Why the Backstroke Flags MATTER for Freestyle Races!

Welcome back! In today’s blog, we are going to dissect why I believe the Backstroke Flags MATTER for Freestyle Races. The Backstroke Flags are also important for Open Turns and my goal by the end of this post is to help you understand why! Let’s get started!

What are the Backstroke Flags?

The Backstroke Flags are makers on a pool that alert swimmers they are either 5 meters or 5 yards away from the wall. The distance is strictly dependent on the length of the pool a swimmer is swimming in. The purpose of these flags is to help swimmers understand they are getting close to the wall and help them avoid any injuries.

Coaches teach young swimmers that they must ‘count their Backstroke strokes’ beyond the flags as they heading towards the wall – and I’ve never understood why coaches don’t ask of that for the other strokes as well.

Why Do the Backstroke Flags MATTER for Freestyle?

Just like every other indicator at the bottom of the pool: 1/2 way mark, 15m mark, and the T at the end of the black line, they all help swimmers gauge where they are in a race. We’ve discussed in an older blog of ours that swimming is all about the balance between Distance Per Stroke versus Stroke Rate. You want swimmers to understand how far they’ve gone and the rate they’ve taken to get there, so they can perfectly execute their transitions to the next lap. Without indicators, swimmers are lost and could end up misgauging their turns.

One of the most common issues I see with Flipturns is something I call a T-Rex Turn. This happens when swimmers DO NOT finish their final stroke into the wall and they end up cutting their last stroke short. I made this analogy to a T-Rex because of the length of a T-Rex’s actual arms. You want swimmers to finish all their strokes to their side, as they head into the wall. This allows them to maximize their surface speed heading into the turn. Stopping short – releases bubbles right by the swimmers hips/back and also creates for an uneven distance for the arms to travel to get into their streamline. See below:

Visual Representation of T-Rex Flipturns. Put video on .5 speed and watch slowly her final arm stroke!

How Do Swimmers USE the Flags for Flipturns?

Unlike Backstroke, swimmers will not be gifted with the ability to see directly above them for the flags – BUT they can still use their peripheral vision. This is a tool swimmers want to build out anyway for racing and keeping an eye on their competitors. It is possible to look for the flags while breathing in Freestyle, just to get a gauge on where you are in relation to the wall. I always tell my swimmers depending on their height – they are either 2 or 4 strokes BEYOND the flags before initiating the turn.

And that’s why understanding where the flags are helps swimmers create an actual stroke count for their Freestyle events, so it is NO DIFFERENT than Backstroke! Then, your swimmers can work on getting really good at their counts to be consistent with them at races!

Just like I’ve said in Backstroke before, swimmers stroke counts will differ depending on their stroke rates. So with a wider range of distances for Freestyle events: 50 to the mile, you will want to make sure swimmers work their count through their different race speeds.

What about Open Turns?

Open Turns are a bit harder because they require a bit of ‘lift’ from the head and vertical angle of the body, so the gauge on the flags is actually a bit further from the wall. But, just like anything with training – if swimmers work on looking at the flags a few strokes before swimming under them, they will start getting an idea of how many strokes they are from the point they pick to the turn itself. I would say for Breaststroke and Butterfly a good rule of thumb is to start looking for the flags about the 15m mark. So you’re heading towards them but not directly under them – it’s normally 2-3 strokes before you’d be swimming under the flags.

FAST Turns Require Fast Speeds

The only way to have quicker turns is to make sure your average speed of that lap is at its’ highest point when approaching the wall. Naturally, swimmers want to decrease their speed because it allows for a break, ensures safety, and gives them a chance to ‘catch their breath’ – but if you’re truly going for speed and the FASTEST time possible in your races. You need to be great at approaching the wall and it really makes sense to use all the indicators available to you.

Next time you’re at the pool, it’s time for you to find your stroke count for your Freestyle Flipturns and Open Turns.

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

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