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

Our reader Suzanne writes:

A young boy swimming backstroke

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…

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.


Related Pages

You may also be interested in the following articles that cover the backstroke’s swimming technique:

Swimming Backstroke - Breathing Technique and Tips
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Swimming Breaststroke - Arm Movements and Technique
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Saturday 20th of July 2019


I often swim across my lake using the backstroke. Is there any hint or gadget you can suggest to help me see where I am going? One arm is stronger than the other so I am all over the place while swimming!



Saturday 20th of July 2019

Hi Marlene,

Swimming in a straight line is always difficult in open water. Even while swimming front crawl in a lake nearby, I often deviate from my trajectory, and especially so if I don't often enough take quick peeks at where I'm going.

I have never crossed a lake in backstroke, but I think the best option is from time to time to roll over in breaststroke, for one or two strokes, to take a quick glance at where you are going.

Also, at this time, I'm not aware of any swimming gadgets that would allow you to look forward while swimming backstroke...

Also, with experience, you tend to become better at swimming in a straight line.

You can even train for this at the pool when it isn't too crowded: try to swim in a straight line while closing your eyes, and try to get to the end of the pool without touching a side wall or lane divider.

Good luck!


Sunday 18th of February 2018

I honestly did not know this was a problem - I have never hit my head (I have numerous bruises from smashing my hand/wrist/arm against the wall however) on the wall