Why Backstroke before Freestyle?

6 August 2020


One common question we get at Uswim is why backstroke is taught before freestyle in our program. Firstly in our swim schools we taught both strokes within the same lesson levels. However 10 years of operating online tutorials has taught us that Uswim must follow a linear path of learning for parents to understand and follow with ease. Our first versions of Uswim created much confusion for users trying to teach two strokes at once. Therefore we had to decide which stroke out of freestyle and backstroke was more effective to teach children first. Teaching backstroke first has proven to be the best strategy for people using the program.

One suggestion is that freestyle is the more important stroke and therefore it should be taught first. In many ways we agree that being able to swim freestyle well and with good technique is the most important stroke to eventually master. As swimmers get older, freestyle is what is used for racing most of the time (being the fastest stroke), swimming at the beach, playing water polo, etc. This is actually why we decided on making the goal of the Uswim program 20 meters freestyle as opposed to breaststroke, sidestroke or any other form of swimming.

There are four main reasons why we structured the Uswim program so that children can swim 20m backstroke before they start freestyle:

Safety – We believe the most important skill or habit to teach a beginner swimmer is to float on their back if they get into trouble. The next step is to be able to roll from front to back and vice versa, paddling to safety. This action of repeated rolling, paddling, rolling, floating is what we call Survival Swim. Children are then able to learn kicking on their back (1st level of backstroke) which is recommended to conserve energy and maintain the ability to breath.

Speed – Secondly, for most children swimming 20 meters backstroke (or a modified form) can be taught much quicker than teaching a child to do 20 meters freestyle with correct side breathing. Those who have taught swimming for any amount of time will confirm that many children struggle with side breathing efficiently and quickly become fatigued (another reason not to encourage beginners to swim freestyle when in trouble).

Confidence – The third reason builds on the second. Because backstroke is easier, children grow in confidence because they are able to reach distance milestones quicker i.e. they will swim 20 meters backstroke at a younger age than they can swim 20 meters freestyle. This confidence will help if they get ‘stuck’ learning side breathing.

Foundation for Freestyle – The fourth reason is that backstroke builds a stronger foundation for the more difficult stroke of freestyle. In both of these strokes the body should be rotating on an axis with the majority of the body’s power being generated in the core region. With young children and beginners, there is quite often a lack of core strength and stability which makes teaching side-breathing in freestyle impossible. Teaching swimmers backstroke with plenty of body rotation builds the strength of the core region in the swimmer so they will find when they begin attempting freestyle with side-breathing, their body is more prepared to learn this action.