It’s backstroke day! I have to admit that backstroke is my least favorite and worst stroke. My mom used to watch me swim and tell me that it looked like I was taking a Sunday stroll down the pool (no offense was taken, she was right).

That being said, I think backstroke is usually the first “other” stroke besides freestyle that beginner swimmers or swimmers coming out of retirement gravitate to first. Even though I’m not great at it, it’s easier to get through a backstroke set than say, a butterfly set.

The workout below contains a series of drills as well as some backstroke swimming. I also posted a backstroke drill guide with tips and videos included.

Common Backstroke Drills

Below is a collection of some more common backstroke drills along with video tutorials. During the beginner workouts, I may reference some or all of these, so take some time to familiarize yourself with the description and videos below. This is by no means a comprehensive list of backstroke drills, but these are some easier ones that deal with the basics of stroke mechanics. 

Tips to Remember for Backstroke: 

  1. Hand Entry: Remember “thumb out, pinky in”. This means that when your hand exits the water for your stroke, it should be positioned with the thumb up, exiting the water first. When you enter the water for recovery, your pinky should enter first. 
  2. Hand Position: Think of a clock, with your head at the 12:00 position. Your hands should be entering the water (pinky first) at 11:00 and 1:00. If you enter at 12, your arms will cross over your body’s midline and cause your hips to move side to side rather than rotating along your body’s core axis. This will give you the same “wiggle worm” effect as in incorrect freestyle entry position. 
  3. Kick! So many of my young age group swimmers try to pull themselves down the water with barley any kick. This will just cause your hips and butt to sink in the water, which in turn causes a lot of swimmers to overcompensate by lifting their head and attempt to swim backstroke like they are sitting up watching TV in bed. Remember, head back looking to the sky – short fast flutter kicks. Your knees should not be popping out of the water. If you are, kick more from your hips, not your knees.
Drill NameAbbrev.Video Link
Head Lead Kick + RotateHL+R
*About :27s in, backstroke kick extend demo
One Arm Lead Side Kick OA+R
*This video displays one arm kick (flat back) and side
Single Arm Backstroke SAB
*About 1:00 in
Double Arm BackstrokeDAB
½ Stroke Recovery & Pause Pause
*Skip to 1:00 in – notice she pauses at 90 degrees. She adds a touch to the forehead, which you can add, or just pause and finish your recovery.
Hand SwitchHS
*:45 sec in
6/12 Kick Switch 6K+S
*Skip to 3:00 in
3 Stroke 6/12 Kick Switch 3S6KSame as above, but add 3 strokes right, pause and kick, 3 strokes left

Drill #1: Head Lead Kick + Rotate (Kick w/ arms at side). This drill focuses on hip and shoulder rotation. Kick on your back with your arms at your side, and rotate side to side while keeping your head still. The most common challenge with this drill is that your hips may start to sink. Keep your head looking up at the ceiling, and rotate on your core axis. 

Drill #2: One Arm Lead Kick. This can be a good drill to practice rotation and keeping your bottom half high in the water so your hips don’t sink. It can also be a good drill to practice finishes. A lot of younger swimmers fear the wall (and hitting it with their head). With one arm out, you can gain confidence and a feel for how far the wall is from the flags. This drill can be practices with a flat back or for a little more advanced version, kick on your side. This will help with body stabilization.

Drill #3: Single Arm Backstroke. For this drill, start to focus on hand position and entry. Your thumb should be exiting the water first, with your pinky entering first. Your hands should be entering at 11:00 and 1:00. 

Drill #4: Double Arm Backstroke. This drill really forces you to have a strong kick, as it takes a lot more effort for both arms to stroke and recover at the same time. This is also a good drill to focus on your underwater recovery.

Drill #5: Half Stroke Pull + Pause. This sound complicated, but really it is just a pause mid stroke. As your hand exits the water, pause when your arm is 90 degrees, pointed directly at the ceiling. This gives you a chance to focus your body alignment and set up for perfect entry. This is one of my favorite drills because it also gives me a chance to really elongate my stroke and set up for a powerful underwater recovery.

Drill #6: Hand switch. This drill is like the one above, but it focuses on your hand entry. Bring your arm up (thumb first), pause at 90 degrees, and “switch” your hand around. Your pinky should be facing forward when you get to 90 degrees – then switch your hand so your thumb is facing forward – back to pinky – back to thumb to set up for a pinky first entrance. The video should help with the visual for this one. 

Drill #7&8: This is really all one drill, in a progression. Start with one arm out the other at your side and kick for 6 to 12 counts, then stroke, and recover to the other side. Once you feel comfortable with this, add arms and take 3 strokes in between each recovery.

Kicking: This is not listed above, but streamline kick on your back is a great drill to focus on head position and keeping your hips and butt high in the water. 

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