triathlon and family can mix

There Are No Walls in Open Water

My name is Steve, and I flip/tumble turn, whatever you want to call it.


Do you have to do a flip turn as a triathlete? I am a pretty decent swimmer. Not to brag or anything, I just really enjoy being in the lane and hammering a good 1 hour workout.

It is no secret that a flip turn is the fastest way to change direction, if it wasn’t, I am sure Phelps wouldn’t be doing it. I have read stats that state it can take 0:02/length off your split time. Depending on your pool length (most are 25m) that can add up. Like I have said before, free speed, I’ll take it.

With all of my reading, I have also come across many opinions that as a triathlete you should be doing flip turns, because in a race there are no walls for you to take an extra breath. Most people feel that you need to simulate as close as possible to an open water swim in the pool, this means no extra breath. As I swam my 800m pull set at lunch today, I starting thinking about flip turns and if they are beneficial to a triathlete in the pool.

At least I think it was 800m. I may have lost count. Sorry.

To execute my turn, here are my steps;

Take a breath at the T, about 2 strokes from the wall
Turn (insert meaningless instructions here)
Take 1 to 2 strokes before I breath the other way. This takes 2 body lengths past the flags.

The whole process takes about to the count of 6, counting to match my arm turnover. So that means with every turn, 25m in my pool, I am pausing for a count of 6 to turn.

I am a bilateral breather; meaning that I breath on odd strokes. 3-5-7, you get the idea. It is important for any open water swimmer to breath bilaterally, but that is not the topic of this post. So I breath every 3 strokes (sometimes 5 if I am feeling good) then pause to turn at a count of 6, then return to breathing every 3 strokes.

Now imagine, pretty easy for a triathlete, that you are swimming toward the first buoy with 200 of your closest friends. You are humming right along, breathing every 3 strokes, sighting well. After about 4 breaths, you decide to hold your breath for a cycle, breathing on the 6th, then return to breathing every 3. No problem right?

Yeah, seems pretty crazy hey?

Long story short; you can’t simulate open water swimming in a pool. We try certain drills like closing our eyes, sighting the coach, or distance swims but it isn’t the same. I don’t think that you need to be able to flip turn as a triathlete. You swim workout will yield the same results without ’em.

So if you can flip/tumble turn, good for you. It looks cool and impresses the newbies to the club.

If you can’t, no worries mate. You are still rockin’ it in the pool with everyone else, probably at a time that most of the city hasn’t thought of waking up yet.

Question: Do you flip turn? Was it easy to learn?

By the way, if you want to learn how to flip turn, check out this video. It is the best I have found to date.


11 responses

  1. I do not flip turn. I don’t see a point in using my time learning when I’m not going to do it in a race. Although I guess it could come in handy if you are doing a sprint tri with a pool swim.

    November 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    • It definitely will help with a pool swim. In Calgary, if it wasn’t for the pool swims, out Triathlon season would be 3 months long.

      December 2, 2013 at 2:54 pm

  2. sweatingforit

    I do an open turn. I don’t do a lot of sprint triathlons in pools but it’s good for the few I do.

    November 28, 2013 at 3:39 pm

  3. I don’t flip turn – mostly because I can’t (aka I’ve never tried). I worry about flipping too early and losing momentum all together (or flipping too late and hitting my legs on the wall). I think if I could do flip turns I probably would – but since I can’t, I don’t.

    November 30, 2013 at 11:43 am

    • Oh yes, the ‘invisible wall’ or ‘wall of shame’. We have all done that, I did it while racing a 50m sprint.

      December 2, 2013 at 2:55 pm

  4. I started swimming as a high school freshman. I was a freestyle sprinter and would have lost every race if I had not learned to be a good flip turner. It has been 13 years since I graduated high school but I still flip turn because it’s something I’ve always done. I do agree that it’s useless to triathlon training because there are no flip turns in open water swimming.

    December 1, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    • Flip turn is something I have always done as well; I am not a high school or college swimmer mind you. I decided that I wanted to do it one day, and the rest is history.

      December 2, 2013 at 2:57 pm

      • Good for you! I think many swimmers are nervous to try flip turns for fear of looking silly the first few times or initiating the turn the wrong distance from the wall. Once you get a couple down I feel it’s pretty easy to keep up. I did mention they are pretty useless when it comes to Tri training but I think they are incredibly useful during long swim sets because there is less loss of momentum (for me at least).

        December 3, 2013 at 8:29 am

  5. Jo

    I’m much older than the other commenters but in a pool I always flip unless my lower back is giving me fits. If I can flip really anyone can. It’s not so much a rolling over motion, it’s more like piking your legs over your head. When learning I would try make a splash with my feet because it’s the out of the water aspect that makes it fast. And for a triathlete the very aspect of being a better and more versatile swimmer by learning to flip would up your game. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

    December 2, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    • Good point with the splash, that is what I am working on as well; efficiency. I agree with the versatile point as well, body position is so important in swimming and learning a flip turn gives you a better feel for where you are in the water. Thanks for the comment.

      December 2, 2013 at 2:59 pm

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