How to Swim Backstroke with World Class Technique

how to swim backstroke
Photo Credit JD Lasica

How to swim backstroke is increasingly difficult to answer without qualifiers. Even though many successful backstrokers have a ‘traditional’ tempo, several current world medalist backstrokers rates are much slower than even their peers on the podium.

This distance per stroke dominant swimming has enormous potential, as revealed by their results. It is centered around ‘connecting’ the hand to the core of the body immediately at entry. This enables very strong athletes to lock onto the water and push through as if they were lifting weights with ground reaction forces.

What is Backstroke Swimming?

Generally, the backstroke we are looking to develop has the following components:

  • High elbow catch
  • Consistent kick, which is a little smaller than the freestyle kick
  • Fluid and correctly timed rotation

Backstroke Technique from Rate?

Looking from another perspective, because the arms are straight during recovery, the hand is moving faster than, freestyle, as it’s further away from the shoulder.

This results in a much quicker looking tempo compared to other strokes. Despite that appearance, excellent backstroke swimming is still, in most cases, done through sufficient stroke length. 

Regardless of the desired or appropriate tempo for each athlete, the following components are still universal:

Backstroke Kicking

Great legs. Steady small kick. And whip the kick through the toes to let the water feel like a roller coaster ride. Watch the video above closely at the tend to see the action.

Backstroke Catch

High catch. More flexible swimmers can achieve this even above their heads. Swimmers with average flexibility should enter their hands above the shoulder. 

Wide pull. The stronger the swimmer is, the wider their hand can travel and still lock into the ‘core.’ The depth of pull varies by opinion (slower tempo is usually deeper). Due to strength considerations, we use the more shallow arm path.  

Conversely, many times when swimmers, especially backstrokers, improve their entry, it ‘feels’ weaker because, using the skateboard analogy (this time on flat ground), they are maintaining speed instead of inefficiently speeding up and slowing down.

In attempting to lengthen their stroke, many swimmers ‘overreach’ because they feel like they pull more water. This is akin to riding a skateboard uphill. Just because it feels more powerful doesn’t mean you are being more productive.  

Finish. A strong finish aids in hip rotation enables the shoulder to roll into/over the water to encourage an excellent strong catch for the beginning of the next stroke cycle.  

Backstroke Body Position

Hip rotation/timing. To keep the arms perpendicular to the body as long as possible, the hip rotation should be timed with the finish of the pull.  

Lastly, due to the ability of many athletes to ‘tie’ their hand to their core while swimming backstroke, many can generate more power in backstroke than in the other three strokes. This is evidenced by how much weight they can lift in backstroke compared to different strokes using equipment like the ‘power tower.’ 

Backstroke Swimming Drills and Tips

Like the other strokes, the stroke length is critical in world-class backstroke swimming. With that, as in the different strokes, relative to the specific norms of world-class swimming, the tempo is important.

With that, fast backstroke swimming, in many cases, looks like it is speed-oriented because it merely looks fast. In comparison, picture how much quicker a backstroke athlete moves their arms in a ‘spin drill.’

6-3-6 Drill, Lift and Drop, 2x Touch