How to Do a Backstroke Start

Backstroke starts can be one of the most painful — and embarrassing — things to learn. An incorrect start can result in a horrible back-flop! If you’re wondering how to do a backstroke start, this guide has step-by-step instructions for you.


Push off the Wall

Before doing a complete backstroke start, begin by pushing off the wall. This part of the start is one of the most important aspects. This is where the power comes from. If you don’t have a good push-off, everything else will fall apart.

Place Your Feet

Find a deep spot in the pool. For safety purposes, make sure the water is at least six feet deep! Otherwise, you might hit your head on the pool floor, or seriously injure your neck. Put both of your hands on the gutter and face the wall.

Keep in mind that the cross is in the center of the lane. This is the best place for you to set up your start: You’ll be away from the lane lines, and you can utilize the cross for good foot placement. Place your feet on the horizontal black line of the cross. Move them about shoulder-width apart. This should make you straddle the vertical line of the cross.

If your feet slip, place them directly above the horizontal line on the cross. The wall is a lot less slippery than the tile on the cross. You will probably need to make adjustments to your foot-placement. Everyone places their feet slightly differently, since some people have longer legs while others have shorter legs. Find what’s most comfortable for you, and where you feel your feet will give you the best leverage.

Coil Up

Bend your elbows and pull body close to the wall. If your heels are touching your buttocks, though, you are too coiled up. This will take a lot of effort to get off the wall, and it will feel slow. Instead, keep a little distance between your buttocks and your heels. Feel coiled up enough to spring out.

Also, look down at your hands. This will help you later when you practice a complete backstroke start. It allows you to throw your head back harder, ensuring a smoother entry into the water on your start.

Push Off

Push off the wall as hard as you can. Practice this a few more times, solely focusing on pushing off with power. As you push off, launch yourself backwards through the water.

Once you get the hang of this, try launching yourself upward. See how high you can get your body out of the water. If you don’t get out of the water very high, change your foot placement and try again.

Arch Your Back

Arching your back is the most important part of a backstroke start. For this next step, make sure you focus on arching your back as much as possible. This will get you far on your start, and it will also help you enter the water with ease.

No Arms

For this next step, push off the wall in the same powerful way that you just did. As you push off, tuck your arms to your sides. This way, you won’t have to worry about your arm motion. You can solely think about what your legs and body are doing. It’s also easier to arch your back, and tilt your head backwards when your arms aren’t getting in the way.

Focus on Your Back & Head

Arch your back and throw your head backwards. Your head should tilt back aggressively; as though someone just punched you backward off the wall. This will help you get out of the water on your start. If you arch through the air well, you will slice into the water smoothly. Your head should break the surface of the water first. Then you should feel your body follow through the same “hole” your head created.

Hot Tip: Arch over a Noodle
To ensure that you’re getting out of the water, have a friend help. Ask them to hold a noodle behind your back. Then arch over the noodle as you do your backstroke start. If you clear the noodle, you’ll know you’re pushing off and arching correctly.

Stiffening your core and tucking your chin will cause many problems. You might back-flop in the water. You also will not arch out of the water. This means you won’t get very far on your push. Instead, you’ll be fighting through the water.

Add in Your Arms

The arms can be a little tricky. Depending on your arms, you can either have a very smooth entry or a very sloppy entry. For the next step, concentrate on fast hands and a smooth entry.

Quick Hands

After you’ve mastered arching your back, add in your arms. As your hands leave the wall, throw your arms quickly into a streamline. This motion must be really quick, because your hands need to meet before you enter the water.

Fingertips First

Your fingertips should be the first to enter the water. This will break the surface of the water nicely, and create a “hole” that your body can follow through. Getting your arms around quickly enough might take you a few tries. Just keep at it.

Now that you’re thinking about your arms, make sure you don’t lose your explosive power or back arch. These are all key ingredients to a successful backstroke start.

Backstroke Starts are Tricky

Backstroke starts can be very difficult. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you a while to get the hang of things. Make sure you take it slow, and think about each step. This way, when you get to the next step, it won’t feel like you have to think about a million things at once. The more you practice, the easier it will get. Soon enough, you’ll be ahead of everyone at the start of your race!

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