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Swimming Technique  Outdoor sports > Swimming > Swimming Technique > Conquer the Open Water, Step 1: Flip Turns

Conquer the Open Water, Step 1: Flip Turns

2016/7/21 10:46:47

Open-water swimming can be daunting for some triathletes. It is an element of the sport that can affect all levels of competitors, from those with little experience who just plain fear the open water to more experienced swimmers who have to adjust from the confines of a lap-pool to the expanses of an open-water event.

More: 6 Tips to Help Transition From the Pool to Open Water

The best way to get used to the open water is obviously to swim in it; unfortunately, our access is often limited.

If you are one of the lucky ones who has access to an open body of water, adding one swim session per week in that venue will greatly improve your ability. Be sure, however, to follow proper safety guidelines which include the following:

  1. Know the area—boat traffic, currents, depth, underwater hazards and creatures of concern;
  2. Always swim with a buddy or better yet someone in a kayak—NEVER alone;
  3. Wear a brightly colored cap;
  4. Be aware of the water temperature and use a wetsuit if the water is at all chilly (toleration of cold water varies from athlete to athlete, so know your own limitations);
  5. Don't forget sunscreen; and
  6. Never head out into the water when a storm is brewing or it is foggy.

More: Introduce Yourself to Open Water Swimming

If you are like most of the pool-bound triathletes that I know, you do not have access to open water. But, there are several aspects of open-water swimming that you can work on in your local pool.

Part I of this series will address one fundamental pool-swimming skill that makes training (in general) more efficient: flip turns.

I often talk with triathletes who are adamant about not including flip turns because they feel they have no benefit for open-water swimming: "I don't do them in open water; why should I do them in the pool? My open turns are just as good!" 

But being able to execute a proper flip turn enables you to best mimic the flow of open-water swimming—meaning your body never stops. With "open turns" the swimmers pops up, grabs onto the wall, pauses (some longer than others), takes a breath and then pushes on; and while it is a way to change direction, it is not the most efficient and does not mimic any element of open-water swimming.

More: Perfect Your Flip Turn With Natalie Coughlin

Learning a new skill like this is often difficult, especially for older athletes; but it is well worth the time and effort to master flip turns.  When I first started training for triathlons, I changed directions in pools with an open turn; and when I worked out with "swimmers," I quickly noticed how rapidly and smoothly they changed directions with their effortless flip-turn. It did not take me long to decide it was time for me to learn. Two weeks later, with lots of water up my nose, I was a convert.

More: Extra Air and Fast Turns in Distance Swimming

Here are several tips to help you learn how to flip turn like a swimmer:

  1. Think of it as a half somersault rather than a flip—you go from your stomach to your back.
  2. Practice first by taking a few strokes and somersaulting mid-lane; repeat this progression as you move down the lane.
  3. One of the most important tips is to exhale air out of your nose as you somersault, or you may find yourself with a nose full of water.

More: Proper Breathing Technique for Swimming

Here is your practice progression for learning a flip turn:

  1. Push off the wall and take three strokes, tuck your chin, finishing your arm pull with your hands ending at your sides.
  2. Go into a full-body tuck, bringing your knees to your chest and somersault (be sure that you are breathing out of your nose).
  3. You should now be face-up heading in the opposite direction.
  4. As you feel yourself going to your back, extend your arms over your head in a streamline position and then extend your legs. You should now find yourself stretched out on your back.
  5. Stroke back over to your stomach and repeat the sequence across the pool. Once you are comfortable with the somersault, you can complete it while heading into the wall.

More: Swimmer's Guide to the Perfect Pushoff

Into-the-wall progression for learning a flip turn:

  1. The black line ending with a "T" on the bottom of the pool alerts you that you are approaching the wall. There should also be a "+" on the wall in each lane. Push off the wall and swim at an easy pace. Complete your last stroke cycle at the "T", gliding toward the wall; tuck your chin and knees, somersault, then extend your arms to streamline and plant your feet on the wall (in the middle of the cross). You should be face-up to the sky or ceiling; and your knees should be bent, coiled and ready to push off. Now push off on your back and complete this sequence several times until you feel comfortable with your distance coming into the wall.
  2. For the next several turns, as you push off the wall on your back, take two kicks, rotate to one side (use your core) and take two kicks—you should be fully extended in a streamline position on your side with toes pointed. Again complete several turns like this.
  3. Once you have mastered this step, you will flip, push off the wall on your back, take two kicks and rotate to one side, take two kicks and then rotate to your stomach and take two kicks. Complete several turns like this.
  4. Now put all of these steps together and complete the full turn, moving right into your stroke, as you are on your stomach rising to the surface. Remember the rotation happens as you are coming off the wall, not on it. If you turn your body with your feet on the wall, you are slowing down by staying on the wall. Be sure that you are kicking throughout the rotation.
  5. As you become more and more comfortable with your turn, you can increase your speed going into the wall.

By incorporating flip turns into your swim sessions, your workouts will flow more smoothly to best mimic the continuous swim of an open-water effort. Part two of this article will address sighting drills, getting comfortable in "dark" water and swimming straight.

Remember, it is always easier to practice things with which you are comfortable. It takes dedication, effort and courage to improve on your weaknesses.

More: Learn to Master the Flip Turn

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