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An efficient stroke will significantly reduce wasted energy output through less drag in the water and a cleaner execution of hand and arm entry and recovery. When considering a swimming technique for any stroke, the analysis should follow the format described below, in this order:

  • 1. Leg kick
  • 2. Arm cycle
  • 3. Timing
  • 4. Breathing

The leg kick will control the body position in the water, while the arm cycle will provide the propulsive force. The timing between the two is vital to the efficiency of the given stroke to provide a greater speed through the water with minimum wasted energy.

Finally, breathing technique should be analysed to ensure that when you breathe your overall technique is not disrupted in any way that would cause a breakdown of efficiency.


Because of the required shoulder roll during backstroke swimming and a slightly weaker arm cycle, the legs play a more important part in adding a propulsive force to the stroke. The key, however, is to ensure that the feet work just under the water surface and not above it, to ensure that the full kicking movement is propulsive and not against thin air.

The arm cycle


Thumb first, arm fully extended, rotate the arm laterally through the shoulder joint, keeping in line with the body, gradually turning the hand laterally at the wrist, ready for entry. Allowing the opposite shoulder to drop will lift the recovery shoulder to help balance the stroke and create a more powerful propulsive phase.

Entry & Catch

Little finger first, drop the shoulder to allow a reach and "catch" the water with the hand cupped. The arm should flex slightly at the elbow to assist in the catch.

Down Sweep

Continue to flex the arm at the elbow as you press laterally, then downwards as you pull the hand towards the shoulder and chest, keeping that shoulder in the drop position.


With the arm close to the body, press the water towards the feet in line with the body, ensuring full arm extension is achieved.

Article Reference

The information on this page is adapted from Coulson (2000)[1] with the kind permission of Electric Word plc.


  1. COULSON, M. (2000) Here's an overview of the basics of technique for all strokes and specific training needs. Peak Performance, 135, p. 6-8

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Backstroke [WWW] Available from: [Accessed