Attack the Walls: The Mindset Behind Faster Swim Turns (and Faster Times)

Attack the Walls: The Mindset Behind Faster Swim Turns (and Faster Times)

We all know how critical our turns are—but it’s not just the turn itself that can make a staggering difference to our overall result. The way we swim into the turn matters just as much.

Being the enterprising and curious person that I am I broke down an old 50 freestyle swim from days of yonder.

I was interested in seeing my splits over the course of the race. And after rechecking my math about fifteen times, I came to a surprising realization—the way I was approaching turns was awful.

The last ten meters into the wall was swum at a clip that was 0.2m/seconds slower than at any other point in the race.

Which, the more I thought about it, was completely ridiculous.

After all, from the 15m to 25m we are flying—we are fresh, and we have the speed of a dive and powerful breakout working for us.

So what accounted for the dip in speed?

In looking over the race video it was clear I was picking up my head a bit to see where the wall was. And my stroke rate slowed down as I was measuring out how many strokes I would need to do going into the turn.

In other words, I was stomping on the brakes when I should have been swimming faster than ever, costing me significant time.

The Reason Our Walls Stink

“I need to work on my turns,” is something I have heard countless times on deck.

And so we set to trying to rotate our bodies faster. Or getting our feet off the wall a tad quicker.

But developing unbeatable flip turns starts long before you get to the wall.

The slowing down heading into the wall is a common problem with swimmers—even an elite swimmer like 1500m freestyle world record holder Sun Yang performs a series of breathe-every-single-arm-stroke in and out of his turns, softening the momentum he carries in and out of his walls.

And it’s not like we want to slow down.

So what is the deal? Why are we hitting the brakes on our swimming into the turns?

In essence, it’s our survival instincts at work.

Subconsciously, there is a big red light coming up, and it’s got a big old T staring at us.

Our head picks up, we start measuring our strokes, and we tap the brakes on the speed we had going into the wall.

How to Do Develop an “Attack the Walls” Mindset

You can see the difference in swimmers who attack the wall, and those who don’t. The former charge into it, while the latter floats into the wall, almost casually.

In order to develop that “attack the walls” mindset there are a couple easy things you can do to improve in practice:

1. Implement some self-talk.

The easiest way to change up the way you approach your walls is to deploy some strategic self-talk during your swim practices and races.

In the last ten meters or yards of each lap throw down some positive and aggressive self-talk to reinforce the outcome you want—a fast, unyielding turn.

The simplest one: “Go, go, go!”

It doesn’t need to something complicated and convoluted—“Now is the time that I desire to escalate my rate of stroke in order to facilitate a more thunderous turn!

Your trigger words should be nice and simple.

2. Finish and turn like a hero.

In terms of actual training for faster walls, incorporate more build 25’s and build 50’s in your swimming.

A way to train lazy turns out of your swimming is to focus on having high degrees of effort during that part of each rep. Build 50’s where you sprint 10m in, and 10m out of each wall are one way to do it.

According to Katie Ledecky’s coach Bruce Gemmell, she will finish every hard repeat with escalated effort. This means the final 15y/m of every rep is done with a little more intensity to simulate a racing finish.

This does a couple things—teaches you via the experience of doing it over and over that you always finish like a hero, and it builds the habit of charging into the walls.

The Takeaway

Sometimes the big improvements we want in the pool can be found in the silliest of places.

Had I known better at the time, I could have shaved 0.6 seconds off the result from that one swim. And that is with just one turn.

So yes, the details can matter in a big way. The next time you hop into the pool do so with more mindful, aggressive approaches to your turns.

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Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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