5 Backstroke Mistakes

Woman with red bikini swimming in pool.
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The backstroke is the only swimming stroke entirely on the back, which means you can’t see the wall. The swimmer has to rely on body awareness, timing, spatial awareness, and a little intuition goes into it as well. 

Common backstroke mistakes are easy to fix. Once you recognize the mistake, you can make small adjustments to improve your backstroke.

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All Arms, No Body

Male swimmer doing backstroke.
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Maintaining a streamlined position is important, but that does not mean you should lie flat in the water. You must do the body roll. You need rotation! If you do not roll your body when you pull, you put unnecessary strain on the shoulders. This mistake leads to shoulder injuries, such as swimmer’s shoulder, and exhaustion. The body roll allows you to increase thrust by engaging the chest and back muscles.

The Fix: Your body should roll should be no more than 45 degrees from the neutral position.  Rotate your hips as you rotate your shoulders. When you perform the stroke, try to touch your shoulder to your chin. 

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Improper Breathing

Breathing during backstroke. Getty Images

If you feel overwhelmed by the water when you try to breathe, your form is off. Relax! When you relax and stop stressing, your form and breathing follow. Work on timing your breaths to coincide with the rhythm of your stroke. You will soon discover that you can develop a stroke rhythm with your breath cycles.

The Fix: To improve your breathing, work on floating on your back. You should lean back. Don’t try to be stiff as a board. Press your back down and watch your hips rise. This will improve your form and your breathing in the pool.

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Improper Form

backstroke form. Getty Images

Form has a lot to do with your breath, but it is essential for your success overall. Let’s tackle form. What does improper form look like? 

Improper form has many faces:

  • Sloped neck
  • Drooping hips
  • Body out of the water
  • Shoulders out of the water

The Fix: When considering your form, remember one important thing: keep the body just under the surface of the water. Even when you rotate, your body and shoulders are under the water. Your head should be slightly out of the water, and should be relaxed. Swimmers can perform dryland workouts to strengthen performance and to provide more stability for successful form in the water.

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Bent Knees

Man swimming backstroke. Getty Images

You must maintain the streamlined position. If your knees bend too much as you kick, you create resistance and throw off the rhythm of the stroke.

The Fix: To prevent bent knees during your backstroke, keep your kicks small. Your kick should initiate from the hips and not the knees. Kicks stay under the surface of the water. Kick below the surface of the water so you do not disturb the surface and cause unnecessary drag.

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Flawed Catch

backstroke catch. Getty Images

The initial catch is important for a successful backstroke and is a common error that separates good swimmers from exceptional swimmers. The flaw generally occurs when a swimmer “slips” or “slices” at the top of the stoke. This is the result of insufficient shoulder rotation and improper body position. What happens is the depth of the catch is not enough to allow the swimmer to grab the top of the water.

The Fix: The catch is in the arm action. As the arm comes out of the water, the thumbs should lead. The shoulder lifts the arm out of the water. When the arm reenters the water, the palm should face out and the pinky must enter the water first. I recommend dryland exercises to improve a swimmer’s initial catch. Dryland exercise routines must target shoulder-hip rotation and timing, and/or consist of catch-repeat drills at the top of the stroke.