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How to fall in love with backstroke

How to fall in love with backstroke

Many beginner swimmers have one stroke that is their clear favourite. Perhaps you’re a natural at the breaststroke timing. Or the front crawl body position just feels right.

On the other hand, lots of swimmers—both beginners and veterans—also have a stroke that is low on their list. In this article, we’re tackling reluctant backstrokers.

For this article, we will use the term backstroke to mean back crawl. And we’re going to reveal the secrets of how to fall in love with backstroke.

Unique yet familiar

athlete doing backstroke in swimming pool

Backstroke is unique because we swim it lying face-up. In this position, your face is out of the water. Yet you don’t have a clear view of where you’re going. Your muscles work against the water in a way that is opposite to face down strokes.

These characteristics aren’t as different from the other strokes as they seem. Try to think about what feels good when you swim the way you prefer. Consider some of the stroke components:

  • Getting your head and face wet or trying to keep dry
  • Breathing out slowly or all at once
  • Alternating arms and legs or simultaneous
  • Face down or looking forward

Once you know what you like about the way that you swim, then you can explore where those preferences intersect with the backstroke. For instance, if you aren’t very keen on getting your face down towards the pool floor, then you’ll like that your face is mostly out in backstroke. And whether you prefer trickle breathing or explosive breathing, backstroke makes use of either.

In terms of the structure of the stroke, backstroke is, in a sense, a reverse of the front crawl. The arms reach far overhead for the pull, and the extended legs keep up a steady kick. If you like front crawl, then you might learn to love backstroke pretty quickly!

Lay back and relax

swimming floating on back in water

Laying on your back in the water can feel difficult for some people. They may feel nervous and vulnerable, or they may worry about sinking or getting water up the nose. Here are a few tips to help you:

  1. Stretch out – Stretch your legs out and push your chest and tummy up to the surface. Keep your chin up off your chest and let your ears go under the water. This elongated position will help you float.
  2. Chill out – Although your arms and legs have work to do in backstroke, try to practice floating with them relaxed. The backstroke kick relies on floppy, relaxed feet and a long neck. Stiff legs and hunched shoulders will scupper the technique. Use your core muscles to keep the legs near the surface.
  3. Make peace with water on your face – Every time your arm lifts overhead, you’ll feel some drops, and maybe even a little wave over your face. Practice aquatic breathing on your own or with a swim coach to make blowing it away easier.
  4. Get a lift – Consider using a float to practice. You can hold a rectangular float against your chest to help get into position. Or lay onto a pool noodle that is wrapped around your back for extra support. Kicking your legs in this position will help you build confidence to do without.

Now you’ve got the position and aren’t feeling stressed. It’s time to learn some tips for navigating the pool.

Remove the uncertainty

backstroke swimming

One thing that makes backstroke a challenge is that you can’t see the wall you’re hurrying towards. So how can you keep swimming in a straight line? And how can you avoid crashing into the wall or into other swimmers?

There are a few things that will help you:

  • Targeting
  • Lane ropes
  • Flags
  • Counting strokes
  • Feel

To swim in a straight line, you need something to aim for. Or, in the case of backstroke, to aim away from. Choose an object in your line of sight, and then align your body with that. Try as much as possible to keep on target as you swim. The target could be a lifeguard chair, a ceiling beam or even a sign on the wall you’ve just pushed off from. Anything fixed that is well above pool level will do.

Additionally, lane ropes can help you stay straight. Keep to one side of the lane and swim along the lane rope. Although seeing to the sides isn’t easy on backstroke, you’ll be able to see the rope as you pass along it. If you start to drift away from it, you can correct course. If your arm stroke catches it, you need to move further towards the centre of the lane.

The lane ropes can also help you figure out how close you are to the end. The buoys are red from the wall to about five metres out. Likewise, the overhead pool flags are posted at 5 metres from each end.

The last two options work together to prevent crashing, and they take practice and experience.

  1. Counting strokes – Count how many strokes it takes you to swim from the last set of flags to the wall. Use this number as a guide to prevent crashing. As you improve your stroke technique, you’ll need to subtract from your number. If you’re taking your time, you may need to add a couple.
  2. Feel – When a person is swimming before you in the lane, you may close in on them. When you do, you should feel on your hands the water churning from their kick, and you can slow down or overtake. You need to really pay attention to the change in the feel of the water. If you have a swimming buddy, you can practice this one together.
    Additionally, when you think you’re getting close to the wall, stop your stroke with one arm extended. Continue kicking until your extended arm touches the wall. This will help you avoid head bumps!

As with all swimming, learning how to fall in love with backstroke takes practice. Want some help in mastering this stroke—or any swimming technique? Why not book a one-on-one swimming session with one of our coaches for a personalised approach. We’d love to help!

by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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