Backstroke can be a challenge. It’s the only stroke that requires you to be entirely on your back, which raises a few questions — how are you supposed to swim straight? What’s the best way to stay afloat?

We’re breaking down six key aspects of backstroke technique to help every swimmer — from beginner to elite — feel more confident on their backs and swim faster with less energy!

What Makes Backstroke Different?

  • Long-Axis Stroke: Like freestyle, backstroke is a long-axis stroke, meaning you’re rotating along an invisible axis that runs from the tip of your head down through your toes. If you’re good at breaststroke, you may find that backstroke feels more challenging for you.
  • Pinky Finger Entry: The optimal backstroke catch involves entering the water “pinky first.” This key mechanical difference sets backstroke apart from the 3 other strokes.
  • Breathing: Perhaps the most obvious is breathing! In backstroke, you’re able to breathe 100% of the time.

5 Mistakes To Avoid in Backstroke

Elements of Perfect Backstroke

Ready to swim your best backstroke ever? Keep these 6 factors in mind during your next workout.

1. Body Position

Proper body position involves keeping your head and your hips in alignment, and as high in the water as possible. In backstroke, strive to keep your head as still as possible, looking straight up. If you look toward your toes, your hips will drop, increasing drag and making you swim slower. Thinking about keeping your belly button “dry” will encourage your hips to stay high, too.

Related: Learn to Float in 10 Minutes or Less!

To keep your head in alignment, try the backstroke cup drill! Simply fill a plastic cup with water, place it on your forehead, and swim backstroke without letting the cup fall. It’s a challenge!

We know many swimmers like to use fins, but we recommend laying off of them until you have proper body position down, especially for backstroke. Fins allow you to slack on proper posture, which can cause your hips to sink. The fins help propel you through the water, so you may not notice the issue.

2. Pull

The backstroke pull begins with your hand exiting the water thumb-first. Keeping your arm straight, lift it out of the water, slowly rotating your hand so that your pinky enters first when your arm reaches the water again. 

Related: What is Early Vertical Forearm?

As you lift your arm, rotate your body away from the lifted arm so your shoulder comes out of the water. When your hand re-enters the water, rotate toward that arm to reduce drag created by your shoulders.

This pinky-first entry is key to setting up a proper Early Vertical Forearm catch. From this point, the pull will feel similar to a high-elbow freestyle pull. 

3. Kick(s)

Backstroke kick is a flutter kick, just like freestyle. It’s short and fast, and your toes should be pointed. Your kick shouldn’t be super wide — no more than 12 to 18 inches. The smaller and faster your kick, the faster you will go!

Related: How Ryan Murphy Swims Backstroke So Fast

The kick should be driven from your hip flexors rather than from your knees. Your legs should be pretty straight, with just a slight bend at the knee.

4. Rotational Momentum

When it comes to backstroke rotation, there are 2 schools of thought that can work for swimmers:

  • Hip-Driven Backstroke: Backstroke rotation isn’t quite as hip driven as freestyle, but swimmers with really powerful kicks can drive their stroke mainly with their hips. 
  • Shoulder-Driven Backstroke: For swimmers with a weaker kick, driving the rotation from the shoulders can be more effective for increasing stroke tempo and speed. 

Related: How to Swim Perfect Freestyle

Whichever rotation philosophy resonates with you, don’t over-rotate in backstroke — it’ll slow you down! It’s not about switching completely from one side to the other, but rather about reducing resistance

5. Underwaters

Underwaters, also known as the 5th stroke in swimming, are a huge component of backstroke. You want to work your underwater both off the start and the turns, ensuring you have a tight streamline and a strong dolphin kick.

In streamline, stack your hands on top of each other and squeeze your biceps by your ears.

Related: How to Swim Breaststroke with Perfect Technique

Maintaining this arm position, make sure your underwater dolphin kick has a strong up and down component. Often we neglect the “up” kick and lose out on extra power! To strengthen the “up” kick, work on strengthening your hamstrings, glutes and lower back with dryland training.

6. Tempo

Fast backstroke tempo comes down to arm speed. But it can be challenging to get your arms going fast while swimming on your back! Spin drill can help.

Related: More Backstroke Drills to Try

In spin drill, you’ll swim backstroke and try to move your arms as fast as possible, not worrying about catching water, rotating or keeping your hips up. Practicing spin drill can teach your arms to move more quickly when it comes time to race!

Related: How to Swim Butterfly with Perfect Technique

Improper rotation and kicking can interfere with your tempo. If you over-rotate and kick too much or too big, your tempo can slow. There’s no one rotation or kicking sweet spot for good tempo, though. Each swimmer is different!

Drills To Improve Your Backstroke

Improve Power: Dolphin Kick, Backstroke Arms

Improve Rotation: Single Arm Backstroke 2,2,2

We recommend using fins for this drill!

Fix Over-Rotation: Double Arm Backstroke

Get more backstroke Drills and Workouts in the MySwimPro app! Try MySwimPro Coach to begin your Personalized Training Plan.



    • Hi Anita! Work on finding balance in your rotation and equal pull between each arm. It’s also important to make sure your head stays nice and still, and that you’re looking straight up to the sky/ceiling. Your body tends to follow your head, so if your head is moving, your body will too!

  1. Hi Fares,
    great tips!
    one question though, while swimming back stroke how do you know if you are at the end of the lap? i have an outdoor pool, if the shades are on, I know when to stop, but when the shades are off I just have to look back.
    please advice

    • Hi there! It’s helpful to count your strokes during each lap, so you will know when you’re getting close to the wall. Hope that helps!

      • Thanks Taylor,
        Yes, I do count strokes. but sometimes strokes vary from -2 – +2 depending on how fresh the body is.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I have a question, how to position your mouth and nose when doing the underwater component so the water does not go in?

    • Taylor Holmes on

      Hi Pam, You can squeeze your lips closed to keep water out of your mouth, and exhale through your nose to keep water from going in! You will still get some water in your nose, though, so it takes some getting used to. You can also purchase a nose clip to keep your nostrils closed!

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