Freestyle Flip Turns for Swimmers

The Basics of the Swimming Flip Turn

swim turn
Professional swimmer underwater. Getty Images

Flip turns. Heading into the wall, somersaulting, and pushing off that wall - basic flip turns. Wow! Looks neat. But is it necessary?

No, not really. It depends upon your goals - why you swim and what you want to do in the water. It's a quick way to turn around, but all swimmers can turn around without doing flip turns, and some do it faster than when they try flip turns. At first, it may be very slow for you, too.

As you get better at the technique, you may find it easier to do a flip turn than turn some other way. The only way to find out is to try it!

Why is it called a flip turn if you are doing a somersault? I want you to think of it as rolling up in a ball, not something as acrobatic as a flip. Sounds easy - and it is for some swimmers; others get lost as they tumble around, losing sight of where they are going, and end up almost everywhere but heading back in the right direction. With a little practice, and by taking things step by step, everyone that can do a somersault can do a flip turn.

The first thing to remember is turns are "blind". Don't try to look where you are going after you begin the turn, and don't look when you push off the wall and head back the other way. You have to trust other swimmers in your lane. Have faith in their ability to follow some the swimming rules of etiquette when sharing a lane:

  • Stay on your side of the lane if you are splitting a lane.
  • Don't swim on top of someone else's feet if you are behind someone - either back off or pass them on the straightaway.
  • Swim in a circle (each side of the swimming lane goes in the opposite direction) when there are more than two sharing a lane.
  • If you are not sure, you may want to talk with the others in your lane to get the rules straight.

You can learn the turn without a wall. Taking away one of the confusing parts until you learn how to comfortably somersault. The rolling over part is really a half-somersault. You start on your stomach, then end up on your back. You will roll over to your again stomach later after you push off of the wall. Step by step ideas are on page two.

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Updated by Dr. John Mullen on April 27, 2016

Steps of Freestyle Flip Turns:

  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!
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Leave - Straighten your legs, thrusting you off of the wall, moving your entire body into a streamline (remember - torpedo). Push straight or slightly deeper.
  4. Kick - 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.
  1. Rotate - As you leave the wall (remember, your hands are together, extended over your head) begin to rotate from belly up to belly down by twisting your hands slightly and by looking in the direction you want to rotate (don't twist your head - just move your eyes).
  2. Breakout - Once you are belly down begin a flutter kick and start to surface, then begin your pull with whichever arm came closest to the bottom of the pool when you rotated. As your hand completes the pull, you should be close enough to the surface for that hand to exit the water just like a normal stroke. This takes practice!!!!

    Remember to practice in steps, adding the wall later, after you have the somersault part figured out. As you get better, work on stretching your distance off of the wall, holding your speed from the push as long as possible. Other advanced steps include speeding up as you approach the wall and performing more dolphin kicks off of the wall before you begin the flutter kicks.

    Good luck learning this turn - it's a little tricky, but worth learning - you can do it!

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