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How to Swim Backstroke Straight: Keep Your Head Still

Funniest Most Common Flaws in Backstroke

One of the funniest most common flaws in Backstroke is Zig Zig in the water similar to the Zig Zag in freestyle only doing the backstroke. I would never laugh at my students but I'm willing to bet that they would laugh too if they could see themselves. So I want to talk about how to swim backstroke straight.

It's caused by over reaching but the strange thing is that most of the time it is the head that is the culprit. That is the overreached stroke tends to stop in many cases very quickly by just getting the swimmer to keep their head still.

What has usually happened is the teacher has told their student sometimes for a very good reason that they want the swimmer to keep their arms near their ears. The teacher has often done this (always assuming that the teacher knew what they were doing and they weren't just giving the instruction because that is what they thought they were supposed to do) in order to get the swimmer to reach further back and catch more water so that they have greater propulsion.

This is perfectly legitimate of course however you have to keep an eye on the student because in order to comply they often tilt their head to the arm rather than moving their arm to their head or move their head to allow their arm to overreach. The result is the swimmer's head becomes a rudder and their arm overreaches it's objective and goes beyond the swimmer's centre toward the other side of their head and not beside their head and you have zig zag.

How to Swim Backstroke Straight

There can be several solutions, different students catch on better with different actions, but the simplest of all, if the student gets what you are saying is simple to tell the swimmer to keep their head still. This forces the student, not to overreach and you have no zig zag.

image of young girl swimming backstroke in a zig zag fashion: this article is about How to Swim Backstroke Straight
Backstroke Zig Zag
You may have to walk behind then and give them some sort of cue when they move their head in order for them to know when they are doing this. They are probably not aware that they are doing this and remember they may have been moving their head from side to side for some time which can only compound the problem.

So if someone tells you you are zig-zagging in the water (you may want someone to look at you swimming and tell you it will improve your efficiency no end if you have no zig zag) or one of your students is don't just laugh at them, try getting them to stop moving their head.



  1. Beautiful and accurate analysis, thanks Richard, helps with my daughters zig zagging correction.
    Another flaw is that when the teacher tells them to turn the hand for pinky first entry, her arm bends at the elbow even before entering as shown in your diagram.

    1. The bending of the elbow is usually because there is not enough rotation in your daughter’s body when she reaches behind her head.

      I find that if a student is not up to the stage where they can increase their rotation it is better for them to do the stroke further away from their heads rather that them leaning in bent elbows and then having to fix it later on.

      I can’t remember if I have a post on better rotation to fix bent elbows. Do a search and find out. I’ll do one to and if I find nothing I’ll do one in a week or so.

      Glad to have helped