Pools Have Walls: Swimming Turns, Part 6 - Backstroke Flip Turn Basics

How do you turn around when swimming backstroke? You could do an open turn, but the fastest way is to do a backstroke flip turn.

First, you have to know where the wall is without looking. Most pools have a line of flags over the pool 5 meters from the wall. Count your strokes (each time a hand leaves the water) as you pass under the flags and you will know how many strokes it takes you to get to the wall.

You must teach yourself how many strokes to take from when you see the flags and you touch the wall.

Practice approaches into the wall at gradually increasing speeds, counting your strokes each time. Ask a friend to sit at the wall with a kick board (and a loud voice) to give you a signal when you have completed the "magic" number of strokes between the flags and a hand touch on the wall. Hopefully, your buddy will also cushion your head before it hits the wall if you lose count during the learning process. Use that number in practices and in races, and you will know where the wall is every time - without even seeing it! Other cues to an approaching wall are lane line color changes - the "ropes" will change from alternating colors to a solid color at the same 5 meter mark, under the backstroke flags.

Each pool may also have its own unique markings; ladders, lights, speakers or any other visual cue that can be used to tell you where you are without slowing down to plot your course.

Practice, practice, practice, until it is an automatic thing to count strokes when you see the flags.

Once you know that number to the hand touch, subtract two arm strokes from that number. When you swim under the flags, start counting strokes, and when you get to the "two-less" number, rotate from belly-up backstroke, to belly-down, like freestyle, and immediately begin a .

No hesitation, no extra kicking, an no more than one arm pull if an arm is in the air when you rotate over to belly-down.

  1. Start the somersault - Tuck your chin, perform a small dolphin kick while finishing your arm pull with your hands ending at your sides.
  2. Finish the somersault - Go into a tuck (knees and feet pulled in) and use your arms to help keep the somersault going. Keeping your elbows on your side, push water toward your head with your palms and forearms.
  3. Layout - As you complete the half- somersault, let your elbows release from the sides of your body, bring your hands together, straighten your arms, and point them the direction you just came from - the direction you want to go now. From the waist up, you should be in a streamline - think of making your body match the shape of a torpedo as much as possible. Long and thin!
  4. Land - Extend your legs, landing your feet squarely on the wall, toes pointing up. As you get better, you will want to be close enough to the wall to have your feet land with your knees and hips are bent appropriately, knees near a 90 degree angle, hips near 110 degrees.
  5. Upper Body Streamline - Everything from your hips up to the tips of your fingers should form a straight line, parallel to both the bottom and surface of the water. You will be completely underwater, with everything from your hips to your fingertips straight and streamlined, pointing where you want to go.
  1. Leave - Straighten your legs, thrusting you off of the wall, moving your entire body into a streamline (remember - torpedo). Push straight or slightly deeper.
  2. Kick #1 - some swimmers perform several quick, strong dolphin kicks while on their back and through the rotation process, some don't. As you get more comfortable with the turn, experiment.
  3. Kick #2 - flutter kick.
  4. Swim! Start swimming backstroke. For more details on the transition between the turn and swimming backstroke, review the backstroke breakout.

More on Swimming Turns:

Swim On!

Updated by Dr. John Mullen, DPT on October 30, 2015.