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How To Swim Backstroke

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

The Basics of Swimming Backstroke

Swimming backstroke is a great way to stay fit and have fun at the same time. It is a low-impact activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Plus, it’s a great way to get some sun while staying cool in the water.

Here are the basics of how to swim backstroke:

two women swimming backstroke

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Backstroke Swimming Technique

Start by lying on your back in the water with your arms extended overhead. Kick your legs gently to help you float.

When you are ready, begin kicking your legs rhythmically while keeping your arms straight. As you kick, sweep your arms backward from the shoulder, keeping them close to the surface of the water. Remember to breathe regularly as you swim; most people find it easiest to inhale for two strokes and exhale for two strokes. When you need a break, stop kicking and just float on your back until you’re ready to start again.

Get Into the Proper Body Position

The backstroke start is a move that is used to get into the correct position for swimming backstroke. There are four main steps in the backstroke start.

First, the swimmer will take a few steps away from the wall.

Second, the swimmer will turn and face the wall.

Third, the swimmer will place their hands on the edge of the pool. Fourth, the swimmer will push off from the wall and enter the water.

When done correctly, the backstroke start will put the swimmer in the correct position for swimming backstroke.

male doing backstroke in the pool


When swimming backstroke, it is important to keep your body in a streamline position off the wall. This means that your body should be in a straight line with your head aligned with your spine.

Your arms should be close to your sides, and your legs should be extended behind you. This will help you to move through the water with less resistance.

When you reach the wall, you will need to perform a flip turn. To do this, push off the wall and tuck your chin to your chest. Then, tuck your knees into your chest and somersault in the water. As you come up out of the somersault, extend your arms and legs into a streamline position and continue swimming.

Backstroke Arms - Arm Pulls

When performing backstroke, the arms are used to provide a continuous propulsive force. This is achieved by drawing them back through the water in a semi-circular motion, before extending them fully and then repeating the movement.

The hands should enter the water at shoulder level, with the palms facing backwards. As they move through the water, the hands should be close to the hips, before sweeping outwards and then backwards towards the feet.

Arm Action

Swimmers performing backstroke use a "thumb out, pinky in" arm position. This keeps the hands in a horizontal position throughout the stroke cycle and promotes early catch and high elbows.

In backstroke, the arms move in a symmetrical pattern, with both arms doing the same thing at the same time. Keep you arm straight when it is above the water. The key to an efficient arm stroke is to keep the elbows close to the body and to use a strong wrist snap to generate power.

The arm pulls start with the hands entering the water at shoulder level and then sweeping back towards the hips. As the hands reach the hips, they should be close to the surface of the water.

At this point, the elbows should start to bend and the hands should begin to cup. As the hands continue to move back, they should reach a point where they are parallel with the hips.

From here, the hands should push back against the water, using a strong wrist snap to generate power. The final part of the arm stroke is known as the recovery, when the arms move back to their starting position.

A properly executed backstroke arm swimming stroke should be smooth and fluid, with no pauses or jerks.

Backstroke Leg Movements

Tight Streamline

The leg movement off the wall is described as a dolphin kick, since they resemble the motions made by dolphins when they swim. The kicks start at the hips and are performed in a strong, downward motion.

The feet should remain together throughout the kick, and the knees bend slightly. When done correctly, the kick provides power and helps to propel the swimmer forward through the water. In addition to propelling the swimmer forward, the kick also helps to stabilize the body and keep it aligned in a straight line.

Start Kicking - Transition to Flutter Kick

Once a swimmer's momentum slows down after their push off the wall, they should transition to a flutter kick.

The backstroke flutter kick is a relatively simple move that can be performed by swimmers of all levels. However, it is important to ensure that you keep the legs straight, as this will help to generate more power and prevent injuries.

Tips on improving your technique for swimming backstroke

Swimming backstroke is a great way to get a full-body workout and to relax. However, it can be easy to lose focus and let your technique suffer. Here are a few tips to help you maintain good form while swimming backstroke:

1) Remember to keep your head and spine in alignment. This will help you move through the water more efficiently and will prevent you from getting fatigued as quickly.

2) Keep your arms close to your sides throughout the stroke. This will help you generate more power and will also reduce drag.

3) Be sure to extend fully through your stroke. Complete extension will give you more propulsion and will help you swim faster.

4) Make sure to keep a strong kick throughout the stroke. A strong kick will provide balance and stability, as well as helping you move through the water more quickly.

