What Age Should Swimmers Start Using the Backstroke Bar for their Backstroke Swimming Start?

Recently this question has been burning in my mind. This past season, I’ve spent a lot of time working with 8 and unders. My goal has to been to try and perfect my ability to teach effectively and talk concisely. Most recently, I have been teaching the proper mechanics for an effective Backstroke Start when this question popped up into my head. Let’s dive deeper into the appropriate age that swimmers should start (or be introduced) to the Backstroke Bar for their Backstroke Swimming Start!

Let’s get started!

To answer this question, I had to get a few measurements. One – I needed the height of our current blocks in relation to the water line. They are 28.5 inches from the water line to the block’s surface. This falls completely in line with the rules of stating that the block must be anywhere from 20-30 inches above the water line.

On top of that, I needed the height of our Backstroke Bar. This standard was actually a lot harder to find, and it appears somewhere between 10-24 inches this bar can appear above the surface of the water for Backstroke Swimming Starts. Our pool has our bar 15 inches above the water line. We have the blocks that are include handles on the side (see below), and these handles are only 9.5 inches from the water line – if used as well.

Current Block Setup at Blairwood Swim and Tennis Club

Why Does This Matter for my Backstroke Swimming Start?

As I was coaching my 8 and under, it dawned on me with the positioning of the body being in a seat – the one variable that needs to be taken into consideration for Backstroke Starts is arm length. You don’t ever want a swimmer to be shifting their weight too far forward when they are taking their mark for a Backstroke swimming Start. Ideally, you want their weight comfortably over their hips when they pull up, or even a little behind. See below:

The reason for this is the first movement a swimmer does in a Backstroke Start is throwing the arms and push with the legs backwards. It doesn’t make sense to pull forwards to then go the opposite way.

The introduction of the Backstroke Wedges has made it easier for many swimmers to maximize the push from their legs on the start. It’s really not as easy as it seems. To learn more about the Backstroke Wedge and how to properly use one, click here. Also, if you’re interested in getting some guidance on how to better your own personal Backstroke Start, check out our available video analysis packages to help get you entering with a higher speed – in a beautiful rainbow position!

What Does this have to do with Age Groupers?

When you take into consideration arm-length and age, you will see a correlation. I measured 42 swimmers throughout of our age group program at Triton Swimming to see if there was a correlation in arm length related to age. This is what I found out:

Ages 6-8: Average Arm Length was 19 inches

Ages 9-11: Average Arm Length was 23 inches

Ages 11-14: Average Arm Length was 26 inches

Example Position Prior to Take Your Mark

What Does this Mean?

Just as presumed, as a swimmer ages there is a direct relationship with their arm length. When you look at these numbers in correlation to our start setup, you will find that there is a specific arm introducing the Backstroke Bar is the MOST beneficial and that is around the age of 9 years old.


When a swimmer pulls up on the block to take their mark, most swimmers bend their arms to a 90-degree angle. So for simplistic purposes, I’m going to half all those arm-length numbers above because when you bend your arm to 90-degrees, you are essentially cutting the length in half.

Example Take Your Mark Position

Ages 6-8: Arm Length at 90-Degrees is 9.5 inches

Ages 9-11: Arm Length at 90-Degrees is 11.5 inches

Ages 11-14: Arm Length at 90-Degrees is 13 inches

If we look at these numbers in correlation to the height of the Backstroke Bar and its’ handles. We have a range of 9-15 inches to play with on our blocks. You do have the width of a swimmers palm to take into consideration too, so even though the lowest age category can physically touch the handles of our Backstroke Bar with their current arm length at 90-Degrees – they would not be able to GRIP the Backstroke Handle, as that would require a few more inches due to their palm width. Let’s say their average palm width is 2 inches, so reality is you need a minimum of 11.5 inches of arm length on our blocks to start using the Backstroke Handles. This puts the ideal starting age for introduction to the Backstroke Handles at around 9 years old. 

To progress from the Backstroke handles to the Backstroke Bar, if that’s an option for you – our swimmers must have a minimum 13 inches of Arm Length at 90-Degrees. Or 15 inches total with the addition palm length. This puts our swimmers at the age of around 11 years old to start introducing the Backstroke Bar to them.

The Irony of these Findings & Backstroke Swimming Starts?

Most coaches start using the Backstroke Bars way too early, and loose the ability to teach their swimmers the proper mechanics of the start

If you’ve ever coached younger kids, you will notice that most of them pull up and hunch over like an owl while taking their mark. This does exactly what we don’t want: pulls them forward, before going backwards.

While I know it’s hard to explain to younger swimmers that just because Susie Q does an amazing Backstroke Start using a bar and she’s 14 years old – doesn’t mean you need to mimic her and try to do one too. Start with the basics and then build from there. I promise it will pay back dividends for you in the end!

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

2 Responses

  1. Vindication! We don’t allow our swimmers to use the handles until they are at least 13! They hate me for it. But even some of our 15+ do not use them. Thanks for the breakdown

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