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Backstroke Swimming Technique – Overview

Backstroke (or back crawl) is, as its name suggests, the only one of the four competitive swimming strokes swum on the back. In terms of speed, it is slower than front crawl or butterfly but faster than breaststroke.

A backstroke swimmer training early in the morning in the morning sun

Backstroke is excellent for your back.

The arms execute alternating movements: while one arm sweeps underwater from an overhead position backward to the hips, the other arm recovers above water from the hips to the overhead position, and vice versa.


The legs do a flutter kick: they move upward and downward in alternation, with some flexion at the hips and knees, and with feet pointed.

Swimming Video – Swim Stroke Phases

Below a video of world-class swimmer Ryan Lochte swimming backstroke. His technique is amazing to watch:

Ryan Lochte’s video allows us to have an overview of the different phases of the swim stroke. Let’s consider the following starting position:

  • You float on your back in the water.
  • Your head is in a neutral position, in line with your spine.
  • Your face is above the water surface and you look straight up.
  • Your legs execute a flutter kick. Your toes are pointed and your legs alternately kick upward then downward.

Your arms execute alternating movements:

  • One arm recovers above water from the hip to the overhead position in a semicircular movement. The arms are kept straight during the recovery.
  • Meanwhile, the other arm sweeps underwater from the overhead position backward to the hip, providing propulsion. The hand follows an S-like pattern during this sweep.
  • The recovering arm becomes the sweeping arm once it enters the water in front of the swimmer, and the sweeping arm becomes the recovering arm when it exits the water at the hip.

Swimming Technique

The following articles describe the backstroke technique in detail:

Head and Body Positions: This article covers head position, body position and body roll. It also discusses why you may have trouble keeping your legs up.

Arm Movements: This article explains the different phases of the arm stroke, how to create efficient propulsion and how to avoid straining your shoulders.

Backstroke Kick: This article explains how to flutter kick in the backstroke. It also covers kicking rhythms and possible causes of poor propulsion.

Breathing Technique: This backstroke article discusses the relation between balance and breathing. It also talks about breathing rhythms and how to deal with water splashing in the face.

Learning Backstroke

We have a series of swimming drills to learn backstroke step by step. The following progression of exercises is used:

  • At first you’ll practice flutter kicking on your back while holding onto the edge of the pool.
  • Next you’ll practice balance, floating on your back and sides, using the flutter kick for keeping your balance and moving forward.
  • After this you’ll practice the underwater and above water arm movements, each arm separately.
  • And the finals drills let you practice both arm movements at the same time.

Go to our progressive exercises to learn how to swim backstroke.


Other Styles of Backstroke

Other styles of backstroke exist, for example:

Elementary Backstroke is the beginner’s version of backstroke. This article describes the swimming technique of elementary backstroke, and how to learn it.

Miscellaneous Backstroke Topics

How to avoid bumping into the wall while swimming backstroke.

 Previous – Breaststroke Next – Butterfly Stroke 

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