5) Practice good breathing technique. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale gently through your mouth. This will help you maintain a good rhythm and will prevent you from getting out of breath.

By following these tips, you can improve your technique and swimming speed, while also reducing fatigue.

women doing backfloat

Common mistakes people make when swimming backstroke

One of the most difficult strokes to master is backstroke. Many beginner swimmers make the same mistakes, which can be easily corrected with practice.

Arms Not Parallel

One common mistake is failing to keep the arms parallel to the body. This can cause the swimmer to lose balance and slow down. Another mistake is looking up too often. While it's important to keep an eye on where you're going, looking up too often will disrupt your stroke and cause you to lose momentum.

Kicking Too Hard

Additionally, many beginner swimmers tend to kick too hard, which can also disrupt the stroke and lead to fatigue. Finally, it's important to relax when swimming backstroke. This may seem counterintuitive, but tense muscles will only slow you down.

By correcting these common mistakes, you'll be well on your way to mastering backstroke in no time!

Swimming drills to help you improve your backstroke technique

When it comes to swimming backstroke, having a strong and efficient technique is essential for success. Here are four drills that can help you to improve your backstroke technique and become a better swimmer.

1. The first drill is the single-arm backstroke drill. This drill helps to isolate each arm so that you can focus on developing a strong and consistent stroke. To do the drill, simply alternate between stroking with one arm and then the other.

2. The second drill is the catch-up backstroke drill. This drill helps you to develop a strong connection between your arms and your body. To do the drill, start by swimming with both arms extended in front of you. Then, as you bring one arm back to your side, scoop up water and connect it to the other arm.

3. The third drill is the two-beat kick backstroke drill. This drill helps you to develop a strong and powerful kick. To do the drill, start by kicking two times while keeping your arms at your sides. Then, as you bring one arm forward, keep your other arm close to your body and extend it backward. Repeat this alternate sequence for a total of 25 yards.

4. The fourth drill is the sculling backstroke drill. This drill helps you to improve your balance and body position in the water. To do the drill, start by floating on your back with your arms extended overhead. Then, use small sculling motions to move yourself forward through the water. Be sure to keep your head still and maintain good body position throughout the drill.

By following these four drills, you can vastly improve your backstroke technique and become a faster and more efficient swimmer!


Learning backstroke doesn’t have to be difficult. By following these simple tips, you can quickly start swimming laps with ease. Remember to practice often and master the basics before moving on to more advanced techniques. With a little bit of time and effort, you’ll be swimming like a pro in no time!

If you would like to master the backstroke and other skilled swimming strokes, connect with one of our swim instructor's today.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is swimming backstroke beneficial?

  • Swimming backstroke is a great way to stay fit, enjoy the sun while being in the water, and is suitable for all ages and abilities due to its low-impact nature.

2. How do I start swimming backstroke?

  • Begin by lying on your back in the water with your arms extended overhead. Start kicking your legs gently and rhythmically, and as you kick, sweep your arms backward from the shoulder.

3. How should I breathe while swimming backstroke?

  • Most swimmers find it easiest to inhale for two strokes and exhale for the next two strokes. Ensure you breathe regularly to maintain stamina and rhythm.

4. What is the backstroke start?

  • The backstroke start involves taking steps away from the wall, facing it, placing hands on the pool's edge, and then pushing off into the water.

5. How do I maintain a streamlined position in backstroke?

  • Keep your body in a straight line with your head aligned with your spine. Your arms should be close to your sides, and your legs should be extended behind you.

6. What is the significance of arm movements in backstroke?

  • The arm movements in backstroke are continuous and propulsive. They follow a semi-circular motion, with hands entering the water at shoulder level and sweeping back towards the hips.

7. How should I kick my legs in backstroke?

  • Start with the dolphin kick off the wall, resembling the motion of a dolphin's tail. As momentum slows, transition to a flutter kick, ensuring straight legs for power and injury prevention.

8. What are some common mistakes in backstroke?

  • Not keeping arms parallel to the body, looking up too often, kicking too hard, and tensing up are some common pitfalls in backstroke.

9. How can I refine my backstroke technique?

  • Drills like single-arm backstroke, catch-up backstroke, two-beat kick, and sculling backstroke can help improve your technique.

10. Is mastering backstroke difficult?

  • With consistent practice, attention to technique, and avoiding common mistakes, mastering backstroke is achievable for swimmers of all levels.


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