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Backstroke Swimming Technique – Body Position and Head Position

In this installment of our series of articles on backstroke technique, we will discuss the movements of the body and the position of the head.

Body Position

In backstroke, you float on your back in the water. Your body is almost horizontal, with a slight tilt toward the feet.

A backstroke swimmer
A good position of the body is essential to swim backstroke.

This slight tilt allows you to flutter kick without your legs breaking the water surface.

Beginners often have trouble getting into or maintaining this horizontal position.

Their hips and legs sink, and the whole body gets dragged down. The face drops below the water surface, and breathing is disrupted.

Causes for Sinking Legs

Having your hips and legs sink while swimming backstroke can have the following causes:

1) You don’t lean back enough in the water.

Leaning back presses your lungs down in the water.

As your lungs are the most buoyant part of the body, pressing them down causes your hips and legs to rise because your body acts like a seesaw as long as it is kept straight.

The head-lead supine balance drill has more explanations about this technique.

2) You don’t keep your body straight but bend at the hips.

This is often the case for certain swimmers where their kick is more akin to a bicycle kick rather than a flutter kick.

Ideally, your hips and knees should only bend a little while flutter kicking.

As explained above, if you don’t keep your body straight, it will be difficult for you to lean back and use the buoyancy of your lungs to raise your hips and legs.

Body Roll

While swimming backstroke, your body should roll from side to side, between 30° and 45° from a flat position.

Your body rolls toward the side of the recovering arm as it is about to enter the water, while the other arm is about to leave the water at the end of the underwater arm sweep.

Rolling from side to side allows you to use your chest and back muscles in addition to your shoulder muscles, hence increasing propulsion.

Rolling from side to side also decreases strain on your shoulders, making them less likely to develop the swimmer’s shoulder injury.

Please note that backstroke swimmers often roll too little rather than too much.

So you can try to roll more to the side than usual to see if this improves the grip of your arms in the water.

Head Position

Whereas your body rolls from side to side during the backstroke swimming cycle, your head stays in a fixed neutral position.

It is in line with the trunk and neither tucked in nor rolled forward. Your face is above water, and you look straight up or slightly backward.

Some coaches use the following backstroke drill to practice a neutral head position: they have their swimmers swim backstroke with a small bottle of water placed on their forehead.

Related Pages

You may also be interested in the following articles that cover the backstroke’s swimming technique:

Hardip Garcha

Sunday 20th of October 2019

Hello, my name is Hardip Kaur Garcha. I find the backstroke difficult, my legs hurt when I do this swimming stroke.


Wednesday 20th of February 2019

I love doing laps at pools but whenever I do a backstroke I always fail and my nose fills up with tons of water.

Do you know how to prevent that?

hardip garcha

Sunday 20th of October 2019

Hello, my name is Hardip. When I do the backstroke my leg always cramps and it puts me off, yet I carry on.


Wednesday 20th of February 2019


I love swimming and all but whenever I try to float on my back my legs always start to sink. The only time I actually float is when I have flippers on. I have tried everything to keep my legs up but they always just sink.

Do you know anything that could keep me afloat?


Saturday 23rd of February 2019

Hi Annie,

It's hard to say why your legs are sinking. Your flutter kick may be ineffective. The use of short swim fins and practicing vertical kicking in that case can help.

Maybe you don't keep your body in a straight line, which throws you out of balance? In this case, I recommend you practice our series of drills for the backstroke.

If possible, ask a friend, swim buddy, or lifeguard to have a look at your backstroke. They may be able to spot an error in your technique that is causing the problem.

Good luck.

Kye Chun

Tuesday 9th of January 2018

When my daughter enters her right hand on backstroke her head tilt to the right.

She tried the drill with a bottle on her forehead but it works only at that time. She doesn't do that to the left side.

How would she fix not to tilt on her right side of head besides bottle training?


Thursday 10th of August 2017


First 25m I can swim backstroke without my legs sinking but after that I cannot manage to do the same, it starts sinking. Thereby all kicking was below water level.

Also, I used to look upward in forward direction, then only can I manage to float my legs. However I was advised to look at my feet to stop sinking legs and swim straight. Is that correct?

Please advise.


Thursday 10th of August 2017

Hi Priyanka,

While swimming backstroke the head should be and stay in a neutral position, in line with the trunk. You should look straight up and not either forward or backward.

In that position your body should form a straight line and you should feel balanced.

While kicking, the feet can break the water surface a bit. There should be no reason that you can only manage to do 25m, except if you are kicking too hard and get tired, which could indicate a balance problem.

As always, follow our (backstroke) drills to get balanced and be able to swim in a relaxed way.

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