Swimming Open Turns for Swimmers

Swimming Open Turn
Getty Images - Brian Behr

If you are swimming in a pool and reach the wall, what do you do? The most obvious thing to do is stop, call it a workout, climb out and head for the showers. If you swim more than one lap, turning is inevitable. What is the best way to change directions? That depends on what best means for you. In this case, it might be the one that stays within the rules, or maybe is the quickest, simplest, or the most restful way to head back where you came from. You can make this choice for yourself based on what you are trying to achieve.

To simplify things, we'll separate turns into "open" and "flip" turns. Open turns involve touching the wall with your hand(s), then reversing direction - you probably get a breath of air during the turn. Flip turns involve a somersault as you approach the wall; you would normally only touch the wall with your feet as you push off - unless you have gills or a scuba tank, you don't get any extra air.

Open Turns

Competitive use: Breaststroke, Butterfly, and Individual Medley when switching strokes.Training: same as competitive, plus any other time you need to get more air or do something "different."

Open turns are generally the easiest to perform - although doing them smooth and fast requires a lot of practice, just like everything else. The rough version: move towards the wall on your belly (not for backstroke - but more about that later), touch the wall with your hand(s), twist and roll onto your side while swinging your legs up to the wall, push off on your side, then roll towards your belly as your feet leave the wall (again, not for backstroke).

How To Do a Downstroke

  1. Approach the wall.
  2. Touch the wall with your hands.
  3. Begin to pull yourself into a tuck, knees moving up towards your chest.
  4. Look at your hands on the wall (you can begin to take a breath here).
  5. Pull one hand underwater and away from the wall.
  6. Move that elbow underwater towards the hip on the same side while still looking at the other hand left on the wall (helps prevent over twisting).
  7. Twist onto your side as that underwater hand swings out (keep your eyes on your hand on the wall to prevent over twisting) - this requires you to rotate along your spine and tip your hips towards the wall.
  8. Continue to pull your knees towards your chest, aim them toward the shoulder attached to the hand moving underwater (this helps you rotate onto your side later).
  9. Swing and extend the hand going underwater out and around, still underwater, to point the direction you want to go now (where you just came from).
  10. As your feet approach the wall (when you pull your knees up, your feet better follow!), move the second hand off of the wall and towards your eyes, above water.
  11. Plant your feet on the wall side by side, toes pointing sideways or upwards (at about 45 degrees).
  12. You should be on your side and tipping away from the wall with your upper body.
  13. Keeping your head turned (chin on your shoulder) and looking towards the wall (or up towards the ceiling as you follow your hand) as long as possible to help prevent over twisting, move the above water hand into the water just above your head and extend it to meet the underwater hand.
  14. Lock the hands together, one on top of the other.
  15. Your tipping should have brought you underwater, laying on your side, feet on the wall, hands, and arms extended in a streamlined position.
  16. Extend your legs and push off the wall on your side.
  17. As your feet leave the wall, make sure you are rotated so your belly is more towards the bottom of the pool than the surface (this keeps you legal).
  18. You've done it!


  • Extend your hands over your head, pointing the direction you want to go, placing one hand on top of the other and wrapping your upper hand's pinky and thumb around your lower hand.
  • Stretch from your fingertips, through your body, down to your toes.
  • Make your body a long and as skinny as possible.
  • Your arms should be snug against the back of your head, biceps behind your ears, with a smooth (well, relatively smooth) surface from the back of your hands to the tips of your toes.