How to swim backstroke correctly

Mathew Carter Mathew Carter Nuffield Health Swimming Coordinator
Swimming Coordinator Mathew Carter provides expert instruction for learning or improving your backstroke.

The basics of learning to swim can be applied to every stroke that you learn. These simple principles focus on:


Each of these stages can't be performed effectively without first perfecting the previous stage. I'm going to tell you how to get each of these stages right with the backstroke.


Your should be lying on your back in the water, flat and horizontal with your shoulders and hips all inline. Keeping your head neutral and looking straight up to the ceiling will help you maintain your body's position. Tilting your head too far back will drop your shoulders in the water creating drag, and looking too far down towards your feet will drop your legs, having the same effect. 


Your leg kick only creates a small amount of propulsion, with most of your power coming from the arms, but it's still important. Done correctly your kick should help to prevent over-rotation in the water and also prevent drag.

In backstroke you will need your legs close together, straight but not locked out, toes/feet pointed (plantar flexion) and most importantly kick from your hip, not your knee.


You get most of your propulsion from your arms, so it's important to get the technique correct.

Your hand should exit the water thumb first as you draw the arm back. When your hand is in front of your face you should rotate the hand so that the palm is facing outwards. This allows your pinkie to enter the water first as you pull the arm back.

Once it's in the water the rotation continues until your hand reaches your hip, where the cycle starts again.

Both arms should be moving constantly and simultaneously so that as one enters the water, the other exits. 


Breathing in backstroke is easiest as your mouth is always out of the water. Maintain a steady breathing pattern in time with your stroke for maximum efficiency. 

Never attempt a swimming stroke for the first time on your own. Expert instruction is available at all Nuffield Health swimming pools.

Last updated Thursday 1 September 2016

First published on Thursday 1 September 2016