Why Swimmers Use Flip Turns

Flip Turns Do More Than Just Turn A Swimmer Around

Swim to the wall. Turn around. Swim to the other wall. Turn around again. There are lots of ways to do that turn, but competitive swimmers all use flip turns - they are faster and, once learned, easier than open turns. I think they also give swimmers a little more confidence in themselves, and in their ability to hold their breath.

Are they necessary? No, not really, unless you are going for a world record. Should you learn how to do them? Yes - you should try. Among other things, they take some strain off of your arms and shoulders, add an element of breath control to your workouts (both a psychological and a physiological aspect), and they look cool!

Where to begin the flip? If you swim towards the wall and extend your arm straight out, towards the wall, as if you where going to touch the wall at a finish, you should begin the somersault just before your hand touches the wall. Any closer than this and you may crash into the wall. Further out, and you will have to glide in after you have flipped. As you develop your turn technique, you may adjust this distance out a bit further, but the turn should be no slower than the swim - you do not want to waste time gliding or floating (unless you need a break ;-)

Some more tips:

  • Do only a half somersault.
  • As you "flip" look at your knees - try to bring your eyes and knees together - good "tuck" position.
  • Bring your heels in, towards your posterior.
  • Remember to blow air gently out your nose, unless you want a snout full of water.
  • Feet land on the wall, toes pointing up, your back towards the bottom of the pool, your belly towards the ceiling/sky. If you were on land, you would be on your back.
  • Push off the wall, still "back towards the bottom" of the pool, belly towards the sky.
  • Just as your feet leave the wall, begin to twist towards the belly down position by looking (with your eyes only - don't twist your head) in the direction you wish to rotate.
  • Your arms should be streamlined, hands together, straight, pointing in the direction you are traveling (a streamlined position).
  • A tip from a reader - as you flip, push down with the palms of your hands to push your feet over your head (I tried the flip turn for years and until someone told me this important step I really looked awkward doing it. Once I realized how easy it made the turn when both arms were by my side and I pushed down really hard I then discovered what I thought was the real secret to a successful flip turn - Frank S.).

There are various ways to do the transition from pushing off the wall into your stroke (the "breakout"). You might do some dolphin kicks, then flutter kicks, then begin your arms. You might just do flutter kicks. Some don't kick at all - and if you are doing a pull set, you wouldn't kick anyway. There are also varying degrees of rotation during the flip. While the fastest turn is the one where the feet land on the wall pointing up, some folks rotate more than that during the flip and their feet land on the wall pointing anywhere from up to down! Experiment to find what works best for you.

Each swimmer has a little different approach, and they are all probably OK. You may get a bit dizzy at first; either stop practicing so many flips at a time, or try to watch a fixed spot - like your knees - while you do the flip. Which turn works best for you is the one to use; try different things, find one that is comfortable, and practice, practice, practice. I think you will find that flip turns are not as hard as you may have thought; soon you will be doing them as well as an Olympian. If you use visualization techniques, you may get even better results.

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Swim On!