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Swimming Backstroke: How to Avoid Bumping into the Wall with the Head

Our reader Suzanne writes:

While swimming backstroke, how do I avoid hitting the end of the pool with my head?

It’s a fear I have, and it’s happened to me a couple of times which meant the fear increased. I don’t like backstroke because I don’t know where I am in the pool and how much pool length I have left.

Is there any recommended method to solve that? Swimming backstroke would be good for my back…

A young boy swimming backstroke

Our Answer:

Hi Susanne,

It’s a legitimate fear to have, and especially so if you are a beginner. I use several strategies to mitigate this:

1) Spot pool ladders: One strategy is to swim in a lane on one of the sides of the pool. The ladders are usually located on the side walls, near the ends of the pool. If you are swimming in one of these side lanes, you should be able to see the ladder in the corner of your eye to know that you are almost at the end of the pool.

2) Spot backstroke flags: Another strategy is to know that the backstroke flags are located 15 foot (5 meters) from the end of the pool. So once you’ve passed under them, you know that you can slow down because you only have to do a few more arm strokes to get to the wall. At this moment you can also roll your body face down and swim the rest of the length glancing forward.

3) Observe the pool’s ceiling: A third strategy is to observe the ceiling of the swimming pool and see if there are marker lines or other conspicuous features that you can use to detect the end of the pool.

4) Keep one arm extended forward: As you approach the wall, you can also stop stroking with your arms, and just do the flutter kicking with your feet, and keep one arm extended forward until you touch the wall with your hand.

5) Glancing forward overhead: This is a strategy you can use occasionally if you have a healthy neck. Floating on your back, simply tilt your head backwards, the back of your head sinking in the water, until your face is turned up and forward instead of just up, and you can glance forward. However, do not do this all the time as it can strain your neck.

Please note that with experience, you get a sense of how far away you are from the wall, and you often don’t need to check for specific cues anymore.

Also, in backstroke, as the arms alternate movements, one arm is usually farther ahead than the top of the head, and so you often touch the wall with your hand automatically.

That’s why I rarely slammed my head against the wall. But when it happens, it hurts, that’s for sure.

Who knows, maybe one day Speedo will produce helmets specifically for swimming backstroke? ;-)

Hope this helps.


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