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Side-spins, crossed feet, and skidding the surface are common flip turn errors which I discussed in Flip Turn Flaws I and Flip Turn Flaws II. I've been to enough practices to see these improper turning styles be used in swimmers of all skill levels, but it is time to start making changes and learn to incorporate correct methods in every aspect of the sport for elite success. The flip turn is one of the easiest places to make a positive habit and improve performance! 

Unfortunately, many swimmers don't see the flip turn as area to improve speed or beat a competitor, but simply as a place to rest from a grueling practice. I'm sure many of you are exhausted from 10,000 meter sets (yes sets, not practices), but the practice of poor turns is unacceptable. Imagine if you saw a group of elite swimmers perform Tarzan freestyle when they fatigued, well guess what, this is nearly the same practice as performing improper turns! In fact, performing poor turns which increase torsional stress on the low back is equally as injurious on the low back as Tarzan freestyle is on the shoulders (read low back instability in swimmers for more information). 

Enough negative thoughts, it is a New Year and positivity is key for optimal health, so without further ado, here are Five flip turn fundamentals:

Five flip turn fundamentals
  1. Pull with your bottom hand! Luckily, this is a common practice on pool decks, but it still needs to be reiterated as Larsen et al. (2005) showed elite swimmers initiate their swimming with their bottom arm off a turn. This makes sense, as pulling with the bottom arm likely aides in rotation. However, future research must analyze the effects of pulling with the dominant or non-dominant arm when the swimmer is parallel to the bottom (as seen in those performing longer underwater dolphin kicking).
  2. Consider not kicking for the first 5-meters! Many anxious swimmers begin kicking immediately off the turn, likely impeding explosiveness from the push-off (Zamparo 2010). One study, found the highest velocity during the first 0.08 seconds off the wall (Wada 2010). Instead of kicking immediately off the turn, be patient and conserve same of your energy. Unfortunately, I can't provide concrete times to start kicking, as everyone is different, but make sure you are trying different distances off the wall. 
  3. Swim fast into the wall! The faster an object goes in, the faster it goes out! This applies to bouncy balls and swimming. High correlations have been suggested between speed entering a turn, speed of the flip, and turning performance (Puel 2010; Puel 2012). 
  4. Get deep off the turn! As underwater kicking becomes more prevalent, it is essential to optimize under water speed. It seems the deeper one performs their underwater kicking, the greater the likelihood of improved performance, as the water is less turbulent and slowing in deeper water (Marinho 2010).
  5. Dive into the turn! Swimmers with better turns start their turns further away from the wall with a faster speed providing them a quicker push from the wall (Puel 2012). This makes diving into the turn a key move, likely decreasing their turning time.
Every swimmer performs countless turns at practice. Make sure every turn counts and you're implementing these five flip turn fundamentals, as the turn is a high yield area of improvement!

  1. Larsen, B., & Hinrichs, R. N. (2005). Transition from the glide phase to free swimming following a freestyle flip turn: Which arm pulls first? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 37(5),Supplement abstract 609.
  2. Zamparo, P., Vicentini, M., Zorzi, E., Scattolini, A., Rigamonti, A., & Bonifazi, M. (2010). The interplay between leg kick efficiency and pushing phase acceleration in determining the "turning speed" in front crawl swimming. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, June 16–19, 2010.
  3. Wada, T., Sato, T., Ohishi, K., Tago, T., Izumi, T, Matsumoto, T., Yamamoto, N., Isaka, T., & Shimoyama, Y. (2010). An analysis of the underwater gliding motion in collegiate competitive swimmers. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, June 16–19, 2010.
  4. Puel, F., Morlier, J., Cid, M., Chollet, D., & Hellard, P. (2010). Biomechanical factors influencing tumble turn performance of elite female swimmers. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, June 16–19, 2010.
  5. Marinho, D. A., Barbosa, T. M., Mantripragada, N., Vilas-Boas, J. P., Rouard, A. H., Mantha, V., Rouboa, A. I., & Silva, A. J. (2010). The gliding phase in swimming: The effect of water depth. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, June 16–19, 2010.
  6. Puel F, Morlier J, Avalos M, Mesnard M, Cid M, Hellard P. 3Dkinematic and dynamic analysis of the front crawl tumble turnin elite male swimmers.J Biomech. 2012 Feb 2;45(3):510-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2011.11.043. Epub 2011 Dec 15
By G. John Mullen founder of the Center of Optimal Restoration, head strength coach at Santa Clara Swim Club, creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.
Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS world-renowned physical therapist and strength coach.
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