Backstroke (sometimes called Back Crawl) is similar to Front Crawl, but is swum on the back. This allows the face to be out of the water at all times and therefore makes breathing comparatively more comfortable. Backstroke works opposing muscles to Front Crawl, so is useful to rebalance posture and muscle development for swimmers who primarily swim on the front. Like Front Crawl, Backstroke has continual propulsion as the left and right sides of the body push and recover alternately. It is a streamlined, fast stroke but in swimming competition it is typically slower than Front Crawl.

What is Backstroke used for?

Backstroke is a great choice for fitness swimmers, not only for counteracting the posture and muscle developments created by Front Crawl, but also to balance out general day-to-day slouching posture. Backstroke can help swimmers build “swim fitness” because a swimmer tiring in a Front Crawl set can switch to Backstroke and continue exercising hard whilst the Front Crawl-dominant muscles recover and the swimmer gets their breath back. Swimming on the back is a useful survival tool because the face stays out of the water at all times. Backstroke provides a great upper-body workout, building muscle and improving flexibility in the upper back and shoulders. Swimmers who dislike swimming with their face in the water may prefer swimming Backstroke and young children who are nervous of putting their face in often make faster progress on their back before they are able to swim on their front. This is great for building confidence and developing a love of swimming whilst they work towards overcoming the face-in challenge.

Skills that help to improve Backstroke:

Development of Backstroke from Beginner to Advanced:


Backstroke is a relatively simple stroke to learn, but the biggest initial challenge to overcome is getting used to the feeling of laying backward in the water. Instinctively, leaning backward in the water triggers a feeling of falling, so beginner swimmers have to overcome the reflex reaction to sit up or try to steady themselves. It takes a lot of trust and confidence to relax on the back in the water as there is nothing solid to reassure us that we are safe. However, once swimmers have learned to float on the back, they can begin to kick their legs and travel backwards.


When a swimmer has the ability to travel on the back using just a kick action, they can start to incorporate a Backstroke arm pull. At first, this may be a basic backward rotation of the arms, but as the swimmer gets stronger and more confident, they can begin to make the stroke neater and tidier. A splashy, messy arm action is not very efficient.


As with all swim strokes, Backstroke can be refined and adapted to suit the swimmer’s individual needs. There are many aspects of the stroke that can be modified, from the angle and position of hand entry, strength and speed of pull, the pace or cadence of the arms, depth and strength of kick, and how far the body log rolls. There isn’t one single “perfect” way to swim Backstroke, but certain adaptations can help you to swim faster, whilst others help to make the stroke more comfortable for long distance or fitness swimming. It is up to the individual to determine their personal goals and to experiment with modifications to find out which ones work best for them. Asking a swim teacher or friend to observe and analyse your stroke, or videoing your swim (where permitted) can help you to spot areas worth adapting. Using a stopwatch to time your swim, or listening to your body to work out how you feel when swimming your chosen distance can help you determine which modifications are helping you towards your chosen goal. For children who wish to compete, it is important to work with a swim club to develop the right technique alongside a training development plan in order to have the best chance of progressing through competition.

Skill-specific Hazards for Backstroke:

Besides the general inherent dangers involved with water-based activities, swimming Backstroke has a few of its own specific risks:

  • When swimming Backstroke, you cannot see where you are going. As a fast stroke, there is a risk of colliding with another swimmer if you are not fully aware of your surroundings as well as colliding with the wall at the end of each length.
  • In open water, it is easy to swim far off-course, where there may be hazards such as weirs and watercraft, or it may be difficult to swim back to your point of safety. Without being able to see what is immediately ahead of you, swimming backstroke in open water carries a high risk of colliding with an object in the water.
  • It is not as easy to change direction compared to swimming breaststroke, so a Backstroke swimmer may find it difficult to manoeuvre towards a point of safety
  • Without suitable adaptations to the stroke, swimming Backstroke for a long distance can increase the risk of shoulder rotation overuse injuries and neck strain

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