thumb-first. Keeping your arm straight, lift it out of the water, slowly rotating your hand so that your pinky enters first when your arm reaches the water again. Related: What is Early Vertical Forearm? As you lift your arm, rotate your body away from the lifted arm so your shoulder comes out of the water. When your hand re-enters the water, rotate toward that arm to reduce drag created by your shoulders. This pinky-first entry is key to setting up a proper Early Vertical Forearm catch. From this point, the pull will feel similar to a high-elbow freestyle pull.

3. Kick(s)

Backstroke kick is a flutter kick, just like freestyle. It’s short and fast, and your toes should be pointed. Your kick shouldn’t be super wide — no more than 12 to 18 inches. The smaller and faster your kick, the faster you will go! Related: How Ryan Murphy Swims Backstroke So Fast The kick should be driven from your hip flexors rather than from your knees. Your legs should be pretty straight, with just a slight bend at the knee.

4. Rotational Momentum

When it comes to backstroke rotation, there are 2 schools of thought that can work for swimmers:

  • Hip-Driven Backstroke: Backstroke rotation isn’t quite as hip driven as freestyle, but swimmers with really powerful kicks can drive their stroke mainly with their hips.
  • Shoulder-Driven Backstroke: For swimmers with a weaker kick, driving the rotation from the shoulders can be more effective for increasing stroke tempo and speed.

Related: How to Swim Perfect Freestyle Whichever rotation philosophy resonates with you, don’t over-rotate in backstroke — it’ll slow you down! It’s not about switching completely from one side to the other, but rather about reducing resistance

5. Underwaters

Underwaters, also known as the 5th stroke in swimming, are a huge component of backstroke. You want to work your underwater both off the start and the turns, ensuring you have a tight streamline and a strong dolphin kick. In streamline, stack your hands on top of each other and squeeze your biceps by your ears. Related: How to Swim Breaststroke with Perfect Technique Maintaining this arm position, make sure your underwater dolphin kick has a strong up and down component. Often we neglect the “up” kick and lose out on extra power! To strengthen the “up” kick, work on strengthening your hamstrings, glutes and lower back with dryland training.

6. Tempo

Fast backstroke tempo comes down to arm speed. But it can be challenging to get your arms going fast while swimming on your back! Spin drill can help. Related: More Backstroke Drills to Try In spin drill, you’ll swim backstroke and try to move your arms as fast as possible, not worrying about catching water, rotating or keeping your hips up. Practicing spin drill can teach your arms to move more quickly when it comes time to race! Related: How to Swim Butterfly with Perfect Technique Improper rotation and kicking can interfere with your tempo. If you over-rotate and kick too much or too big, your tempo can slow. There’s no one rotation or kicking sweet spot for good tempo, though. Each swimmer is different!

Drills To Improve Your Backstroke

Improve Power: Dolphin Kick, Backstroke Arms Improve Rotation: Single Arm Backstroke 2,2,2 We recommend using fins for this drill! Fix Over-Rotation: Double Arm Backstroke Get more backstroke Drills and Workouts in the MySwimPro app! Try MySwimPro Coach to begin your Personalized Training Plan.

  1. Swim Teach Home
  2. learn backstroke

…and download a free Backstroke Book

Discover how to learn backstroke in easy stages, piecing the swimming stroke together step by step. Download a free copy of my Backstroke Technique book so that you can refer to the images and diagrams as you work through each step. Scroll down to get started.
Learn how to swim backstroke for beginners

Step 1: Backstroke Body Position

Correct backstroke body position is an essential starting point in the how to learn backstroke process. The best drill to begin with is the ‘push and glide’ from the pool side:

  1. Start by facing the pool wall, grabbing the poolside with both hands and putting your feet up against the wall, so your knees are bent up between your arm.
  2. You are poised and ready to spring away from the wall.
  3. Let go of the wall and push hard with both feet…
  4. …stretch out away from the wall keeping both arms by your sides.
  5. Glide across the water surface maintaining a horizontal position.

Backstroke body position from a push and glide Ensure you have:

  • your feet together
  • your chest and hips push up towards the water surface
  • your hands together and fingers closed

For more detailed information about backstroke body position, click here.

Download a Free Backstroke Technique eBook

Step 2: Backstroke Kicking Technique

The leg kick for backstroke is a relaxed, alternating action. The upbeat of the kick provides a small amount of propulsion, but the main purpose of the leg movements are to balance the arm pulls. A good drill to practice is kicking whilst holding a float or kickboard across the chest.

  1. Push away from the poolside with one foot and with your head back, facing upwards.
  2. Begin to kick using a relaxed and alternating action, flicking your feet upwards to break the water surface.
  3. Your relaxed ankles should enable your feet to kick in a flipper-like action.

basic backstroke leg kick drill, using a float held across the chest Ensure that:

  • the legs kick from the hips
  • only the toes break the water surface
  • knees bend only slightly, not excessively

For an in-depth look at backstroke kicking, click here.

