Common Backstroke Mistakes

The most common mistakes swimmers make in their strokes are often the easiest to fix. Backstroke is one of those strokes that seems simple enough, but the little details can be enough to trip you up and keep you from swimming your best. This guide will explain some of the most common errors swimmers make and help you fix them to swim at your best. 

1. Head Position: Tucked Chin

A common mistake that you might come across is tucking your chin while swimming backstroke. This forces your head to come high out of the water, creating resistance as you swim. This can be taken further because your body tends to "want" to stay in alignment, essentially meaning that your feet wish to stay under your head. If you're tucking your chin, your feet will try to drop below your head to the pool floor! It’s nearly impossible to keep your hips afloat if you tuck your chin. If you look up, though, your feet want to be stretched out behind you.

How to Fix


Hot Tip: Balance Your Goggles
If you’re having trouble relaxing your neck, take off your goggles. Place the goggles on your forehead and lightly kick backstroke. Try to keep the goggles balanced on your forehead. In order to keep them there, you’ll have to tilt your head back and relax your neck.

Relax your neck. If you do, your body will straighten out. You’ll notice that your eyes are now looking straight up toward the sky or ceiling. If you have a really bad habit of tucking your chin, try to push your chin up toward the ceiling more. Feel the water start to splash slightly over your forehead.

This sensation can be quite uncomfortable if you’re not used to it. To try it out, start by kicking with your arms at your sides. Relax your neck as you kick. As you become more comfortable with the head position, slowly add in your arms. Keep the tempo slow as you do this.

2. Body Position: Flat Torso

If you’re like many other backstrokers, your shoulders might stay flat in the water as you swim. This can lead to shoulder injury. To pull water in this position, you’ll reach behind you and strain your shoulders. Also, you’re not pulling as much water as you can because your arm is at a poor angle to grip the water.

Instead, you should have extensive shoulder rotation. Rotating your shoulders will ease any strain while pulling. It will also make your pull stronger, since you’ll be able to get a better catch.

How to Fix

Rotate your hips and shoulders simultaneously. To exaggerate this rotation, try a drill called “Barrel Roll.” Push off the wall and leave your arms at your sides. As you kick, rotate your body from side-to-side like a barrel floating and rolling in the water.

Try to make the transitions are as smooth as possible. Take it slow. As you rotate, tap your shoulder to your chin. This will let you know if you’re rotating as far as you can.

Make sure, though, that you’re keeping your head perfectly still. If you move your head over to your shoulder, you won’t be rotating properly in the water. If you’re not sure if you’re keeping your head still, find a spot in the sky or ceiling to focus on. Keep looking at that spot as you rotate.

3. Legs: Bent Knees

You’ve probably seen someone’s knees breaking the surface of the water while swimming backstroke. Even though it’s easy to see, it is hard to feel. Kicking with bent knees is inefficient. Kicking like this creates resistance in the water, creating a non-rhythmic stroke.

How to Fix

Keep your legs as straight as you can. Kick from your hips. To practice this, grab a board and hold it over your knees. Keep your arms straight so that you can steady the board, and relax it over your legs. Allow the board to float on the surface of the water as you grip it.

Now push off the wall and start kicking on your back. If you’re bending your knees, you will feel them hit the board. Instead, keep your legs straight, and try to feel your toes coming out of the water. You should be making small, white-water splashes with your toes.

Also, don’t cheat! Many swimmers tend to turn their knees out during this drill to avoid hitting the board. It’s still possible to bend your knees without hitting the board by doing this. Once again, this will lead to an inefficient kick because of an incorrect leg angle. Instead, make sure that your knees are facing straight up toward the board.

4. Arms: Back-hand Entry on the Pull

You might be like many other swimmers by entering your arm into the water with the back of your hand. This doesn’t set you up for a strong pull. After your hand enters, you’ll have to turn your palm out to face the side of the pool. While transitioning, you’ll be slipping water. It’s nearly impossible to get a good catch when entering the water like this.

How to Fix

Enter the water with your pinky facing down. This will turn your palm outward, and set you up for your pull. Practice the “Flag Pole” drill. Push off the wall and begin swimming backstroke. As you lift your arm up on your pull, exit the water with your thumb. Reach straight up from your face where you can see your hand, and pause in this “Flag Pole” position. Next watch your hand flip so that your palm is facing outward. Then slice into the water with your pinky first.

5. Timing: Slow Arms

In many swim practices, coaches will tell you to swim a few laps of easy backstroke as a warm-down. Swimmers can get used to cruising through backstroke; making it long, slow, and leisurely. Because of this, many swimmers struggle to speed up their arms in backstroke.

In backstroke, the arms are one of the main sources of power. To maximize the pull, you’ll need to accelerate your arms through the water.

How to Fix

As you place your hand in the water to begin your catch, pull your arm to your hip as quickly as you can. As you do so, try to feel the pull force you onto your side. If you grip the water well enough, it will force you to rotate quickly and powerfully. This will help you speed up the rate.


Hot Tip: Practice the Spin Drill
If you’re looking for a highly advanced drill, consider the “Spin Drill.” Sit up so that your head and neck are out of the water. Then swing your arms around quickly. Since your arms travel through the water less, the turnover rate will be faster than normal. Make sure, though, that you still practice proper technique during this drill.

Have a Coach or Teammate Help

Often, the mistakes swimmers make in their strokes are those they’re not even aware of. Trying to spot these mistakes might require the eyes of another swimmer or coach. If you can, ask someone to watch your stroke. If they notice something you can fix, work on it. Then ask them if you improved.

If you don’t have a friend or coach with the expertise to assist you, ask someone to record your swim. That way you can watch yourself swim and try to spot areas to improve. Either way, feedback is the best tool to correct your stroke!

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