This backstroke technique article explains the arm stroke movements. Learning the arm movements is easier when you first practice them on dry land, and that’s how we demonstrate them in the video below. This article is part of our series to learn how to swim the backstroke.

Backstroke Arm Stroke Instructions

Let’s now go through the arm motions for one arm’s complete backstroke swimming cycle. Please note that the names of the different swim phases (Recovery, Downsweep, Upsweep, …) are related to the swimmer’s position in the water. The explanations for the motions however are related to the standing position used in this article.

Initial Position

Stand straight with both arms at your sides. The palms are turned towards the body.

Recovery

Elevate the right arm in front of you, keeping it extended. When the arm arrives at shoulder level, start to rotate the palm outwards. At the same time rotate the torso towards the elevating arm. Continue to elevate the arm until it arrives in an overhead position.

First Downsweep

Bend the arm at the elbow so that the hand moves out and downward and the elbow moves backward. At the same time the palm rotates so that it is at an angle of about 45° with the water surface.

In the water, during the downsweep, no force is applied to the arm. It just moves down into the right position to start the propulsive phase.

Catch

The catch is the moment in the backstroke technique when the arm starts to push against the water to provide propulsion. In our example, this happens when the elbow is bent about 90°.

Upsweep

The hand moves in, forward and downward until it is close to the rib cage with the palm parallel to the ground. This is the start of the propulsive phase.

Second Downsweep

The hand continues to move downward, the elbow extends and the palm turns backward. This is the end of the propulsive phase of the backstroke technique.

Exit and Recovery

The extended arm moves up, the palm turns in and the hand brushes past the hip to start the recovery as explained above.


Integrating both arms

Repeat these drill instructions individually with each arm until you have memorized the backstroke arm motions with both arms.

Then try to integrate both arms: basically, what you need to do is to move one arm downwards while the other arm recovers upwards. Start both motions at the same time.

Conclusion

Once you have mastered both arm motions on dry land, you are a big step closer to learning the backstroke technique. The next backstroke drills will teach you how to swim backstroke in the water.

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