Step 3: Backstroke Arm Pull

The arm action for backstroke is a large movement that begins with the arm at the side. It rises up and backwards over the water surface and pulls under the water surface through to the hip, rather like an oar on a rowing boat. A great drill to practice the technique is a single arm pull whilst holding a float across the chest. backstroke arm pull for beginners

  1. Push gently away from the pool side holding a float across the chest with one arm and with the other arm by your side
  2. Extend your arm up and over the water with your thumb leading the movement
  3. Keeping your arm straight, rotate your hand so that your little finger enters the water in line with your shoulder and arm fully extended
  4. The arm pulls through the water to the hip with the forearm and the palm of the hand providing the propulsion

backstroke arm pull drill for beginners hold a float on the chest Ensure that you:

  • Fingers remain together
  • Upper arm brushes past your ear
  • The arm pull is a continuous action

For more information about backstroke arm technique, click here.

Step 4: Backstroke Breathing

Because backstroke is swum in a supine (face up) position, breathing can often happen naturally. However, inhaling and exhaling in time with each arm pull can help to maintain a steady rhythm as you swim.

  1. Push away from the wall and begin to swim a backstroke, using a standard alternating arm action.
  2. Breathe regularly with each arm pull
  3. Inhale with one arm pull and exhale with the opposite
  4. Ensure you are not holding your breath or breathing too rapidly

basic breathing when swimming backstroke For a more in-depth look at backstroke breathing, click here.

Step 5: Backstroke Timing and Coordination

Now piece the whole stroke together, using a steady and rhythmical timing pattern of alternating and balanced arm and leg movements.

  1. Push and glide away from the poolside with arms by your sides.
  2. Begin to kick, using a relaxed alternating action
  3. Add an alternating arm action, ensuring the kick continues
  4. Ensure that one arm begins to pull as the opposite arm exits the water
  5. Count 3 leg kicks with each arm pull

basic backstroke timing and coordination for beginners For more information about different backstroke timing patterns, click here.

How To Learn Backstroke With Loads More Step By Step Drills

The 5 drills outlined here are a great starting point. There are many more in my book ‘How To Swim Backstroke’ — drill to suit everyone of all abilities, ensuring progress as they help to eliminate the most common mistakes. They all come with professional teaching points to ensure that you make progress. Grab a copy of my book here and discover how to learn backstroke today… how to swim backstroke guidebook $4.99

Buy a PRINTED copy from:
You can also download from:

  1. Swim Teach Home
  2. backstroke technique

I am a member of the Amazon Associates Program and I will earn a commission from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Learning how to swim backstroke can be daunting for some beginners. Maybe you’re one of those swimmers who gets that sinking feeling halfway down the pool? Have you got room for improvement when it comes to backstroke swimming technique? Look no further! I have broken the stroke down into separate parts so that you can focus on it one piece at a time. That makes learning and improving it a whole lot easier and boosts your confidence at the same time. Improve your backstroke swimming technique with these 10 top tips

How To Swim Backstroke — Video Demonstration

Breaking down backstroke technique into its separate parts makes it easier to focus on one part at a time. Here are the 10 most essential elements to focus on when performing backstroke. FREE EBOOK: all of the technique tips here can be found in my ‘Backstroke Technique‘ book, along with a couple of bonus drills to help you perfect some essential parts of the stroke. Don’t miss out! Click here to grab a FREE copy of my book.

10 Steps to Better Backstroke Technique

1. The body must be as horizontal and streamlined as possible, with the head inline, eyes looking upwards and remaining steady throughout. Improve your backstroke body position 2. The alternating leg kick originates from the hip and remains within the body width. 3. Toes are pointed with ankles relaxed, and the knees bend slightly with each kick. 4. The knee bend provides power on the upbeat phase of the kick, finishing as the toes break the water surface. Better backstroke kick technique 5. The hands enter the water with little-finger first, palm outwards with the upper arm just brushing past the ear. 6. The arm pulls through an S shape pathway, finishing at the hip, palm downwards. 7. One arm begins to pull as the other recovers over the water surface. Improve your backstroke arm technique 8. Breathing should be regular and in time with the effort phase of the stroke. Backstroke breathing technique 9. The leg kick and arm actions should be controlled and steady whilst maintaining a fixed head position. 10. All actions should be smooth, continuous and relaxed. Backstroke swimming technique timing and coordination

Elevate Your Backstroke To a New Level

If you’re ready to take your backstroke swimming technique up a level, then get stuck into my book. ‘How To Swim Backstroke‘ contains clear illustrations and detailed coaching points that simplify swimming on your back. Click below to download my book. how to swim backstroke guidebook $4.99

Buy a PRINTED copy from:
You can also download from:

Backstroke parts in more detail…

Why is it necessary for your arms to enter the water at 11 and 1 o’clock during backstroke arm action? ‘For backstroke arms to be efficient and effective, the entry must be in line with the shoulder, with the upper arm brushing the ear.’ I have a problem with water on my face when swimming backstroke. ‘There are a couple of reasons why you might get water on your face when doing backstroke.’ My problem seems to be floating, particularly on my back. I tend to stiffen up, and I’m not relaxed. ‘Being a muscular person is a disadvantage for a beginner learning to swim because muscle is dense and tends to sink.’ When kicking backstroke, I move in the opposite direction than I should, counteracting arms movement. ‘What you are describing, I have seen many times. There are two common causes, and I suspect you are doing one or a combination of both.’

Got A Backstroke Question That’s Been Bugging You?

Tell us — Ask us — Show us — Right here…

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *