Cardio Series: Swimming - The Backstroke!

Since I'm a swimmer I thought I would write a series of articles on swimming and the different strokes. In this article I will talk about the backstroke.
BackStroke | Breaststroke | Freestyle | Butterfly

Now that you've finished your bulking phase, It's time to get cut! This means you need to start cardio workouts. There are several different options you have for cardio. You can run, bike, swim, hit on a punching bag etc.

Since I'm a swimmer I thought I would write a series of articles on swimming and the different strokes. I will also write about a few other forms of cardio workouts. In this article I will focus on the backstroke. Hopefully by the time you finish this article, and get to the pool, you will feel confident swimming the backstroke.


The backstroke is often the second stroke taught to the beginning swimmer. Like the freestyle stroke, the backstroke is an alternating stroke. The backstroke (also called the back crawl or the windmill backstroke), is basically the front crawl done on the back.

While swimming the backstroke you'll breathe freely, with your face out of the water, and you will use a flutter kick (the same kick as the front call/freestyle).

Body Position

    Begin on your back is a flat streamlined body position. Keep your chin close to your chest and look at your feet. Your back should be slightly arched with chest up. (Try to pinch your shoulder blades together.) The water line should be at your ear level when your arms are extended overhead.

    *If you're having a hard time keeping your chin close to your chest, get a tennis ball and hold it between you chin and chest. Then once you got this down, do the same action with the tennis ball while you're swimming.

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Arm Motion

    The backstroke arm motion cycle consists of the "catch", the "pull" and the "recovery". With your pinky finger (little finger) leading, place your extended arm over your head downward into the water for the "CATCH". For the "PULL", sweep this arm straight down under the water toward the thigh.

    Brush past your thigh with your thumb to complete the pull. "RECOVER" by lifting your arm out of the water leading with your pinky to continue straight back to the catch position. While one arm is in midair during the recovery, the other arm is pulling. Continue this alternating arm stroke motion with your arms moving continuously in opposition to each other.

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Leg Motion

    The backstroke flutter kick motion is similar to the freestyle flutter kick. Move your legs in an alternating up and down motion, with the power originating from the hips and thighs.

    The distance between your feet should he approximately 6-to-12 inches during each kick. There should be six beats (that is, three kicks) for each arm motion. Your knees should stay loose and flexible, and your knees and the feet should just barely break the water's surface. As with the crawl stroke, your arm motion provides more forward movement than your leg motion.

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Backstroke Coordination

    Begin in a back float position with your arms at your sides, and your thumbs facing downward. Start the recovery phase of the stroke by bringing one arm out of the water; leading with the pinky finger, and lifting it straight overhead at approximately shoulder width.

    For the catch, press your arm back another six inches under water, and then pull your arm diagonally downward through the water until your thumb brushes your thigh.

    Begin the alternating motion by starting the recovery of your second arm as you are pulling with your first arm, so your arms move in opposition, like a windmill. Add a continuous flutter kick, and breathe fully, while keeping the water level at approximately your cap/hairline.

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Backstroke Refinements

    Just as the S-shaped arm pull makes the freestyle more efficient, the backstroke is improved by adding a bent-arm pull with a body roll. The body naturally rolls in the direction of the pulling arm.

    To practice this bent arm S-pull, begin with your left arm. Extend it overhead for the catch at approximately the 'one o'clock' position. After the catch, pull and then press your arm downward toward your feet.

    This will create a rotation toward the left side of your body. Bend your elbow, drawing it toward your waist, as you continue your pull. Then sweep your forearm inward. Focus on your hand pressing "still" water straight down, as if you are throwing a ball to your feet.

    Simultaneously, your right arm, which is at your thigh, breaks the water's surface. The right arm recovers pinky up, and enters the catch position overhead at 'eleven o' clock'. It pulls, then presses, creating a body roll for your right side.

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Backstroke Drill: Roll and Kick

    Practice the body roll by starting a lap doing flutter kick on your back, with your arms remaining at your sides. Alternately roll your body to each side, allowing your higher shoulder to break the surface of the water. Concentrate on keeping your head centered.

Common Backstroke Problems & Their Solutions
Common Symptom Possible Problem Suggested Solution
You ride low in the water, giving you the feeling of dragging. Your hips are bent, causing the mid-section of your body to sink. Streamline your body position by keeping your head back while you push your hips up.
Your kick does not seem to give you enough thrust. Your ankles are too stiff, and your toes are pointed outward, reducing the effectiveness of your kick. Turn your feet inward with your big toes pointed, brushing past each other. Use fins to improve ankle flexibility.
Your arm stroke doesn't clear the water's surface. Your arms are bent upon recovery, splashing water in your face. Keep your elbows straight as your arms recover, leading with pinky.
You are not covering enough distance per stroke, and feel inefficient. Your shoulders and the body are in a flat position. Incorporate a shoulder roll into your stroke, which allows you to pull and glide more efficiently.

Now it's time to go to the pool and show em' what bodybuilders are made of! Like I mentioned earlier in this article, I plan to make a series of articles on forms of cardio and how to perform them. Just remember, always work hard!

BackStroke | Breaststroke | Freestyle | Butterfly