Why You Should Consider Rotating Less in Backstroke

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Alec Scott, Swimming World College Intern.

A recent trend in sprint backstroke has seen more and more top level athletes utilizing a flatter technique. Coaches and athletes are turning to flatter technique to get stroke rates up and increase speed. I asked Arizona State associate head coach Ryan Mallam as well as Alabama assistant coaches James Barber and Will Leonhart about their thoughts on flat backstroke and the common denominator with all of their answers was a higher stroke rate.

“Obviously one benefit of a flatter stroke is it helps you get your rate up,” Barber said. “Which is one way to increase velocity.”

While less rotation and a higher stroke rate does not necessarily translate into faster swimming, a slower rate is often due to over-rotating. According to USA swimming high performance consultant Russell Mark, it is unnecessary to rotate beyond 30 degrees on backstroke. Anything beyond that and the stroke rate is going to slow down and swimmers lose leverage for the “side-crunch” or “wiggle” where most of the pull power comes from.

Coaches Leonhart and Barber both echoed the sentiment that a flatter stroke makes it easier for athletes to maintain core stabilization and keep their arms and legs connected. While some great athletes are able to stay connected with high rotation, it is easier for most athletes and novice swimmers to rotate less. One of Barber’s swimmers, University of Alabama junior Connor Oslin, has won back-to-back SEC Championships in the 100-yard backstroke utilizing a flatter technique.

“I think as a coach, great athletes teach you innovation,” Barber said. “When you see someone do something a little bit differently and it’s really successful, as a coach, it forces you to consider it.”

Coach Mallam also pointed to a higher rate as the immediate benefit of a flatter stroke. But he also reiterated that most of the best backstrokers of all time, especially 200 backstrokers, used a lot of rotation and were still able to stay connected and swim with a lot of leverage.

“A flatter stroke does help with a quicker tempo but I also think the really good backstrokers get a little bit of leverage from the side crunch during the catch. (Aaron) Peirsol was the king at that,” Mallam said. “If you watch the 200 backstroke from 2007 Worlds in Melbourne, there’s a great overhead shot of (Ryan) Lochte and Peirsol with a wiggle.”

While there are definite benefits to a flatter technique, the most important thing is that every athlete pick a stroke that works best for them. If you are struggling with backstroke, it might be a good idea to switch it up and swim with a little less rotation. It minimizes the potential for losing balance and body position in the water and can help you get your rate up. If you are looking to make a change and willing to experiment, have a discussion with your coach about the best technique for you.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. Jordi Puig i Ferrer

    Excepcional artículo. Un punto de vista nuevo y tremendamente inquietante. Gracias.

    • Lauren Logan

      I do agree, but I think there is a line in there that says flat backstroke does not translate to faster swimming as a direct correlation ??

  2. Nino Sieling

    Freek Jurg haha hier staat juist weer minder…

    • Freek Jurg

      Zit zeker een kern van waarheid in. Toch geloof ik dat jij niet zoveel Roteerd dat het problemen op kan leveren voor je frequentie. Zoveel als lochte Roteerd gaan we niet doen, denk dat we op een soort middenweg uitkomen waarbij ik denk dat de rotatie kant iets beter bij jou past en meer rek voor progressie creëert. Maar ik sta altijd open voor experimenten 🙂

    • Nino Sieling

      Volgende week maandag haha ??

  3. avatar

    I can easily switch between perfect flat and slight rotation (only to keep things interesting), and both feel good – but I don’t time or race anything. What I can’t do is always swim backstroke in a straight line. I’m waiting for the technology (?) or something to keep me on target. Likewise for knowing the wall is upon us – for us with bad vision. I envy those without these shortcomings.

  4. Louis Tudor

    ? … “What does she mean ? how do me swim backstroke and breaststroke at the same time ?”