Backstroke is the only swimming stroke where the swimmer actually starts from the water, and the swimmer's face remains out of the water for the entire stroke cycle.
That presents a new set of challenges to overcome when trying to perfect your backstroke technique and trim some vital seconds, or milliseconds, off your personal best.
Watch our Speedo training video for some hints and tips on how to improve your backstroke performance. In this article and video, we'll cover the basics of positioning, breathing, kicks and strokes.
Learn the correct position for backstroke swimming
The correct head and body position is vital if you want to become more streamlined and improve your efficiency in the water. This means you must keep your body as flat as possible.
Your head should be kept in a neutral position, facing the ceiling directly above you. This position also helps you stay as high as possible in the water. Keep your neck relaxed and be careful not to hold your head up too high, as this will cause unnecessary strain and slow you down.
Try pulling your stomach in and flattening your back to eliminate arching. This will also help you to maintain that perfect high and straight position in the water.
Consider using a kickboard if you want to concentrate on improving your body position. See our training aids gude at the bottom of the article.
How to breathe when swimming backstroke
Developing a good breathing technique is essential when swimming backstroke.
Because your face is kept out of the water at all times when swimming backstroke, it's easy to overlook the importance of a proper breathing technique.
However, a consistent breathing rhythm will help you to swim more efficiently and comfortably, aiding your stroke and delivering vital oxygen to your muscles.
Backstroke breathing techniques can be tailored to suit your individual stroke pattern. Some swimmers inhale during the recovery of one arm, then exhale during the recovery of the other arm.
Another technique involves breathing for every arm stroke – inhaling quickly at the beginning of the arm recovery, followed by a slower exhale for the remainder of the arm recovery. See which technique works best for you. It's important you feel as comfortable as possible in the water.
Develop a stronger kick for faster backstroke times
The kick is what provides your propulsion in the water so, the stronger it is, the faster you will swim backstroke.
Watch the video above to visualise the perfect kick technique. Keep your foot relaxed, extend your ankles and point your toes, then bend your knees slightly as your foot moves towards the bottom of the pool.
As your foot moves towards the surface, straighten your leg and keep those toes pointed. Always remember to kick from yout hip rather than your knee - this will maximise the power of your kick and give you stronger propulsion.
Why hand positioning is so important to backstroke technique
Getting your hand position correct is the key to improving your stroke technique.
As you place your hand into the water, make sure your palm is facing outwards so that your little finger hits the water first. Keeping your elbow high, press downwards with your forearm before pulling out to the side of the body.
As your arm pulls through the water, point your fingers to the side of the pool and keep that high elbow position. Then push the water backwards and accelerate your hand out of the water.
You should lead thumb-first as your arm exits the water for the recovery phase of the stroke. During this phase, raise your arm up to the ceiling in a straight line before bringing it down above your head ready for entry into the water again.
How to make the perfect backstroke start
Backstroke starts can be extremely difficult to perfect, but be patient and methodical. Break it down to a step at a time. The secret to a fast start is a no-splash entry.
Grip the bar below the starting block firmly, and try to keep your feet approximately a shoulders' width apart on the wall. Gently pull yourself towards the block until your buttocks reach the waterline. Keep your neck relaxed, and position your head so that you're looking towards your knees.
At the start, swing your arms around sideways and push with your legs, making your body rise completely out of the water as you throw your head backwards and arc your back.
Your hands will enter the water first, so it's important to keep the rest of your body as straight as possible to reduce splashing and drag.
While underwater, you can build up speed using a dolphin kick until you reach the 15m limit. Using a monofin training aid can help with developing dolphin kick power and technique.
How to perform the best backstroke turn
To perform the perfect flip turn, you'll need to rotate your body and roll forward under the water in a somersault-like movement. Put both feet on the wall, keeping your knees open, and push as hard as you can while staying on your back.
Remembering your optimum body position, the key is to stay as streamlined as possible to reduce drag and increase speed.
Practice your backstroke drills
If you're looking for some ideas and inspiration for backstroke swimming drills, check out this video from Bob Bowman, coach for the legendary Michael Phelps.
Training aids to help improve backstroke technique
A kickboard is a useful training aid if you want to concentrate on your lower body. For backstroke swimming, it can hold your body in a stable and buoyant position while you work on your positioning, leg strength and kick techniques.
Our training fins can help boost leg strength and improve backstroke body positioning. Popular products in this range include the Mad Wave Short Blade Swim Fins, the Maru Training Fins and the Speedo BioFUSE Fitness Fins.
For dolphin kicks, consider the FINIS Evo Monofin. This innovative short blade monofin (pictured) is designed to help swimmers develop their dolphin kicks and increase leg strength.
The two foot pockets are joined by a flexible connector, helping the swimmer maintain a natural kick technique while building strength. Check out our FINIS Evo Monofin Training Tips video with Olivia Smoliga for more training ideas.
If you want to work on your backstroke hand positioning, you will find finger paddles a useful training aid.
Finger paddles expose the palm of your hand to allow for more feel of the water. They also increase resistance, which in turn will develop your upper body strength and power.
The Speedo Finger Paddles and the Arena Elite Finger Paddles (pictured) are among our best sellers in this range. Or if you're looking for a value-for-money option, check out the Mad Wave Finger Paddles.