Danila Novikov
All-American swimmer and founder of NYC based swim school.

Ultimate guide to backstroke swimming. Backstroke swimming technique for beginners.

Want to swim backstroke with ease? You're at the right place.

Hi, my name is Dan. I am a Pro & Masters swimmer and the owner of a NYC-based swim school. For over a decade, I've taught swimmers of all levels correct swimming technique in and out of the pool.

Today, I will share everything I know about backstroke swimming.

You'll learn:
  1. Backstroke technique
  2. Steps to learning proper backstroke technique
  3. Ways to improve your backstroke swimming

Let's get right into it.
backstroke swimming

Intro to backstroke technique: understanding fundamentals

The backstroke is performed with rhythmic arm and leg movements, switching one arm & leg with another. Arm movement starts overhead when swimmers catch the water with their palms by slightly bending the elbow. To maximize power output during the pull phase, swimmers rotate their hips & shoulders as one arm pulls the water back.

Similar to the front crawl, a backstroke requires a strong flutter kick to ensure a good range of motion & body position during an arm stroke.
backstroke swimming technique
Unlike other strokes, the backstroke swimming technique is fairly easy to learn for beginners, and for one good reason -- it's the only stroke that gives you unlimited access to oxygen. Easy breathing technique made backstroke one of the most versatile strokes, frequently used for both conditioning and recovery swimming.

Backstroke arms

Just like in freestyle, backstroke arm movement is performed in a clockwise manner by switching one arm with another.

Backstroke pull starts when the recovering arm enters the water, as shoulders and hips rotate & help swimmers reach further overhead. It's important to note that when the arm enters the water, the thumb should point at the sky or ceiling, as it ensures a proper catch and rotation of the upper body.

As the arm begins to pull the water back, swimmers rotate their hips & shoulders. Initiate the pull with your palm and forearm, and extend your arm straight until it reaches your hip. As the same arm enters a recovery phase, the other arm initiates the next stroke.
backstroke arm movement

Backstroke kick

Backstroke & freestyle have another thing in common: the flutter kick. The flutter kick technique is not very complicated, and it's definitely easier to master than breaststroke or dolphin kick.

With knees bend slightly, initiate the kick by performing up and down movements with your legs. In order to do the kick correctly, avoid moving your knees inwards. Instead, focus on slightly dropping your feet and pushing the water out while keeping your ankles relaxed.

Keep your kicks small by keeping the range of motion anywhere between 3 to 5 inches. It'll help you maintain a proper body position & move forward with ease.
backstroke leg movement

Body position & rotation

Proper body position is a pivotal part that affects your swimming speed & efficiency. Breaking a straight line horizontal position not only slows you down but can simply make you sink under the surface of the water.

When you swim backstroke, remember that all the separate parts of your body are connected with your trunk. Maintain the tension in your core muscles as you rotate your shoulders and hips.
backstroke swim technique

Learn to swim backstroke: a step-by-step guide

Learn to swim backstroke with my easy step-by-step guide.

Starting off with elementary backstroke

  • 1

    Get in the back float position first.

    If you don't know how to float, check out both of my guides:

    1. Prone float
    2. Back float

    Learning a correct back float technique is the first step into learning elementary backstroke and, eventually, progressing to competitive backstroke.
  • 2

    Initiate a flutter kick with your legs.

    Flutter kick is performed up-and-down motion by switching one leg with another.

    Focus on kicking the water up with your feet, and avoid moving your knees in and out.
  • 3

    Get both arms straight behind your head.

    It should almost feel like you're stretching to the opposite wall of the pool with your arms and shoulders.
  • 4

    Initiate the pull phase with both arms.

    Rotate both palms outwards, and slightly bend your arms. The goal is to push the water back all the way to your hips with your palms and forearms first and extend your arms straight until they reach your hips.

    Avoid unnecessary head and body movement. Engage your core to maximize the power of each stroke and to avoid sinking under water surface.
  • 5

    Maintain a steady kick.

    As you go through arm strokes, focus on performing slow flutter kicks. Your legs will ensure a proper body position and help your hips stay afloat.
  • 6

    Recover both arms back.

    Maintain a tight streamline as you move forward and go through arm recovery. Avoid getting your arms out of the pool; instead, gently slide your forward while keeping both arms close to your body.

Pro tips:

Don't stop breathing. Swimming on your back gives you unlimited access to oxygen, so use it! Keep breathing. Having oxygen in your lungs the entire time will ensure better buoyancy in the pool.

When practicing all the new movements in the pool, it's essential to slow down and focus on the technique first. Don't rush, even if it feels like you have low speed.

Practice elementary backstroke with one arm pull and then practice with the other arm. Get familiar with balancing & maintaining your body position by swimming elementary back with one hand. That will set you up to master the backstroke technique faster.

Learn competitive backstroke technique with this drill

Progress through this drill using fins first, and slowly challenge yourself by swimming this drill without fins.
  • 1

    Get in the initial streamlined position with hands overhead together, pressing firmly behind your ears.

    Start kicking. Remember, your kicks should be smaller but more frequent. Don't do kicks with a big range of motion, as it will eventually lower your hips in the water.
  • 2

    Slowly separate your arms.

    Keep one shoulder closer to your head while another arm initiates the stroke.

    Perform a backstroke pull with one hand, just like in the elementary back. Pull the water back with one hand until it reaches your hip, simultaneously rotating your body.
  • 3

    Now, the recovery phase.

    Get your arm out of the water and carry it straight behind your hand.

    Avoid moving your opposite shoulder & arm, as it supports your body position during the recovery phase. Both hands will meet before you, just like in the initial place.
  • 4

    Perform the same sequence with your opposite side.

  • 5

    As you progress through this drill, try and switch one hand with another a little bit quicker.

    Think as if you're playing catch with both arms -- your goal is to switch up hands without letting your body sink below the surface.

    While moving your arm in the air, rotate your palm to enter the water, your little finger pointing at the bottom of the pool. It'll help set you up for a strong catch and powerful pull.

Simple ways to improve your backstroke swimming times:

Work on your core muscles

Core muscles are vital for a swimmer of any level, and beginners are not an exception to the rule. Strong core muscles will allow you to swim backstroke with ease, keep your hips on the surface, and enhance your kick.

Incorporate resistance training

Resistance training in and out of the pool is a great way to improve your strength, power, and mobility. Focus on improving your muscle strength and power in the gym and transfer it to the pool. A great way to increase your power in the water is by incorporating resistance equipment like paddles, parachutes, and drag socks.

Always work on your technique

If you are a competitive swimmer seeking higher results in the pool, never stop learning & improving your technique. While perfection is unachievable, swimmers of all levels should dedicate time to improving their technique in the pool. Minimizing the drag you're creating while swimming is the easiest way to improve your swimming speed in the pool.