The great advantage of swimming on your back is that you don’t have to think about breathing when your face is up. There are a variety of ways to stroke while on your back.
The elementary backstroke is unique, and probably not swum enough. It is the only stroke in which both arms and both legs simultaneously recover together and propel together.
From a glide with legs extended and arms at the sides, the swimmer brings hands to the armpits and out at shoulder height, shrugging the shoulders to lower the elbows below the hands. At the same time the feet are drawn up together to the swimmer’s bottom, knees about hip-width apart.
Propulsion is achieved by pressuring the water with the insides of both upper and lower arms and hands. There is simultaneous pressure from the insides of the lower legs and the soles of the feet.
It is as if the swimmer is grabbing a big hunk of water and pushing past it into an effective glide, with head back and hips up to wait for the next stroke.
The arms work together with lowered elbows, too, for other effective strokes on the back – the inverted breaststroke, the inverted butterfly, and the double-arm backstroke.
The latter can be swum with a dolphin kick, a whip kick (as in the elementary back), or a flutter kick, which is the way my Lowcountry Masters teammate, David Jennings, competes so well.
Regardless of stroke, to be effective, the head has to be back, with ears under water. If you do this, your hips can more easily stay at water level, creating the ideal body position.
The back crawl stroke is the most familiar, using alternating arms and a flutter kick. It is not swum so much on the back as through the back with a stroke and glide on each arm, as seen in the accompanying photo.
The swimmer can imagine an anchored vertical pole, reach back on that side to grab the pole under water, and use it to propel the body past the hand while the other arm recovers into a glide. This side-to-side switch works best when accompanied by three kicks on each side, a six-beat kick in all.
If breathing struggles are all that stand between you and being a regular swimmer, consider swimming on your back. For more details and step-by-step instructions, as with all strokes, I encourage you to read my book.
Dr. Bob Colyer of Bluffton is an actively retired college professor, coach and author of “Swim Better: A Guide to Greater Efficiency for Swimmers & Instructors,” directed primarily to non-competitors. email@example.com