Written by: Kevin Koskella
One of the more common questions I get asked by triathletes is, “should I learn how to do a flip turn?”
Most triathletes I coach, especially beginners, do not know how to do flip turns, and instead do open turns at every wall. Although there are no walls in the open water, it is still important to learn flip turns for your training.
I wouldn’t put it at the top of your list of things to learn in the pool, technique takes priority, but at some point in your triathlon career you will need to master the art of the flip turn to continue your swimming progress. Don’t worry; it’s not as hard as it may seem. It is fun and, with some practice, you will be able to do flip turns in your sleep!
Why learn the flip turn?
It may seem impractical for triathletes to spend time on something they won’t use in a race, but there are many good reasons to learn the flip turn:
• Since most triathlons are in the open water where you have to swim continuously for a distance, practicing swimming with flip turns is going to be more useful than stopping and starting again at every wall.
• You will be able to go faster and make tighter intervals, thereby improving your endurance.
• You get a little extra abdominal workout while you swim.
• You will look cool and no one will think you are a beginner!
How to teach yourself the flip turn
A flip turn is just a somersault performed while moving forward in the water. The easiest way to learn is to break it down into steps.
1. Go to a part of the pool where you can touch the bottom with your feet with the water around your shoulder level. Practice somersaults from a standing position. Tuck your head and roll in a ball. You should be using your abdominal muscles to perform these flips. Don’t do too many in a row or you will get dizzy!
2. Start with just the approach to the wall. Most pools have a black line that ends in a ‘T” before you get to the wall. Pay attention to how many strokes it takes you to get from the end of the ‘T’ to the wall. For many, it will just be one stroke. Practice until you get the feel for that approach to the wall without flipping, then move to step three.
3. Once you have successfully determined where you will take your last stroke before the approach, practice the flip. Now you are doing that somersault while moving forward. Your arms will be at your sides and legs about shoulder width apart. This step will be a lot of trial and error. Start out by looking at the wall during your approach so you have full confidence as to where you are in relation to the wall. Tuck your head, bend your waist, and flip. You will end up on your back, ideally with both feet touching the wall. When you’ve practiced this and feel comfortable, move to step four.
4. Now for the push off. Start by doing the flip and pushing off on your back. Roll onto your stomach as you come off the wall. Always streamline as you push off to get the most out of your turn. Start your kick and then your stroke. Begin your pull with the arm that’s closest to the bottom of the pool. Eventually, with practice, you will be able to push off more on your side and easily get back to your stroke after you glide off the wall.
Flip turns take a lot of practice to get used to. Because you are in the early stages, you will likely find yourself with water up your nose at some point! Just remember you will need to blow out air as you flip to avoid this.
Rather than implement flip turns into your workout and trying to do them at every wall, commit to doing a certain number of flips each time you get in the pool for a swim. Increase that number with each workout and eventually you will be a flipping fool!