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by Bo Hickey

March 2, 2020

Improve your body position and strength for a more efficient backstroke

Whether you love to race backstroke at your local Masters meet or use it to recover in your IM events, here are some helpful dryland tips to get more out of the stroke.

Body Positioning

Because backstroke is the only stroke swum on your back, you might not have the same strength on your back as you do on your stomach. Stability exercises that require you to be on your back will give you opportunities to work on proper body positioning that’ll transfer to your time in the water.

A good starting drill is a hollow hold, which is similar to your streamlined position. Although it looks pretty simple, holding this position for any amount of time will awaken your stability senses. The biggest key is to keep your lower back pressed firmly to the ground. If you feel your lower back starting to arch, you’re losing proper body position.

Once you’ve mastered the hollow hold, the next progression is to add limb movement with the foundation of a stable spine. Sound familiar? In its simplest form, backstroke requires a stable spine with limb movement. Mentally breaking it down to these parts can help you get past plateaus. One of my favorite exercises for this is deadbug with a band. This will challenge you to maintain stability while adding movement. The band will also increase your lat engagement throughout the movement.

The final movement of the body positioning segment focuses more on your rotational range of motion. Completing a glute bridge with a diagonal reach will pinpoint any tense areas you might have during the overhead reach phase of backstroke. Try to reach without a complete flare of your ribs in the overhead position.

Backstroke Body Positioning Routine

Complete three sets of the following exercises three times a week:

Baseline Strength

In addition to stability, backstroke requires strength because it challenges you with unique pulling positions, rotational reaches, and more. Training some of these specific variables can help you get more out of your pull.

The first movement is a pullover. I like this movement for backstrokers because of its high focus on body stabilization during the pull. You’ll quickly feel if you reach too far and your lower back begins to arch. I like to have swimmers complete the overhead reach with a slow, steady pace. This allows them to focus on body positioning throughout the movement.

You’re probably familiar with a traditional Russian twist; I like to add a small tweak to this movement to strengthen rotational control. Complete each repetition with an overhead reach. This allows you to blend a rotation with a reach, similar to what you will do during backstroke.

Finally, shooter squats will help you drive your momentum off of each wall. This will challenge you to maintain proper body position when you increase your pace. If you’ve ever pushed off a wall and felt like you barely went anywhere, this exercise will help.

Backstroke Strength Routine

Complete four rounds of the following exercises two times a week:


  • Technique and Training


  • Backstroke
  • Drylands