About the Elementary Backstroke

The elementary backstroke is a swim stroke that expends minimal energy with simple arm and leg movements. This backstroke doesn't require any complicated breathing technique since the swimmer's head never goes underwater. Sometimes used as a recovery or rescue stroke, the elementary backstroke is often considered one of the most relaxing swimming strokes.


The elementary backstroke, while not a competitive swim stroke today, was first performed in competition in the 1900 Paris Olympics. However, this type of backstroke never became a mainstay of competition.


The elementary backstroke requires the swimmer to float flat on his back on the water. The swimmer draws the hands up the sides of the body while bending the elbows. At armpit height, extend the arms outward to full length (like a T). Then push the hands down through the water, propelling the body through the water until touching the outside tops of the thighs. The swimmer moves through the water with repetitions of this arm stroke and by incorporating a similar leg movement. Much like the frog kick used during the breaststroke, the elementary backstroke kick involves drawing the knees up and out with the heels touching. Stretch the legs out with pointed toes to the sides, pushing through the water. Bring the legs together straight to begin the next frog kick movement. Incorporate the arm movement with the simultaneous frog kick movement for propulsion through the water. This swim stroke allows the swimmer to have a dry face with free breathing while still effectively moving through the water.


The elementary backstroke is often used as a tool for beginner swimmers. Learning this stroke helps swimmers adjust to floating on the back and incorporates a simple stroke for movement.
The elementary backstroke is also used as a rescue tool. Whether a swimmer is trying to swim to safety or is rescuing another swimmer, the elementary backstroke allows the person to move through the water without expending large amounts of energy. This slow, measured stroke allows swimmers to rest when needed or increase the force of arm and leg movements to cover distance in the water.


The elementary backstroke is not only used as a teaching tool but also as means for building confidence in the water. This simple swim stroke is often taught first to beginner swimmers in conjunction with lessons in how to tread water. Being able to propel oneself through the water while keeping the face completely dry often increases the confidence of new swimmers.
The elementary backstroke is frequently taught as a precursor to the backstroke (also called back crawl). This stroke incorporates regular scissors kick and windmill arm movements that often splashes a good deal of water into a swimmer's face. The elementary backstroke allows a beginner swimmer to learn the backward gliding motion through the water without incorporating the complication of breathing.


Like any stroke performed on the back, the elementary backstroke should be executed with care. While this is a relaxing stroke, it is still possible to propel oneself through the water quickly. Watch out for obstacles as well as the possibility of hitting the head on the side of the pool.