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Technique and Training

Flip Turn Fundamentals

Don’t twist, waggle, or wave when you’re doing a flip turn

Scott Bay | August 14, 2017

If you spent a lot of time in a pool as a kid, you might have done flips or somersaults while playing around. You might have been taught to twist yourself or use your arms to help you do a flip turn at the wall, or picked that up on your own. But those extra movements—the twisting, waggling, and waving—make you wider in the water and, therefore, slower.

That’s not good if you want fast flip turns. Swimming fast means making sure you don’t waste any energy on movements that don’t help you swim faster. Extra movements are just a waste of energy. And after all that twisting, waggling, and waving, you must spend more time and energy getting your body and all its parts back in line for a good streamline off the wall. That’s a double whammy: wasted energy and wasted time.

But have no fear; the four fundamentals of a great flip turn are here.

Step One: Get Ready

Take your last freestyle stroke above or slightly after the “T” on the bottom of the pool at the end of your lane. Everyone is different on backstroke, but it’s usually three or four strokes from the flags before you turn over and pull yourself forward.

Step Two: Hands to Hips

As you take your last stroke, one hand is already at your hip and the other is pulling you toward the wall. As that stroking hand reaches your hip, tuck your chin to your chest and reach down for your toes with both hands like you’re doing a toe touch.

Step Three: Flip the Feet

Before you touch your toes, flip your feet over the water toward the wall. Use your core muscles, which are much larger than other muscles, to help you do so quickly. Some swimmers throw in a little dolphin kick just before the flip to help the process go faster. Make sure your knees are slightly bent, so you can absorb the momentum once your feet hit the wall. Look for the tops of your thighs to help keep your head tucked. While flipping, avoid the temptation to twist to get on your side or stomach before you push off.

Your hands stay in about the same place in the water and should be over your head once your feet land on the wall. You shouldn’t move them to the side or make any circles or other time or energy wasting movements. Remember: use your more powerful core muscles to flip around, not your arms.

Step Four: Get Off the Wall

You’ve probably noticed by this point that you’re on your back, staring at the surface of the water. This is great if you’re swimming backstroke, but it’s also great if you’re doing freestyle. Push off strong while making yourself as narrow as possible with a tight streamline. Rotate onto your stomach while kicking underwater—the movement of your feet will aid rotation.

With the basics of a proper flip turn in mind, here are two drills to help you do perfect, fast flip turns without any twisting, waggling, or waving.

Drill One: Use Your Noodle

If you’re worried about hitting your heels, a good drill is to get in the middle of the pool with a noodle. Lie facedown in the water with both hands holding the noodle in front of you above your head. Pull the noodle under the water and down to the hips and proceed to tuck your chin, reach for your toes, and throw your feet over the water. If done correctly, you end up lying flat on the water on your back, holding a noodle above (or behind, since you’re flat) your head. The same drill can be done with a kickboard in each hand.

Variations of this are using the lane line in the same way, though many pool operators and lifeguards may cringe at this, or the water aerobics dumbbells in place of the noodle. When you are comfortable, ditch the equipment and try it for real at the wall.

Drill Two: Start from a Flip Turn

Some people might find it unnerving to be face up under the water. Aside from getting water up your nose, which you can fix by exhaling or using a nose clip, it’s a little disorienting because the ceiling or sky are your only visual references. You can get used to being face up under the water by pushing off the wall on every send-off from the head-up, knees-up, toes-up position.

Hold the wall or gutter with one hand and put your feet on the wall, making sure your toes and knees are pointed toward the surface. Your head is up as well and facing the wall with your other hand in the water. Let go of the wall and bring the wall hand over your head to meet the other under the water as you sink. Once you are underwater, you will be facing the surface with your head up, knees up, and toes up, just as you would be in the middle of a flip turn. Push off in a streamline. If you do this at every send-off, you get used to the position and develop a great ability to rotate onto your stomach off the wall rather than while on it.

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About the Author—Scott Bay

Scott Bay is a USMS-certified Masters coach and an ASCA Level 5 coach and has been actively coaching and teaching swimming since 1986 to swimmers of all ages. The Masters swimmers he currently coaches include national champions, All Americans, and world record holders, who have swum to more than 300 Top 10 swims and 30 world records in just the past 5 years. Throughout his career Bay has taught thousands how to swim or how to swim better. He’s also written numerous articles on technique and coaching and contributed to USMS’s coach certification curriculum. Bay presents at clinics across the country and has written an instructional book, “Swimming Steps to Success.” (Human Kinetics, 2015). Bay is the past chair of the USMS Coaches Committee, and the Head Coach of YCF Masters.

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