Do a Freestyle Flip Turn

By Elli Overton – February 1, 2015
Illustration by Emily Parsons

There is no time like the swimming off-season to learn how to do a freestyle flip turn. 

Do you touch turn when you swim laps but notice the people flip turning are blowing you away at the wall? Perhaps you tried flip turning, but got water up your nose. Or maybe you tried it, completely missed the wall, and decided “Oh well, I don’t need to flip turn anyway!” Whether you’re swimming for exercise or training for open water swims or triathlons, you may feel you have good grounds to justify why it is you don’t do the flip. You’re missing out though. Flip turning improves the aerobic benefit you get from swimming by making your effort more seamless and continuous, with no rests. After all, there is no wall in open water.

As you learn to flip turn, you’ll notice the increased aerobic workload from not breathing during the turn. Don’t worry if it feels hard in the beginning. You’re just getting fitter! You’ll also benefit from flip turns by enhancing your body awareness in the water. Learning new skills and strokes helps you better understand how you move through the water. A bonus benefit of learning this technique: the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel after mastering it. 

To Get Started

First, try making the flip-turning motion in the middle of the pool. 

1. Start by lying stomach-down on the water surface, with one hand by your side and one stretched out in front of your head. 

2. Pull the hand that is out front down toward your side like you’re doing a freestyle stroke, and simultaneously tuck your head and start bringing it toward your knees (as if you were going to touch your toes). Don’t bend or try to tuck your legs just yet! They should be lying straight on the surface. 

3. Hold your breath as you start moving your head to your knees and breathe out through your nose as you continue the turn. This will help you avoid getting water up your nose (the worst!).

4. Leave your hands by your sides. Face your palms toward the bottom of the pool. As you bring your head toward your knees, bend your arms at the elbow, and use your palms to make a scooping motion, increasing your momentum. Finish with your hands close to your face. 

5. Meanwhile, with a small, short dolphin kick, “throw” your legs over, bending your knees at right angles. Your legs should have momentum as your heels leave the water and head for where the wall would be. Keep your head tucked and facing toward your knees as you do this (it should feel like you’re in a fetal position). 

6. Your flip should have you moving directly around, not turning sideways, so you finish this motion with your head underwater, looking up at the surface, and your back parallel to the bottom of the pool, with your legs at right angles like you’re sitting on a chair.

Practice this move a few times, then practice swimming a few strokes of freestyle and going into the turn motion described above in the middle of the pool. Remember, your arms should be close to your sides at all times, not pointing out to the side of your body.

At the Wall

Correctly judging your distance from the wall is crucial for a successful flip turn. 

1. Use the “T” marking on the bottom of the pool and on the wall at the end of the lane to judge were the wall is. Never lift your eyes above the waterline to look for the wall! 

2. You need to be close to the wall, but not too close. A good rule of thumb is to think of the distance between your ankle and knee. This is about how far from the wall your hand should be when it starts to pull you into the turn.  

3. Take your last breath to the side before turning. 

4. Swim toward the wall and go into the flipping motion described above when your hand is ankle-to-knee length from the wall. 

5. Your feet should land on the wall underwater, toes pointing towards the surface, knees at right angles, with your back parallel to the bottom.

Judging the correct distance from the wall takes practice. Keep trying, noting your position in relation to the markings on the bottom, and you’ll eventually get it just right! 

Push Off and Streamline

If you landed the turn correctly, you are in position to push off on your back. Your feet should be a little bit apart, legs positioned at right angles, and arms bent with your hands close to your face. 

1. Push off as powerfully as you can from this squat position while your hands extend over your head into a streamline (one hand over the other, arms extended and pressing on your head just behind your ears). 

2. As you push, begin the body rotation needed to return you to your stomach. Continue rotating as you kick up and reach the surface. 

3. The push and rotation occur simultaneously. (Don’t rotate to your stomach before pushing off!)

The flip turn sounds like a lot of small steps to put together, and it is. But with practice, it becomes fluid and effortless, and the end result is worth it. You’ll be more aware of your body than ever and become a stronger, fitter, and faster swimmer to boot. 



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