4 Reasons Why Every Competitive Swimmer Should Know How to Swim Elementary Backstroke!

Teaching a child how to swim Elementary Backstroke has a few concepts and skills that help them pickup aspects of other strokes quicker. Elementary Backstroke also a useful point of reference for coaches. In today’s post, we can plan to discuss what Elementary Backstroke actually is – plus – 4 ways you can connect the benefits of Elementary Backstroke to the other four strokes.

Let’s get started!

What is Elementary Backstroke?

Elementary Backstroke is a swim stroke that is swum on the back, using a reversed Breaststroke Kick and a simple synchronous under water arm stroke.

The purpose of Elementary Backstroke is to teach beginner swimmers how to float on their back and incorporate some simple stroke movements. For a step by step break down on how to do Elementary Backstroke, click here. The reason we are discussing Elementary Backstroke is because there are a lot of similarities of Elementary Backstroke to the other competitive swimming strokes. Let’s discuss 4 of these similarities below:

1.) Coordinating Arm and Leg Movements While Being Able to Breathe

Lets face it, swimming is a difficult sport. It is one of those where a cross-body connection is essential. Swimming the four competitive strokes requires arm and leg movements that are different from everyday life, varying amounts of rotation, and you’re horizontal. Elementary Backstroke lets a swimmer get the hang of coordinating simultaneous arm and leg movements while being able to breathe. Simultaneous arm and leg movements means moving arms and legs at the same time. They are mirror images of each other on either side of your body. When your arm and leg movements are coordinated in Elementary Backstroke, you get to experience propulsion and build coordination, while breathing. That brings us to the next benefit. 

2.) Stroke Cycles

When a swimmer graduates from swim lessons and is trying to grasp the concept of stroke cycles in Breaststroke or Butterfly, if they know Elementary Backstroke – it can increase their understanding of when a stroke starts and stops. Kids and humans in general are taught to look for patterns. Math is all taught based off patterns to little kids. Stroke Cycles repeat and go around and around. Most littles understand how to repeat. So ask them where in their stroke it repeats. Then, you just guide them to start from a streamline and ask what the cycle is. 

3.) Milk the Glide

From learning about a stroke cycle, it’s not a far jump to Gliding. Once a swimmer learns to glide and what it feels like to glide, that can make a huge difference. Understanding where propulsion comes from and that you don’t always have to be moving your arms and legs to move forward is important in the world of swim technique. Gliding in a solider position is more comfortable for beginners than streamline because a swimmer’s body mass is closer to their center of buoyancy. Reminding littles that they can glide and that they already know what it feels like in Elementary Backstroke builds confidence and helps communicate a feeling that can be applied to other strokes. Chicken, airplane, soldier, glide, can turn into, you guessed it: Pull, Breathe, Kick, Glide. In Elementary Backstroke, it’s important to hit your body line. Does that remind you of another stroke?

4.) Breaststroke Kick 

As most of all y’all know, the kick of Elementary Backstroke is a Breaststroke Kick. As a coach, I will sometimes have a swimmer kick Breaststroke on their back because it helps with issues they have on their front. Kicking Breaststroke on your back can help in a number of ways (see video below):

First it allows me another view of what’s happening with the swimmer’s kick. If knees pop up and out of the water, the likelihood of them not engaging their hamstrings is pretty high. Instead of bringing their heels up to their bum, when they swim Breaststroke, they are bringing their knees up towards their chest and we have the wrong muscles firing. Remember our friend gravity? It helps with the set up for your Backstroke Kick. Being on your back can use a gravity assist to help the right muscles fire and make other parts of the kick easier by increasing a swimmer’s likelihood of having a better set up. Breaststroke Kick on your back can be done as head lead or in a Streamline. A drill that I like using is one where a kid 3 kicks on their back and rolls over and 3 kicks on their front. This drill in particular, lets call it 3-3, lets a kid who knows Elementary Backstroke perform just the kick in streamline, then roll over and try to apply it on their front in Streamline. 


There are a few aspects of Elementary Backstroke that coaches can pull from when they work with their swimmers regardless of their age. Swimmers are able to breathe while developing coordination, a foundational understanding of swimming stroke cycles, experience gliding in a more “comfortable” fashion, and are in a better position to get the hang of their Breaststroke Kick. OH, and I almost forgot to mention, Elementary Backstroke is also a legal way to swim backstroke events in Masters swimming competition – maybe we should all get started coaching it!

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

5 Responses

  1. I think we’re in a tiny minority teaching elementary backstroke these days. But, I’ve been teaching it for several years with excellent success. If my students never learn another stroke, this is the one I want them to know.

    (On a side note, you wrote: “Simultaneous arm and leg movements is just a fancy term of phrase used in swim lessons that means moving arms and legs at the same time.”

    I believe you’re confusing “term of phrase” with “turn of phrase,” which doesn’t really fit here. “Simultaneous” is a term used widely outside of swim lessons to describe things which happen at the same time.)

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