Friday, December 9, 2011

Thou Shalt Flip Turn

Swim Day
1 x 200- Warm-up
5 x 100- 5, 7, 9
3 x 300- 5:15
4 x 50- Sideline kick
1 x 100- Cool down

Today I swam with Sean at Richardson pool on base. This is important for two reason. 1) Richardson is currently set up for long course (50m instead of 25yd). I haven't swum long course in about nine thousand dog years. This means that I spent the first few hundred yard looking for the wall and seeing it waaaaay off in the distance. Takes adjusting. And B) Richardson is not heated, which you wouldn't think is a problem until you realize that a 50m x 50m pool which is about 4.5 feet deep has...let me see...carry the two...divide by the power of pi...adjust for the position of Jupiter in relation to Mars...101,250 cubic feet of water for the sun to warm. That's a lot of water. So no, it's not all that warm. If you take too long between sets your muscles will become solid blocks of petrified sinew.
Long course swimming, however, it great for endurance practice and its even better for most triathletes. Why? Because there are way less walls getting in the way of all the yardage you want to do. And since most triathletes don't come from swimming backgrounds the wall is the enemy. "Why is that, Coach Dirtbag?" you ask. Because getting to the wall means you have to turn around. There are two basic ways to do that. The Right Way- a flip turn. Or The Way that Makes Micheal Phelps Cry Into His Bong Water- an open turn. And non-swimmers think flip turns are hard to learn. But they aren't! A halfway decent flip can be taught in fifteen minutes and then it gets practiced every 45 seconds of a workout.
"But Coach Dirtbag," the non-swimming triathlete whines, "I'm going to be racing in the ocean so this skill is useless to me." Wrong, my little tadpole. You may be racing in the ocean but you will be doing the majority of your training in a pool, so you might as well do things correctly. A good flip turn means you can get off the wall and get back to swimming faster. It makes your stroke smoother because an open turn is disruptive and breaks up the rhythm of a good stroke. It means your can set your times just that tiny bit faster, making you feel a tiny bit faster, making you swim a tiny bit faster, and all those tiny bit fasters add up on race day. Flip turns teach better breath control, good body position, good streamlining, and allows you to do a ton of mini-squats every workout.
Most importantly, it means you are doing one more thing correctly in the water, making you a better Whole Athlete. Triathletes love to talk about how the sport makes them adaptable, how you have to be good at three different things and be able to switch between them quickly, but swimming is the only one of the three where its generally ok to leave out major parts of the sport. And I do say parts because non-swimming triathletes never get to learn the backstroke, breaststroke, or butterfly, even though these will make their freestyle faster too. (I realize these take a lot of time to learn, but I think if you want to be a complete swimmer you need to have at least a basic understanding of them. They aren't first year Big Rock skills for a triathlon-only swimmer, but they are something one should learn eventually.) But more than fly, back, and breast, a flip turn is key to a well-rounded swimmer. I don't care if you are never going to compete in a pool, you are willingly training improperly by not taking fifteen minutes to learn a very basic skill.
Here, I'm going to teach all of you. Caps on? Goggles on? Ready? Good.

Step One- Sight the wall through the top of your goggles, don't lift your head., take one or two stroke past the T at the end of the lane.
Step Two- As you reach with your last stroke and begin the pull section, allow your head to follow your hand under your body. Your shoulders, chest, hips, knees, and feet will have no choice but to follow. There is no need to flutter your hands around in a circle.

Step Three- Plant your feet firmly on the wall. At this point your body position is chest and knees towards the surface with hands tucked against your chest but ready to launch straight out. Facing up-ish at this point is fine. Stop trying to rotate down.


Step Four- Push off the wall with your arms shooting towards the opposite wall into a streamline position. As you push off rotate your body, doing both actions (pushing and rotating) together until you are fully off the wall and fully facing the pool floor at the same time.
Step Five- Glide in streamline, kicking, until you break the surface. Now swim.

I had a great time swimming with Sean today, who does do flip turns, though they are self-taught and therefore not as efficient as they could be. He pushed me hard and I haven't gotten that from a workout in a while. And he's nearly as fast as I am between the walls. But I gained a body length on him every turn. And when he mentioned it I told him the truth, "Dude, I'm going to take advantage of you on every wall." And that is going to make the difference.I will be less tired because I will get to the wall faster. Meaning I will get a few more seconds rest. Meaning I will be more ready for the next set. Meaning overall I will have a slightly better workout. Every. Single. Workout. You don't think that transfers to an open water swim?


  1. Flip turns are the bane of a coaches existence. They're NOT THAT HARD! Just DO them! Ugh. I used to win races off the walls, because I did a flip turn every wall, every lap, every practice. DO THEM!!

  2. You mean to tell me that you swim in a 25yrd heated pool? Haha. Those are good instructions for noobs, but I think they should start practicing away from the wall before trying at the wall.

  3. My voice of hypocrisy says you are entirely right. But I still haven't practiced them.

    In my defense, I haven't swum an actual workout in four months.

    But sure, flip turns sound good!

  4. Great post, could not agree more. I'm actually better at flip turns than swimming, which is an endless source of annoyance.

  5. Since I hardly ever swim in a pool I admit that I don't know how to do flip turns. I tried to teach myself, but I ended up either missing the wall or whacking my heels on the concrete. LOL! I can do a mean off the lip while surfing though! Does that count?