Subject Search Bar

Survival Backstroke Technique Full Description And And How To Teach It

The Survival Backstroke Technique

I recently had a question: "The survival Backstroke Technique. It looks like the elementary backstroke. Is it?"

The answer is: it depends.

Survival Backstroke Technique: What's In A Name?

Survival Backstroke Technique has had so many names over the years that I lose track. Having said that here is how you can tell if it is the same stroke.

It is the same stroke only if the arms don't come out of the water, there is slow progress and movement only when progress is beginning to cease, to preserve energy. Most importantly the arms and legs are kept together as long as possible to minimize heat loss from the body.

In this context the stroke is a life-preserving stoke to be able to swim long distances, conserving energy, minimizing heat loss (avoiding Hypothermia if possible), all whilst awaiting rescue.

If "elementary backstroke" fits the above description then yes it is the same stroke.

In a previous post, I explained what survival backstroke was and in another, I explained how to do it.

In this post, I want to explain a teaching method.

Survival Backstroke Sequence

Image of Swimmer laying on back with arms held close to her body and legs squeezed tight together: Survival Backstroke Sequence Starting Position
(Fig.1) Starting Position

Image of swimmer raising arms up the side of her body and starting to seperate her legs: Survival Backstroke Sequence First Movement Left Side View
(Fig.2) First Movement Left Side View

Image of swimmer raising arms up the side of her body and starting to seperate her legs: Survival Backstroke Sequence First Movement Right Side View
(Fig.3) First Movement Right Side View

Image of swimmer raising arms up the side of her body and starting to seperate her legs: Survival Backstroke Sequence First Movement Viewed From Above
(Fig.4) First Movement View From Above

Image of Swimmer laying on back with arms held close to her body and legs squeesed tight together: Survival Backstroke Sequence Finishing Position
(Fig.5) Finishing Position

It is often useful to teach the inverted whip kick with the aid of a Kickboard held to the chest to help with buoyancy and to enable the beginner to slow down and concentrate on the correct leg action.

Using Keywords, like those in the images, may help the beginner with the sequence.


Legs bend at the knee and feet dorsiflex.

Check that:
  • The body is streamlined, on the surface, from the head through to the knees
  • Knees are no more than shoulder-width apart
  • Feet are turned out
  • The body is symmetrical.

Image of arms raised beside the swimmers body and the legs moving in a outward circular action: Survival Backstroke Sequence First Position Showing Leg Movement
First Position Showing Leg Movement

Legs move in a circular pathway.

Check that:
  • The kick is circular
  • The kick is accelerating
  • The feet finish together, toes pointed, knees straight
  • knees are under the surface
  • The movement is symmetrical.

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here


The leg actions for survival backstroke and breaststroke are largely identical. They differ only with regard to the degree of hip flexion (Fig. 4) employed, survival backstroke using slightly less.

Suggested steps

  1. Foot exercises

  2. Sitting, with legs extended:
    • Toes point down
    • Feet turn out ('hooked' position).
  3. Backward glide and recovery

  4. From a gliding position (shoulders under the water, head back):
    • Horizontal body position
    • Head submerged to the crown
    • Chin slightly tucked in
    • Recovery to a standing position
      *** Teach the recovery first ***
  5. Leg action on back

  6. (With board or sculling)
    From a gliding position:
    • Glide, single kick, glide (Fig.1 & 5)
    • The number of kicks gradually increasing
    • Toes turn out before kick
    • Shoulders, hips and knees horizontal
    • Limited hip flexion (Fig.3)
    • Glide between kicks
  7. Arm action
    • Arms recovering close to the body
    • Palms pointing outwards (at shoulder level)
    • Hands pushing out and down to thighs.


    Basic arm action:
    • Shorter arm recovery
    • Simple push to the thigh.
  8. Whole stroke

  9. From a glide:
    • Arms start recovery just before legs
    • Arms and legs start to push together
    • Significant glide phase.
  10. Refine the stroke

Evaluating Technique

Look for the following features:
  • The propulsive actions of the arms and the legs are simultaneous
  • Arm recovery begins slightly before that of the legs
  • The body remains symmetrical throughout the whole stroke
  • The glide is sustained
  • The head position is in line with the body with the face clear of the water
  • Knees remain below the surface of the water
  • The combined action of arms and legs provides strong propulsion.
Once survival backstroke has been mastered, swimmers should practice the stroke over increasing distances, while wearing clothes, and while towing people of different size and buoyancy. Multiple rescues should also be practised. These activities should be undertaken under a variety of natural aquatic conditions.

Principles of Movement in Water

The survival strokes encounter greater resistance than competitive strokes because of underwater recovery actions. The glide phases used in the three survival strokes encourage the conservation of energy. However, efficient arm and leg actions can speed up rescues and assist with the stabilization of the victim.

Like breaststroke, the survival backstroke experiences considerable frontal resistance due to the kicking action. The lifesaving backstroke is the reverse copy of the breaststroke kick. The body position is horizontal, with the back on the water's surface, and the swimmer is encouraged to keep as close to the water's surface as possible. The sculling actions of the arms also create significant frontal resistance and turbulence. The sweeping action of the hands during arm recovery causes deceleration.


Key considerations for efficient survival backstroke are:
  1. The arm recovery will create frontal resistance, but if the hands 'slide' through the water towards the shoulders, it will minimize resistance. The arm can be compared to an oar, the blade of which is the hand. Opening the face of the hand produces maximum speed in the propulsive phase of the arm action, and the hand changes its angle during the recovery phase - exactly the same action as the oar.

  2. The hands finish next to the thighs at the end of the push, to maximize distance per stroke and to encourage streamlining in the glide phase. The elbows bend during the propulsive phase to maximize the power generated from the upper body. The paired arm action in the propulsive phase can be compared to the backstroke action, but the hands do not extend far beyond the shoulders in survival backstroke.

  3. The leg action starts with a bend at the knee joint to drop the lower legs (leg recovery) to set up the propulsive phase. It is common for beginners to flex their hips so the knees break the water. This action increases frontal resistance and causes eddy turbulence to form around the legs, close to the water's surface. If this action occurs, the body position will incline and result in an inefficient movement.

  4. When the lower legs are dropped, ready for the propulsive phase, the ankles dorsiflex and are positioned to 'grab' the water, and the legs extend and follow a semicircular path to maximize propulsion. It is important to realize that the leg rotation comes from the hip and not the knee. The knees start the propulsive action 30 centimetres apart, which assists the lower legs to rotate efficiently.

  5. The legs finish in an extended position for a streamlined glide phase. The toes are pointed (plantar-flexed) to minimize frontal resistance. The stroke cycle continues.
You should also see Survival Backstroke: Stop Teaching It Wrong


No comments:

Post a Comment