When swimmers think about improving their performance, the conversation tends to steer toward conditioning—more meters, more yardage, more sessions. But there is a way to get more from your swimming that doesn’t require swimming an extra stroke: improving your flip turns.
You may be doing hundreds of them each day at practice, but how many of them are done at speed and with a focus on accelerating into the wall and exploding off it?
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Speeding up flip turns is especially important for short-course swimmers, where races are won and lost on the walls. Think about it: if you could shave just a tenth of a second or so from each of your walls, you could cut some serious time off your Personal Best without having to attend a single extra practice.
Here are five ways you can start leveling up your flip turns:
1. Enhance your core strength
A common mistake swimmers make when executing a flip turn is to use their arms to pull water toward them while kicking down with a big butterfly kick to initiate rotation. While this isn’t completely incorrect, it does mean that swimmers are leaving their core out of the equation. A fast flip turn starts with a tucked chin and a braced core. A core exercise for swimmers that specifically addresses this movement is Crunches on a Swiss ball with your arms streamlined over your head. The streamline reinforces something else you should be doing coming out of the turn—having your arms above you and ready to push off when your feet hit the wall.
2. Don’t breathe into the wall
One of the easiest ways to speed up your turns is by not breathing over the last couple of strokes going into the wall. This is one of the earliest training habits young competitive swimmers are taught, and one of the most effective for quick turns. It requires consistent discipline during swim workouts, but the payoff is undeniable. Knowing right before the turn that you will not be slurping down oxygen forces you to speed through the turn.
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3. Tuck your chin
Your chin should be tucked into your chest when you begin every flip turn. Most swimmers know this, but many pick up their heads to take a big, long look at the incoming wall. Doing so is like pumping the hand brake on your swimming. A fast turn starts with a fast approach. You should always think of accelerating into the wall instead of slowing down like most swimmers do—and having your chin tucked helps you maintain momentum into the wall.
4. Sleep more
Your coach has undoubtedly told you countless times how important it is to be fully rested. And though swimmers’ schedules are tough—two-a-days, a year-long season and so on—the benefits of getting a full night’s sleep every night are impossible to ignore. In research performed on the Stanford varsity teams, the swimmers added 1-2 hours of sleep per night over a six-week period. What followed was stunning: 15-meter sprint times dropped by over half a second; reaction times improved; and the swimmers were able to rotate 0.10 seconds faster on their turns. So yes, you can improve your flip turns simply by getting an extra hour or two of sleep per night. That, my chlorinated friends, is what we call a win-win.
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5. Practice turns at race pace
At the 2014 U.S. Nationals, Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer in history, pulled a rookie mistake while swimming the men’s 100m freestyle—he completely misjudged the wall and turn. As a result, he flip-turned too early and pushed off with just the tips of his toes. Which brings us to our final point: perform flip turns at the same speed in practice as you will in competition. The reality is that when you are fully rested and you’ve completed the swim taper to perfection, you will be absolutely flying through the water. Those turns will creep up faster than you expect. You can prepare for this by either doing turns at an all-out sprint in practice or while wearing a pair of swim fins to simulate race pace.