Backstroke can be challenging to learn — how are you supposed to swim straight when you can’t see where you’re going? Well, we’re here to help! 

Improve your backstroke technique and get confident in the water with this 5-step guide, plus 2 drills to try during your next workout.

1. Head Position

Head position is arguably the most important aspect of good backstroke. The best backstrokers in the world can swim with a cup of water balanced on their foreheads! While you’re swimming, think about keeping your eyes looking up to the sky or ceiling the entire time. This will keep your head in a neutral position and encourage your hips to stay high in the water, which makes it easier to swim. 

Related: How to Swim Backstroke with Perfect Technique

It can be tempting to lift your head and look toward your toes, but that can actually make you slower! Since we know that keeping your head neutral (eyes looking straight up) keeps the hips in proper position, what happens when you look forward? Your hips drop. This creates drag that will slow you down. You might feel like you’re dragging your legs through the water. Try to keep half your head underwater while you swim.

2. Hip Position

When swimming backstroke, your hips should be close to the surface of the water. A good cue is to think about keeping your belly button above the surface.

Related: The 5 Most Common Backstroke Mistakes

Don’t arch your back a lot to try to make this happen, though. Keep your core engaged and your head in a neutral position, and your hips should naturally stay close to the surface. 

3. Rotation

Related: How to Improve Your Backstroke Rotation

Similar to freestyle, backstroke is a long-axis stroke. As you swim, you rotate side to side along an imaginary axis that runs from the top of your head down the center of your body and out your toes. Your rotation should begin at your hips, and your arms will help. As your right arm enters the water, you’ll rotate slightly to the right. As you finish your pull on the right side and your left arm enters the water, you’ll rotate over to the left.

4. The Pull

Think of backstroke pull like a windmill that’s constantly spinning. When one arm is recovering above water, the other is below the water pulling.

Related: What is Early Vertical Forearm? 

Your arms should enter the water pinky first, slightly wider than your shoulders — like 11 and 1 on a clock. Bend your elbow to initiate your pull with a strong early vertical forearm catch, and make sure your hand exits the water thumb first. As your arm recovers overhead, keep it straight and rotate it slightly so your hand re-enters the water pinky first.

5. The Kick

Backstroke kick is a flutter kick, just like freestyle. Your kick should be continuous — many swimmers swim with a 6-beat kick (3 kicks for each arm stroke). Keep your toes pointed, and try to initiate the kick from your hip flexors rather than your knees. Your knees should not bend too much when you kick!

Related: Analyzing Ryan Lochte’s Backstroke Technique

Keep the amplitude of kick small. You may think that a big kick will produce more power, but it actually creates drag and slows you down! Shoot for 18 inches or less.

Why Swim Backstroke?

Backstroke is the best stroke to swim for easy recovery. While butterfly and freestyle rotate your shoulders forward, backstroke rotates them in the opposite direction, giving them a break and helping to stretch out your chest muscles.

Beyond the recovery benefits, backstroke also helps improve your feel of the water. When you flip your body position 180 degrees, you are forced to approach the water in a different way. 

Swimming backstroke also helps build strength in your latissimus dorsi muscles, which play a major role in your pull for all 4 strokes. 

Backstroke Drills

Try these backstroke drills to improve your head position, rotation and balance.

Cup Drill

3 Strokes + 12 Kicks


For more technique tips, Training Plans and Workouts, download the MySwimPro app! Start a free 30-day trial of ELITE to unlock all of our swimming, dryland and coaching resources.