How To Swim Backstroke: Explained

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Out of all 4 competitive swimming strokes, backstroke is the only one not performed on your stomach facing down. For this reason, it may be tricky to get the hang of. 

Backstroke is very reliant on a swimmer's legs to supplement the pull. Piecing the stroke together can be difficult to get accustomed to. Here’s a walk-through on how to effectively swim backstroke:

Similar to the other strokes, before anything you’ll need a stable body position on top of the water. Keep your head and hips in alignment. Look straight up and try not to move your head too much while swimming backstroke. 

The Pull

Your hands will exit the water one at a time, thumbs first. Keep your arm straight as it travels around to enter the water again with your armpit hugging your ear. Slightly rotate your hand as it moves through the air to have your pinky enter the water first. 

When pulling, have a slight bend in your elbow. This allows you to catch more water, in turn making your pull more efficient. The best swimmers can use their arm and hand combined as a form of paddle, allowing them to cover more distance while exerting less effort. 

It’s important to incorporate a slight shoulder roll with each arm stroke. As you lift your arm, rotate your body opposite from the lifted arm, your shoulder should slightly poke out of the water. In doing this, you’ll generate more force from your pull and your movement will feel more rhythmic. 

The Kick

Similar to freestyle, backstroke uses a flutter kick. Your toes should be pointed, kick fast and with power. In backstroke, the kick is a major component. The kick is crucial to developing an efficient stroke and you should spend some time developing it. Focus on initiating the kick from your hip flexors as opposed to your knees. You’ll get more power this way. 

If you’re having trouble with executing the kick on your back, start off holding on to a kick board for flotation. 


Along with the slight shoulder roll I mentioned earlier, a rocking motion with the entire body starting with the hips is crucial. Don’t over-rotate, the purpose of the rotation is to reduce drag and help build momentum. It doesn’t have to be a huge movement. 

Rotate your body slightly opposite of your arm while performing a stroke. If you do it right, you’ll instantly notice the reduction in drag and it’ll start to come together. 

With anything, the more you practice and perfect your technique, the better you will become. 

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