Perfecting Your Flip Turn: How to be smooth, graceful and avoid cracking your heals on the wall.

By Natalie Bojko, CTS Senior Coach

Even the most experienced triathletes can benefit from flip turns. Learning to manage and balance your body in different positions as well as incorporating other strokes into your weekly workouts can benefit as much as wearing your wet suit. Learning to flip turn also requires breath control and will enhance the aerobic component of your workouts. Since majority of your workouts, if not all, will be in the pool each wall is an opportunity to add more quality to your training.

There are some basic principles to remember when perfecting your flip turn.

1. Practice your somersault away from the wall.
Perfecting your somersault before you even make it to the wall will greatly improve your turn. Float face down in the water with both arms at your side, palms of your hands facing the bottom of the pool. Your eyes should be focused at the bottom with your head in line with your spine. You can kick slightly to keep your legs afloat. In one quick, powerful motion, engage your abdominals and roll your body into a tight ball: tuck your chin into your chest, bend at the waist, bring your knees towards your head and your heels to your glutes, while simultaneously bringing both arms from your side to over your head. During this motion, your arms should be softly bent at the elbow and you should feel the constant pressure of the water against your hands and forearms as you bring your arms over your head. This “pressure” is to help make sure you are moving the water and not just going through the motion. This arm motion is what propels your tightly rolled body into the turn.

Tip: To make your flip turn and somersault practice more enjoyable, be sure to exhale forcefully through your nose while you are turning, especially during the second half of the turn. This is where breath control comes into play. Without one powerful exhale that lasts the entire flip turn, you will likely get water straight up your nose – a feeling that is not pleasant and will likely discourage you from further practice.

2. Flipping at the wall.
Once you have perfected a few somersaults in the middle of the pool, you can bring your flips to the wall. Swim regular freestyle into the wall and when the wall is in sight, time it so that your last stroke brings both of your arms to your side by the time you are 1 to 1.5 feet away from the wall, equivalent to approximately one arm length distance. You may feel as if you are too close, but a common mistake when doing flip turns is flipping too far away from the wall. Flipping at this distance will give you optimum power off the wall. Once you are in position, go into your turn by following the steps described above.

Tip: Make sure your body is tightly tucked: your chin down, knees at your chest and heels to your glutes. This will ensure you do not hit your heels on the wall, which can occur when swimmers “open up” from their tuck too early, or while in a loose, messy somersault.

3. Making contact with your feet.
Once you have finished the somersault and are completely spun around, make contact with both your feet on the wall. Plant your feet about a foot underneath the surface of the water. Knowing when to feel for the wall with your feet will be a matter of timing and may take some practice to perfect. At this point, your arms should be above your head. Allow your hands to find each other and place one hand over the other.

4. Push off and kick.
With your feet firmly planted on the wall shoulder-width apart and your hands together, push off by extending your body until your arms are fully extended over your head in streamline position, and your legs are straight. The plane of your body should be parallel to the surface of the water and the bottom of the pool (you’re on your back). As you push off, roll into the position where your body is parallel with the water’s surface and you are face down in the water, leading the motion with your hips and shoulders. Once your feet leave the wall, start kicking to help your momentum, and start stroking again as you reach the surface again.

Tip: Stay in a tight streamline: arms extended over your head, hands together, one on top of the other while your biceps squeeze your ears to your head. Your head should be in line with your spine and your legs together long and extended, while you are pushing off the wall. The tighter your streamline, the further off the wall you will be able to go.

Perfecting your flip turn, like anything else, just takes constant practice. Try incorporating them into your workouts from the very first wall. Not only will you be working towards making them graceful and flawless, but you will also be getting a better aerobic workout by practicing breathing control. Your ability to maneuver your body through a flip turn also helps you gain added feel of the water. You can surely utilize these added skills to your races.

Natalie Bojko is an Senior Coach with Carmichael Training Systems, a USA Swimming certified coach, and a former swimmer for Ohio State University. For information on coaching, camps, and performance testing, visit www.trainright.com.

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