How to Go Faster Underwater During a Backstroke

Competitive backstrokers aim to achieve powerful kicks.

Competitive backstrokers aim to achieve powerful kicks.

The kick in your backstroke contributes more to your speed than a freestyle kick. Lying supine on water allows for a longer upbeat push from your legs. Because you're not using the buoyancy of your lungs, you have to kick harder to stay balanced and afloat. Think of your legs as a beater, quickly whipping the water until it comes to a boil. As opposed to the two- or four-count rhythms used by freestyle swimmers, backstrokers use a six-count rhythm. Perform various drills to strengthen your kicking, hone form and achieve a faster backstroke.

Flutter Kick with No Arms

Do the flutter kick, pressing your arms to your sides. Kick from the hip, not your knees. Keep your knees straight and toes pointed. Squeeze your glutes, which will naturally encourage you to kick from the hip. Visualize the rapid back-and-forth movement of a butterfly's wings.

Aim for a six-beat rhythm on your kick. Imagine your body as a torpedo zooming through water.

Contract your abs to maintain the neutral position of your spine.

Adjust the direction of your focus to help you keep your hips and rib cage up in the water.

Flutter Kick with One Arm

Perform the flutter kick with one arm extended over your head. Tuck it behind your ear. The shoulder of that arm will dip, causing the other shoulder to rise and generate resistance. Press down on the pressure point a hand-width below your armpit to lift your rib cage higher.

Perform 12 kicks and then repeat on the other side. Rotate your trunk as you switch sides.

Progressively lower the kick count on each side by two until you reach six kicks per side.

Flutter Kick with Two Arms

Extend both arms overhead, tucking them behind your ears.

Place one hand on top of the other. Lock the thumb of the bottom hand around the pinky of the top one. Keep your fingertips above water to boost the pressure on your legs and lift your rib cage.

Perform the flutter kick for 10 to 15 yards across the pool, making your kicks fast and small.

Underwater Flutter Kick

Perform kicks underwater for short distances to develop a streamlined kick. Extend both arms overhead, one hand placed in the palm of the other.

Control your exhale, slowly releasing your air supply throughout the drill. Feel how your feet and legs move quickly through water.

Use fins to kick for longer distances.

Items you will need

  • Short fins


  • Avoid lifting your knees in a cycling motion on kicking drills. If you use this motion, your legs will only add resistance and compromise the alignment of your body.


  • Gradually increase the distances you cover with the backstroke to allow the muscles in the front of your neck to adapt to the stress. If you suffer from tight ankles, perform the drills with fins. Before doing kicking drills, warm your muscles with 10 minutes of light aerobic activity to lower the risk of injury.

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  • Strength Training for Faster Swimming; Blythe Lucero
  • Complete Conditioning for Swimming; Dave Salo, et al.

About the Author

Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.

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