Not many triathletes come from a swimming background. If you ask 10 triathletes what their least favorite or weakest sport is in triathlon, I bet a majority of them will answer swimming. Swimming is a very technique-based sport. You can always spot a “real” swimmer in a pool. He or she is usually the one who has a beautiful, effortless stroke and does flip-turns. Ok, maybe their stroke isn’t beautiful, but chances are they can flip-turn with the best of them.
Flip-turns are something every triathlete desires to be able to do in the pool. Not only can flip-turns help you become a stronger and more efficient swimmer, but they also make you look like a badass. Who doesn’t want to look like a badass in the pool?
I’ll be honest. I didn’t start flip-turning until recently. I swam in high school so I know how to do flip-turns, but when I started to swim again for triathlon training, I just never began flip-turning again. I was never the best at them and they can mess up my equilibrium sometimes. However, I do believe that every triathlete should learn to do a flip-turn at some point during their triathlon careers.
There are no flip-turns in an open water swim so why spend time learning how to flip-turn? There are no breaks in an open water swim as well. Most triathletes, especially beginners, spend way too much time at the wall during open turns that it mimics a mini-break. Most triathletes don’t do flip-turns because they are harder to do. That’s why I didn’t do them for a long time.
Open turns can hurt your swim technique. Think about. As you approach the wall you lift your arm to touch the wall and then push-off. Does that sound like good swim technique to you? What about the added stress of lifting your arm to grab the brim of the wall? Each pool has a slightly different wall structure. The YMCA pool I swim at has a high wall brim and if I open turn I have to lift my arm up high adding stress to my shoulder joint. Imagine that over and over again? Ouch!
Flip-turns add fluidity and smoothness to swimming. Think about it. Stroke, stroke, stroke, flip-turn, stroke, stroke… No breaks, just swimming. Flip-turns also require you to hold your breathe for a little longer than a normal stroke, thus requiring you to be hypoxic for a moment. Hypoxic breathing is a good drill for all triathletes to do because one should be able to mix up their breathing pattern. I personally find that doing hypoxic breathing once in a while in workouts helps me if I ever feel panicked during a race.
A flip-turn is also like doing a squat when you push-off the wall so that adds a bit of strength work into your swim workout as well! Plus, doing flip-turns allows you to swim more laps in less time. A bonus if you are time-crunched.
When should you start to flip-turn?
I recommend triathletes to begin flip-turning once they are comfortable in the water and have the basic swim stroke technique down. If you’re a beginner and still learning proper technique to become a more efficient swimmer then I suggest waiting to learn to flip-turn. The key to becoming a better swimmer is actually doing a lot of swimming and practicing your swim drills!
Once you’ve been swimming consistently for a couple of years then I don’t think you really have an excuse not to flip-turn. Spend some time learning to do them. You may not get them right away and might crash into the wall everyone in a while, but that’s how you learn. Believe me, I still have my crashes every once in a while as well. Also, if you learn to flip-turn you’ll be able to keep up with more of the masters swimmers!
Flip-turns can make you a stronger and better swimmer so start now. Here are a couple good videos to watch and of course you can google some more. Or better yet, ask some of your swimmer friends to help you!
~ Happy Training!