Watching the Walls


I caught the Auburn v. Tennessee dual meet recently on TV. As I’ve mentioned before, watching swimming of any level always fascinates me—it never fails to entertain me, and I always learn something new.

This time, the element that captured my attention the most was how the two colleges handled the walls. Tennessee swimmers maximized the underwater with long streamline + dolphin kick. The Auburn swimmers certainly had solid streamline and dolphin kick technique, but in comparison to Tennessee, they popped up sooner to swim.

In the majority of the close races, Auburn swimmers swam past their Tennessee opponents for a touch out, despite Tennessee swimmers coming off the final wall with a slight lead. With mixed overall results (Auburn men won; Tennessee women won), I know that “success” in this case was beyond just “good walls.”

But the results also make me hopeful that I don’t have to adapt to 15m underwaters to stay competitive, because from day one, turns have not been one of my pool super powers. Especially when streamlined underwater dolphin kicking is never likely to be a “fifth stroke” for me.

As a distance swimmer, I can sort of get away with weak turns—it’s unlikely a 1500 is going to come down to one crucial turn. But consistent bad turns against consistent good turns does add up in a race (e.g. having to run down my main competitor every 50 after being passed by her on every single turn of an 800 three years ago still burns in my mind today, and I’ll probably be annoyed with myself for longer than that about the third turn from this past summer’s 200 fly.)

So I’ve been working on my turns a lot lately, such as spinning tighter and faster, diving into the walls, staying low on open turns, and actually kicking off walls. The two elements I continue to struggle to improve are poor lung capacity (just can’t stay underwater long) and dreadful streamline position.

The recent televised dual meet was perfect timing for me, because it taught me that finding my personal sweet spot for turns is most important. Can I improve my turns a lot still to save myself energy and time on every wall? Yes. Do I have to force myself (and fail) to stay underwater 15m off every wall? No, because it’s not maximizing what I’m better at—hitting the surface and swimming.

Working to improve my turns every practice on every wall is just one of the reasons why I’m such a practice-geek. It gives me something to think about and aim for, such as starting with one dolphin kick off every wall until that becomes easy and automatic. Then I can add a second one…did I also mention that I love to set goals and track them?!

Watching the Walls

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