Help us to shape the future values and vision of Swim England at our roadshows

Backstroke basics and drills

Backstroke is a great workout, a quick and elegant stroke, and can even be a ‘take it easy’ gentle pace Sunday glide. But getting it right takes time and effort. So let’s get to grip with some backstroke basics and drills.

Teething problems

Before we start on technique, first let’s address the two common worries with backstroke – hitting other people from veering off in a random direction and hitting your head on the wall at the end of the pool. While they’re both perfectly legitimate complaints, there’s a simple fix for both.

  1. To swim in a straight line, keep your eyes open (wear goggles so unexpected waves don’t distract you) and follow a fixed point on the ceiling throughout the length. If there are lane ropes, steal a sly glance in their direction now and again as well to make sure you’re sticking a similar distance from it.
  2. To avoid hitting your head on the end of the pool mid-stroke, find a point on the ceiling between five and 10 metres from the wall (admittedly this can prove tricky if you’re in a lido). Before you start your session, swim back and count how many strokes it takes to reach the wall. Then, when you pass this point during your swim, you will know how many strokes it will take before you touch.

Backstroke Technique Tips

View our full range of backstroke technique tips as a free Just Swim member – find out more on our Members site.

Whether you already subscribe to the wonders of backstroke or not, there are a few common mistakes which many swimmers fall into.

Mistake 1. Lack of rotation

Body position is one of the backstroke basics. It  is vital to backstroke and many put undue strain on their muscles by keeping their body and legs in the same position.

Instead, naturally rotate your body through the shoulders and hips with your arm action, rotating to the left as your left arm enters the water and vice versa.

Body balance drill

  • Do not use arms at all in the initial stages of this drill simply lie flat on the water’s surface with your arms down by your side, facing the ceiling, and rock your body from left to right keeping your core body tight and hips high in the water.
  • When you feel confident enough, rock to the left and raise your right arm up out of the water (ensuring you keep your elbows locked out) and place it back in the water close to your right ear. Whilst this motion is happening, slowly rock your body over to the right side as you have practised.
  • Once you have completed this entire movement you should be lying on the water’s surface, right arm outstretched with your body rotated over to your right side. Remember to keep your head facing the ceiling throughout this drill.

Mistake 2. The Chin Tuck

The more you tuck your chin and raise your head, the more your hips and legs lower into the water. As well as causing dangerous strain on the neck, dropping your legs and body like this reduces the efficiency of your stroke as you’re kicking down rather than flat.

Relax your head and your neck – it should stay completely still with your eyes looking up at the ceiling while your body rotates with the stroke.

Cup challenge drill

  • balance a half full plastic cup of water on your forehead and swim 25m without it falling off! If there are no plastic cups to hand, try it with your goggles.
  • The important thing is to start slowly and concentrate on relaxing your neck and keeping your head still.

Mistake 3. The straight arm

Once your arm has entered the water resist the temptation to keep it straight through the catch. If you’re pushing water down your body will naturally move up and bob in the water and cause resistance.

The only direction you should be pushing water is towards your feet, so bend your arm at the elbow and sweep the arm and hand alongside your body.

The half keyhole drill

This is simple. Imagine you are following the outside line of a keyhole down the side of your body. This will help you get your arm action working properly.