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Backstroke – Timing Your Turns

Here’s a fun, safe way to begin building great backstroke turns. First of all, having a "system" for doing anything in athletics is very important. The typical hit-and-miss, or trial-and-error method of training or teaching has gone by the wayside with the term "dumb jock." However, being from a jock orientation, I like to break things down to their simplest form…it’s easier for me to understand. 🙂


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Swimmers of all ages seem to struggle with the question "How many strokes should I take before I flip over for my backstroke turn"? This is kind of like asking "How many licks does it take to get to the chewy center of a tootsie pop" Let’s find out! By taking it one step – or one stroke – at a time, you’ll avoid making a mistake that can result in very sore heels. In this sense, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

Why Do It:
Performing a fast backstroke turn means you spend NO TIME waiting for the wall to come to you. Once you initiate your rollover, the wall should be almost RIGHT THERE – just one armstroke away – so that you can continue right through your turn. If you have to glide into the wall, that hesitation can cost you valuable momentum and speed. In other words, you want to swim almost all the way to the wall, and at the last second, roll and flip.

How To Do It:
Before we even start, please understand that you MUST practice this drill at RACE PACE. If you practice it slow pace, the count will likely change in a meet situation…so get ready for some quick sprinting here.

1. Start outside the flags, and swim fast backstroke toward the wall.

2. On your first try, when you see the flags, count to "1" then roll and flip. Of course, your feet won’t be anywhere near the wall, but you’ll begin to build a feeling of continuation in your turn. Remember: NO hesitation. Roll and flip.

3. On your next try, start in the same place, but when you see the flags, count to "2" then roll and flip. Your feet will probably still not land on the wall, so kick out, and swim backstroke back to your starting point.

4. Third try. Count to "3" then roll and flip. Your feet MIGHT land on the wall at this point – or they might come close. If you’re just off, start making mental notes as to how far, or how close you were. You need to start learning to judge your speed, and will need to consider WHERE you were in your stroke cycle as you passed under the flags. Sometimes you might need 4 strokes to turn with no hesitation; sometimes you might need 3 strokes. It all depends on where you arm is as you pass the flags.

5. Fourth try, etc. Keep adding one stroke until you find your "range." No matter how many strokes it takes you (and this is an individual thing based on size, age, strength, and ability), the important thing is to find the count that lets you continue with your movement THROUGH the turn. Try to develop your turn so that there is no waiting, no gliding, no hesitation at all.

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):

As with anything, it takes practice to hit it right every time. With enough practice, this will all become instinct. You’ll FEEL when it’s the proper time to turn, based on your momentum, your rate of turnover, your fatigue factor (counts may vary depending on whether this is a 50, 100, or 200 back…or a 400 IM), and where you are in your stroke when you pass under the flags. In time you’ll be able to just look at the flags and KNOW when to roll.

I can’t stress enough that even though you have a "system" for learning something, the system — or results – can change daily, based on how you feel. It’s important to practice this kind of non-gliding turn often, so that you can begin to realize variations in your results, and how to manage those changes. A system offers guidelines. The fine-tuning is an ongoing process.