Freestyle Flip Turn

The freestyle flip turn is a basic skill that can make or break your swimming performance when competing in a pool.  As with most skills, it takes practice, practice, practice to get it right.

The key elements to the flip turn are:

The Approach.  Sight the wall as you approach, which means you need to be looking up--not at the bottom of the pool as you get near the wall. Sighting the wall can help you modify your stroke if need be so that you will have no loss of speed into the turn. 

The Setup.  It is important to know that you will begin to turn while taking your final armstroke into the wall.  Leave the opposite arm in the water back at the hip while completing the final armstroke, then pull the front arm back to the other hip just prior to the flip.  You will end up with both arms down at your hips before your legs come over your head for the turn.  Make sure to start to tuck your chin to your chest to begin the somersault.  You should feel a surge of speed as both arms drop to your side and you begin to kick into the turn.  You may do a small dolphin kick to get the hips up over the water.  Once your arms reach your sides, you will be flipping your hands over so that your palms are facing the bottom of the pool.  This will increase your leverage when flipping your body and help pull your head towards the surface.  Your head should come up between your arms before the feet reach the wall.  This will help the body get into proper alignment and ready for push-off when your feet hit the wall.   

The Flip.  When you are ready (your body will know--or will learn to know through practice) you will pull your hands towards the bottom of the pool-- like you are doing a bicep curl with a dumbbell, except that your hands are sculling.  You will simultaneously tuck your chin to your chest and bend at the hips.  Your knees should be bent.  Most swimmers' legs will hit the wall about shoulder width apart (straight over your head), but  we believe that a slight body turn with your legs over one shoulder or the other,  is OK while doing a turn.  The amount of turn depends on the event (sprint vs. distance).  At contact with the wall, the feet should be planted with toes facing up and slightly to the side in the same direction that the body is rotating.  You should be mostly on your back when your feet reach the wall.  You can rotate your body to either side you prefer to get ready for the pushoff.  

The PushOff.  Your feet should hit the wall 12-15" deep.  Once your feet hit the wall, it is time to start extending your legs and pushing off the wall.  Your body will learn this timing and take over naturally.  You arms and hands are above your head and you are 'spiked'.  Your arms are straight and shaped into as tight of a 'V' as possible.  Rotate the body toward a prone position.   Your legs should be extending as fast as possible just before the feet leave the wall.  Extend your arms and legs simultaneously to add oomph to the push-off.  Push off the wall as hard as you can!  You should be pushing off horizontally, NOT upward. This is because less drag is encountered underneath the water and you are under the turbulence you have just created from the flip.  The ideal depth for push-off is 1.5 to 2 feet.  

The Streamline.  As you come off the wall, your goal is to make yourself into a torpedo that will shoot through the water with the least amount of resistance.  A streamlined position is one where your arms are extended overhead in line with the body and one hand over top of the other with your head nestled between your arms.  You want to be deep enough that you are under the surface turbulence but not so deep that you cannot break to the surface in about 3 body lengths.  As you glide, your body should complete the rotation to a prone position.  Your intense kicking should start almost immediately after leaving the wall, and you should take 2-3 flutter kicks to get you to the surface.  An optional variation (especially useful for sprinters) is to use 1 or 2 dolphin kicks off the wall before starting the flutter kick and pull-out.   

The Pullout You should start your first stroke while the body is still under the surface and you should remain streamlined with the head down during that first stroke.  You should develop a sense of when you are close to the surface.  Just before emerging, pull very forcefully with your lead arm and lift your head up slightly to a normal swimming position.  A very important component of the pullout is that you maintain acceleration.  If you ever have to glide or kick to the surface before beginning the first arm stroke, you have decelerated and this is not efficient.  As soon as your head breaks the surface of the water, you should be kicking and stroking at full speed.  Many races have been won with a great pullout from the turn!

Common Mistakes Some common mistakes made with the turn are:

1.  Instead of having both arms back at the waist approaching the turn, one arm extends toward the wall.  This causes the arm to be at the waist when the feet reach the wall, instead of already up over your head or causes you to try to bring your arm forward while pushing off the wall..  Both arms MUST be back at your waist on the approach in order to get the body in proper alignment for the turn.

2.  Too steep of an ascent on the pushoff causes the speed and distance off the wall to be reduced.  You should push off horizontally to reduce drag and perform a gradual ascent to the surface.  

3.  If you must breathe on the turn, it is preferable to breathe on the first stroke after the turn.  Breathing INTO the turn is much worse than out of it, because it causes total deceleration and delays the start of the somersault.  If you do not breathe into the turn, it is estimated that you could improve your time by .10 to .20 seconds PER TURN.  

4.  The Superman Pushoff (non-streamlined) is very common but is easily corrected.  You should never push off with your legs separated, your arms apart, your back arched, or your belly low.  A nice tight torpedo-like streamline is imperative for fast swimming.  

5.  Pushing off the wall with your head up is also commonly seen, especially during a practice setting.  A good tight streamline entails having the head tucked between your arms and looking at the bottom of the pool.  You should feel the pressure of your arms on your ears.  

6.  Gliding off the wall (without kicking) causes deceleration.  You should never decelerate below race speed for the duration of the turn.  The distance of the glide can be improved by a tighter streamline, but you should not use gliding without kicking as a strategy.

7.  Turning with your legs in a tuck position, rather than in a pike position, is preferable.  Your feet will travel more quickly over the water in a tuck position because the axis of rotation is reduced.  When your feet hit the wall, they will be firmly planted and ready to maximize the pushoff. 

Check out the video below to see some OK flip turns.  Use the slide control to see the different parts of the turn.  Keep in mind that this was a distance event.  

Video Clip

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Flip Turns 470 Kb