11/1/04 Eyes Down at the Wall
by Glenn Mills
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You're approaching the wall for your turn, or finish, and you want to make sure you're going to hit perfectly. What do you do?

If you’re like most swimmers, you lift your head and look forward. The photo at the right shows what this looks like. Yep. One of THE WORST swimming positions possible. It's not streamlined, it shortens your reach, it just plain slows you down.

One reason swimmers approach the wall like this is that they’re afraid they’ll miss the wall. What this is, really, is lack of preparation and lack of awareness of their surroundings. Swimmers have ample opportunity to practice this, and pool designers have been careful to make sure they've made all the necessary markings to let you know when the wall is coming.

If you take a close look at the bottom of most pools, you'll notice a big black cross that alerts you... THE END IS NEAR! Many pools also have a black cross at the END of the pool. Sometimes this one will extend all the way down to the bottom – and SOMETIMES it even extends and JOINS the cross on the bottom, forming a nice, visible, angle where the bottom meets the side. By using these markings, and getting used to the angles, you'll soon be performing turns, and finishes without EVER seeing the wall. The markings can be different in each pool, so you have to take time to study and learn them.

The typical swimmer is SO focused on hitting the wall perfectly that he'll lift his eyes to look directly at the end of the pool.

Now, I don't want to make anybody upset here but, really... how many times has the end of the pool MOVED? I know… bulkheads shift a little…but I mean, how many times have you reached out for the wall, and it just wasn't there?

Most pool walls are made of concrete, steel, or tile. They're pretty much SET. They never move, or at least they don't move between the time you've left one end, and made it to the other. So why waste time and mess up your body position by looking for the wall? All it does is cause your hips to drop, arch your back, and make it difficult to perform a FAST breaststroke or butterfly turn.

How To Do It:

1. Dave Denniston knows that looking for the wall can slow you down Big Time, so let’s see how HE approaches the wall. Dave is swimming in a pool with a bulkhead. The wall does not even extend all the way to the bottom of the pool. By using his eyes, however, he already knows he's coming to the end because he sees the cross on the bottom. As he gets closer to the wall, he'll also use his eyes to see the bottom of the bulkhead. That’s when he knows that the wall will be just in front of him.
2. Dave’s now in a position that will allow him to perform a perfect turn. His head is down, and it's going to be very easy to tuck his knees up under him.
3. If this was a finish rather than a turn, Dave’s hands would have touched lower on the wall to make sure he got them there as quickly as possible.
4. One of the more difficult aspects of ALWAYS practicing eyes-down finishes comes up when you're circle swimming with teammates. Usually, unless you swim in the middle of the night or at lunch by yourself, you're sharing the lane with 4 or 5 other swimmers. Approaching the wall at the end of an interval is like attending a little party where the last person to arrive has the potential of breaking a world record. Why? Because there’s so much congestion at the wall, that their swim ends closer to the flags than the wall. Team cooperation is KEY to everyone learning perfect turns and especially finishes. Make sure everyone is GETS OUT OF THE WAY so that EVERY person in the lane can finish hard and fast at the wall – just like you want to do in a race. This takes practice and requires a certain amount of consideration for and from your teammates.

On a similar note, if you're the last swimmer in the lane, and you continue to find that there are people in your way on your finish, don't be worried about reminding them that you're coming by gently placing your hand firmly in the small of your teammates BACK! Don't ever forget: You want your teammates to like you, and you'll need their support at some point but, ultimately, this sport is all about YOU. If you want to learn it right, make them understand you're committed to excellence. Eventually, they'll understand.