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How to Properly Perform Flip-turns

July 16, 2013 | By Coach Elizabeth Moore

When swimming laps there are different ways a swimmer may turn around at the wall. For competitive swimmers, triathletes and many fitness swimmers, the flip-turn is the preferred method. The goal of the flip turn is to transfer the energy and momentum that you have achieved in one direction and refocus it in the opposite direction. This allows lap swimming and competitive swimming to be performed as efficiently and quickly as possible with minimal loss of energy and forward motion. For freestyle and backstroke swimmers, flip-turns save precious seconds compared to touching the wall with your hands, turning around, and pushing off. Because flip-turns allow the swimmer to maintain the continuity of their stroke, timing and rhythm, technique is preserved while energy conservation is at an optimal level. This minimizes injuries that can develop from poor turning methods and overuse.

The first step to learning a flip-turn in the water is learning how to do a somersault. Stand in an open area of the pool where the water level is at your chest or a little above your waist. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and squat down like you are sitting in a chair with the weight back in your behind. Your chest should be straight up and down not leaning forward. Tuck your chin to your chest and keep it tucked the entire time. If you lift your head, your body will un-tuck and you will not be able to complete the entire somersault. You want to keep your hips parallel to the bottom of the pool for the entire somersault. To do so, your eyes should look between your knees. Take a deep breath, push hard both up and forward from the squat position with your head tucked and your eyes looking between your knees, this momentum should be enough to get you around in an entire somersault. You do not need your arms to help you get around. It is highly recommended to not use them at all. If you cannot hold your breath for the entire somersault, you should exhale through your nose (this also keeps water from going UP your nose!) As soon as you feel you can accurately do this over and over again, then you are ready to learn how to do a flip-turn.

Start by standing at an arm-length distance from the wall. Practice facing the wall at that distance and doing a somersault. Once you nail that, you can progress to doing a somersault while stopping half way around so that your feet come to rest on the wall hip distance apart and mid-way between the top of the gutter and the bottom of the pool. Knees should be bent at a 90 degree angle (like you are sitting in a chair) and toes pointed towards the sky. After you are in this position, place your arms in a tight streamline position with a flat back and push off the wall looking at the sky. Repeat this process until you have developed proper proprioception of your body in relation to flipping and getting a solid push off the wall.

The next stage is to add regular freestyle swimming and combine that with the flip at the wall. When you are about 5 meters from the wall start to accelerate. The faster you swim into the wall, the more energy you will have available to convert into a fast spin. And the faster you spin, the easier it will be to blast off the wall. Power through those last couple of meters with a strong kick. Before you start to flip, make sure you have enough air to sustain you for the entire flip. One of the hardest things about the turn is turning at the correct distance from the wall. If you’re too close, you won’t have any room to push off because you are scrunched up. However, if you are too far away, you will push your feet out and never feel the wall, resulting in being motionless in the water. Swim towards the wall, take your last arm pull at that arm-length distance from the wall. Keep both of your hands beside your hips. Initiate the flip by tucking your chin to your chest with your eyes looking towards your knees and use your fast kick to get you over into the flip. Your legs should be at a 90 degree angle and your feet should be flat on the wall. You will push off the wall like you are getting our of a chair. Once you get more comfortable with pushing off the wall, you will want to explode off the wall with tremendous force to gain maximum velocity.

There are two-ways to finish the flip turn. You can either keep your toes pointing towards the sky and push off on your back with a tight streamline and then rotate your chest towards the bottom of the pool to put you in proper freestyle position.

One with the Water® USMS Level 3 Coach Elizabeth demonstrates the Flip-Turn.

Or, you can position your feet on the wall at an angle before you push off, to push off on your side and then rotate to your front. If you choose the second option make sure that you flip with your hips parallel to the bottom of the pool and only position your feet at the 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock angle at the very last second before they come in contact with the wall. Make sure to you do a proper streamline position before you push off the wall and go into your glide. Otherwise, if your hands look like Superman; you are creating immense amount of drag and all that hard work of doing the flip turn is essentially cancelled out.

One with the Water® USMS Level 3 Coach Elizabeth demonstrates the Flip-Turn.

A correct streamline position entails the hands placed one on top of the other with the top thumb locking the bottom hand in place. Fingers are together and pointed in the forward direction. Position your head between your arms and squeeze your ears with your biceps. Keep the entire body taut from the tip of your fingers to your pointed toes. After you push off the wall, in your tight streamline position, begin kicking with your legs and then stroke with your arms as soon as your body breaks the surface of the water.

Remember turns are “blind” and you must develop a sense of feel for this skill. So don’t try to look where you are going both before and after you begin the turn, or when you’re pushing off the wall, just learn to trust yourself. The more you practice the more developed your proprioception will become.

You can also do a flip turn for the backstroke, but it is slightly different. Because you are on your back, you will not be able to see if you are near the wall. If there aren’t any flags hanging above your head, look for markers on the side of the pool to help you determine how close you are to the wall (e.g. ladders, chairs, pace clocks etc.). Once you have determined a way to distinguish how to find the wall, stand arm-length away from it and get a sense of that distance. Before reaching the wall, take your last stroke and rotate over on to your stomach as if you were doing a freestyle stroke. Proceed to do a normal flip-turn where you plant your feet on the wall hip-width apart, toes pointed towards the sky and knees bent like sitting in a chair. Hit a strong streamline position and push off the wall keeping your back flat. Glide, do several backstroke kicks and then follow with the arms after you break the surface.

Happy Turning!

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