Relaxing Whilst Learning To Swim On My Back

I have just started to learn to swim at 47. It was a huge deal for me as I have always feared deep water. Ok, in the shallow end, but any deeper than my neck, and I panic.

My problem seems to be floating, particularly on my back. I tend to stiffen up, and I'm not relaxed, and water just covers my face making me panic as I do backstroke with just my legs. The only way I stay up is if I bend at the hips and look like a V shape. I know this is wrong, but when I try to straighten up, water just covers my face. This makes me stop the stroke and stand back on my feet.

Maybe I am not allowing myself enough time to relax for my body to float. I don't know. I have found that quite a muscular guy does me no favors, as i seem to cramp up heaps. Any advice, help, or anything will be greatly appreciated.

Being a muscular person is a disadvantage for a beginner learning to swim because muscle is dense and tends to sink. Don’t let this put you off, though. Muscular people can still learn how to swim with no problem.

You’re cramping up suggests you are not as relaxed as you could be.

Floating when stationary and floating as you swim along are two different scenarios. Floating as you swim along on your back sounds more like the problem you are asking about.

Body position is vital for effective backstroke and you’re correct to say that your V shape is not right. 


The hips must be level with the rest of the body and the head looking upwards. Then, the legs and feet will be at or near the water surface as they kick, and general movement will be relatively efficient.

The position of the head is crucial, and the slightest tilt backward or forwards will change the body position a great deal.

A tilt forwards is most common, especially for beginners who subconsciously attempt to view their surroundings. This results in the hips dropping, followed by that sinking feeling.

A head tilts backward will result in water on the face, which you are currently experiencing.

It is important to find a comfortable midpoint for the head position, which takes some trial and error and perseverance between bouts of sinking.

Try holding a float or kickboard across your chest. This will give you some support and allow you to find maybe that midpoint for your head position.

You will find some water coming onto your face, but try to resist that instant temptation to stand up. Maybe wear some swim goggles and/or a nose clip to help deal with it. Eventually, you will find a happy medium and swim longer distances on your back without any panic.

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