Improving Your Backstroke Swimming Technique (5 Pro Tips)

Top view of a woman in blue water doing a backstroke swimming.

Backstroke swimming is considered to be the easiest swimming style to learn and perform because the moves are simple and straightforward. If you can float on your back, the rest will follow.

One component to backstroke swimming that is different than the rest is how easy it is to breathe. Your face will stay above the surface of the water during the backstroke, except when turning off the wall. This makes breathing easier than freestyle, breaststroke, or butterfly swimming; however, just because breathing is easy doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be practiced.

This is just one of the areas we cover in our 5 pro tips for backstroke swimming.

Because backstroke swimming is relatively easy, it often doesn’t get the attention that it deserves to be perfected. This can leave a swimmer struggling to stay energized or make quick lap times.

Because of this, we want to ensure that every swimmer knows these 5 pro tips for backstroke swimming. This will help take their backstroke from mediocre to perfection in just a short amount of time.

Pro Tip #1: Position Your Head Correctly

A girl athlete swims backstroke during Championship of Chelyabinsk swimming.

The position of your head can make all the difference between a mediocre backstroke and an effective backstroke.

Your head should be positioned neutrally so that your head is lying flat and looking directly at the ceiling above. Pushing your chin into your chest will cause your head to come too high out of the water. This will slow your lap time down as you will actually begin to sink when this happens. Maintaining a neutral position beginning with the head will cause the rest of the body to follow.

If keeping your head tilted back feels uncomfortable, start slow. We recommend practicing keeping the head back by doing no arm movements at all. Instead, simply kick with your feet while keeping your head in the correct position so that you get used to the feeling.

Once you are used to how it feels, add in the arm strokes so that you can put it all together.

Pro Tip #2: Kick with the Hips; Not the Knees

A man doing backstroke swimming in a pool.

The key to a successful backstroke is proper kicking. Because the backstroke uses the legs more than the arms to propel you through the water, it is imperative to know how to properly kick.

To properly kick, you will begin the kick in your hips. The kick should not start by bending the knees. While the knees will need to bend to finish the kick, this should not be where the kick begins, nor should the knees come out of the water.

When the knees come out of the water, drag is created. Drag is when improper form causes a part of the body to slow the lap speed down. In this case, the knees create drag when they come out of the water for being too bent.

Kicking with the hips means that the kick begins in the hip. The kick should not begin with the knees. Focus on kicking the feet from the hips. Try to take the knees out of the equation.

The knees will naturally bend when the feet are kicked, but this should not be the reason the feet are being kicked. The kick should start in the hips and end at the feet with the knees slightly bending and remaining underwater. This gives you the most propulsion and speed while reducing the amount of energy that is used.

Pro Tip #3: Keep Your Torso Flat

A woman doing backstroke swimming in a pool.

Your torso will need to stay straight and flat while your back glides across the surface of the water. This means that your chest and your hips will be aligned with no part of the body under or out of the water as you swim.

Keeping your torso flat will reduce drag and allow you to push through the water quickly. The lower you are in the water, the more difficult it will be to both kicks and pull. Keeping your torso flat will help your body stay at the surface where it belongs while your legs stay slightly underneath to give you the most propulsion possible.

To keep your torso flat, you will keep your back muscles flexed to push your torso to the surface so that it stays in a straight line from your shoulders to your hip. Your legs should remain underwater so that you do not bring your knees out of the water while kicking, as this will drastically slow you down and offset having a flat torso.

Pro Tip #4: Make the Most Out of the Pull

 A kid doing backstroke swimming in a pool.

Backstroke swimming can be improved just by perfecting your pull.

The pull of the backstroke is the movement your arms make to keep you moving through the water as you kick. Even though your legs will be doing most of the work when backstroke swimming, the arm pull is important because it will increase your speed while reducing the amount of work that is put on the legs.

To maximize your arm pull, you will need to make sure your hands enter, catch, and exit the water correctly. Perfecting this technique can immediately improve your speed of the backstroke while saving your energy.

The pull of the backstroke will begin with your arm fully extended above your body. Turn your palm to face out so that your pinky will be the first finger to enter the water upon entry.

With your arm fully extended, move your arm behind your head, staying in line with your shoulder. Try not to move your arm too far in our out. Moving your arm too far inside or outside of staying in line with the shoulder will cause you to inadequately catch the water as you enter the pull.

Catching the water is when your palms enter the water and push the water back, propelling you through the water to gain or maintain speed. An insufficient catch means you waste energy for a pull that slows you down.

Once your hand has entered the water with your palm facing out, turn your hand so that the back of your hand faces the same direction as your head and the palm of your hand faces your feet. Now, bend your elbow so that the back of your elbow faces the direction of the pool in which you are swimming.

Finally, use your hand to push the water and straighten your hand so that your thumb is the first finger to exit the water. Keep your arm fully extended as you bring your arm out of the water with your thumb on top. Midway through the stroke, rotate your arm in the position that you began with your palm facing out and your pinky on the bottom.

Pro Tip #5: Don’t Forget to Breathe

A swimmer gasps for air during a competitive backstroke swimming in a pool.

Improving your backstroke often means dissecting each component of the stroke and making them perfect. This will often increase your speed and energy levels, giving you a quicker and easier lap time.

However, it is not only the technique that can help you save energy while backstroke swimming. Breathing is imperative to increase energy and reduce injury while backstroke swimming.

The backstroke is undoubtedly the easiest swimming style for breathing as your face stays out of the water throughout the duration of the swim. This means that you do not have to wait to breathe until your face has come up out of the water, as this can sometimes be the most difficult component of swimming to master.

However, just because your face stays out of the water throughout the backstroke doesn’t mean that you can breathe whenever you want. You will still need to practice proper breathing techniques to maximize your backstroke.

Breathing is important because it restores oxygen to your muscles as they are used. This helps prevent fatigue and increase energy. Muscles that are supplied with adequate amounts of oxygen are also less likely to cramp or stiffen.

It is also important to properly breathe while backstroke swimming so that you always know when to breathe. Even though it is easy to breathe while backstroke swimming, you should put a breathing pattern in place so that you always know when you will be breathing.

Once you have a breathing pattern that you practice, it will become part of the backstroke swimming routine, just like pulling and kicking through the water.

It is best to inhale and exhale when your arms are not over your head. Inhaling and exhaling with your arms above your head can cause you to ingest water, which can significantly slow you down. Make sure your arms have gone past your head to enter the water or have not yet exited the water before you inhale or exhale.

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