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Backstroke Swimming Technique – Body Position and Head Position

This article discusses backstroke swimming technique, and more specifically body position, body roll and head position.

A backstroke swimmer

A good position of the body is essential to swim backstroke.

Body Position

In backstroke you float on your back in the water. Your body is almost horizontal, with a slight tilt toward the feet. This slight tilt allows you to flutter kick without your legs breaking the water surface.

Beginners often have trouble getting into or maintaining this horizontal position. Their hips and legs drop and the whole body gets dragged down. The face drops below the water surface and breathing is disrupted.


Having your hips and legs sink while swimming backstroke can have the following causes:

  1. You don’t lean back enough in the water. Leaning back presses your lungs down in the water. As your lungs are the most buoyant part of the body, pressing them down causes your hips and legs to rise because your body acts as a lever as long as it is kept straight. See the head-lead supine balance drill for more explanations.
  2. You don’t keep a straight body but flex at the hips. This is often the case if the kick is more akin to a bicycle kick rather than a flutter kick. Ideally your hips and knees should only bend a little while flutter kicking. As explained above, if you don’t keep a straight body, it will be difficult for you to lean back and use the buoyancy of your lungs to raise your hips and legs.

Body Roll

While swimming backstroke, your body should roll from side to side, between 30° and 45° from a flat position. Your body rolls toward the side of the recovering arm as it is about to enter the water, and the other arm is about to leave the water at the end of the underwater arm sweep.

Rolling from side to side allows you to use your chest and back muscles besides your shoulder muscles, hence increasing propulsion. Rolling from side to side also decreases strain on the shoulders, making it less likely to be subject to swimmer’s shoulder.

Please note that backstroke swimmers often roll too little rather than too much. So you can try to roll more to the side than usual to see if this improves the grip of your arms in the water.


Head Position

Whereas your body rolls from side to side during the backstroke swimming cycle, your head stays in a fixed neutral position. It is in line with the trunk and neither tucked in nor rolled forward. Your face is above water and you look straight up or slightly backwards.

Some coaches use the following backstroke drill to practice a neutral head position: their swimmers have to swim backstroke with a small bottle of water placed on their forehead.

 Backstroke – Overview Next – Backstroke Arm Movements 

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