Understandably, backstroke tends to remove swimmers from their comfort zone. You are on your back heading towards a concrete wall that you cannot see! Let’s see a raise of hands, how many of you have banged your head on the wall? I know I have a few too many times because I either wasn’t paying attention or miss calculated the distance. With the exception of those of us who day dream and don’t “see” the flags, there a few simple things that can help you avoid hitting your head again.
Whenever you get into a new pool, go to about ½ way down the lane and swim backstroke into the wall. When you see the flags above you, begin counting your strokes (each arm stroke counts!). The flags are the warning sign letting you know that you are approaching a wall. So, you are going to want to swim cautiously until you figure out the number of strokes that you take between the flags and the wall.
Once you have your stroke number (N), subtract two (ex: it typically takes me 5 strokes to get into the wall from the flags, therefore, if I subtract 2, I have 3). Go back to the middle of the pool and swim backstroke into the wall again. This time, when you see the flags, count to your N-2 (for me this number is 3). When you reach your N-2 do your flip-turn. This will give you a baseline from where you can do further fine tuning. Complete a couple more turns and adjust your stroke count as needed. If you find that you are too close to the wall on your turn, take 1 less stroke before you flip. Typically, you will know if you are too close to the wall because your feet will hit the wall too high sending you to the bottom of the pool when you push off. If you are too far away, take 1 more stroke before you flip. When you are too far away from the wall, it will feel as though you missed the wall when you tried to push off. As you get more comfortable, you most likely will lengthen your stroke requiring you to take less strokes, but not always!
Now something important to remember is that the distance of your stroke changes with your speed; therefore, the number of strokes that it takes to get to the wall will also change with your speed. So if you are calculating how many strokes it takes to get to the wall for a race, make sure to do it at a slow pace initially, and then repeat it at race pace.