Instinct tells you to stop, grab, hold on, and take a break when you get to the wall. It’s the place you climb out. There’s a connection made with something solid — the only truly solid thing in swimming — so that connection usually means a hesitation.
In every sport, there are moments when athletes instinctually let go of the pressure as they prepare for a transition of some sort. For triathletes, it’s the transition. For horse jumpers, it’s that moment just before the 7-foot wall with water on the other side. For runners, it’s the short, flat stretch right before heart-attack hill. For swimmers, unfortunately, the place to coast is usually the wall.
If you watch elite athletes in any sport, you’ll notice that they have very few of these "down spots." They are almost always ON, and have learned how to anticipate and prepare for the transition zones so that they never have to slow down. They just move right through. It’s no different in swimming. Overall speed has a lot to do with how you approach the walls, prepare for the turn, and set up your body for the pushoff. In practice, walls are one overlooked area that provides a huge opportunity for you to become a better swimmer, simply because people are MORE concerned with HOW to swim, rather than how NOT to swim.
The wall is where truly great swimmers will shine — and where swimmers who are all-around athletes will REALLY have an advantage. Those swimmers who lack the strength and training to make explosive, quick, and sharp movments will be exposed at the wall. Walls are meant to be ATTACKED, even if you swim with an extremely smooth, long, and flowing stroke.
In freestyle and backstroke, there is a smoothness in the best turns, a flowing movement with NO hesitation, NO lifting set up, but rather a diving into the wall. In butterfly and breaststroke, the great swimmers don’t pull themselves in but, rather, allow the momentum of the body to aid in the collapse of the body toward the wall. They almost fold their bodies underneath to get into a smaller space, which allows for faster spins.
A great turn also does its job in setting up a great pushoff. Where and how the feet are placed will depend on what the swimmer is swimming, and how long they plan on being under water. A deeper push will require the feet to be placed higher on the wall. A more direct line to the surface means the feet can be placed lower. These are the little things the great swimmers already know, and that have become instinctual through years of work. These are the habits swimmers of all levels should be focused on.
Fight your instinct to relax, or hesitate, on the walls. Use the walls as your place to win, and attack your competition, wether it be the person in the lane next to you, or the clock on the wall.