How to Flip Turn

Learning to flip turn well can actually give you a better workout if you're training for a triathlon.
Learning to flip turn well can actually give you a better workout if you're training for a triathlon.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

So, you're in the water, giving it everything you've got. Your mind is on nothing else but finishing this leg of the triathlon and hopping on your bike. After all, what's a mile swim? But wait a minute -- what's going on here? Are you getting tired? You, the triathlete who can swim back and forth all day in the pool during training? How can this be?

It turns out those laps in the pool didn't give you quite the workout you thought you'd get. Swimming the length of a pool is different from swimming in open water. While swimming in a pool, if you stop at the wall and give your body a little break -- even for just a second -- those breaks add up. Even though it seems that you're swimming nonstop, you really aren't.


It's time to learn to flip turn. While this may seem like a waste of time, since you'll never use it in a triathlon, a flip turn keeps you moving through the water, eliminating those stamina-sapping rest periods at the wall. Besides, they look cool, too.

First, you'll need to be able to do a somersault in the water. Start practicing in about chest deep water, away from a wall. Bend over, put your head in the water, curl into a ball, and use the strength of your abdominal muscles to pull your body around in a circle.

Next, move toward the wall and look at the bottom of the pool for the painted black "T" in each lane. That signals swimmers that they're about 2 feet from the wall. Note how many strokes it takes you to get from the end of the "T" to the wall -- probably one, but maybe more. Practice your approach to the wall until you get accustomed to the point where you'll take that final stroke.

Now, it's time to flip. On the next page, we'll go through the maneuver step by step.


Flip Turn Technique

Keep your hands together when you push off from the wall.
Keep your hands together when you push off from the wall.
Digital Vision/Thinkstock

You've figured out where you need to begin your somersault, and you're comfortable turning it the water. Now, it's time to transfer those skills into a flip turn off the wall. Here's a step by step version of what you should be doing. It may seem like a lot of things to remember, but it's pretty basic. Just keep in mind what you want your body shape to be: tucked into a ball for the somersault near the wall, and then a streamlined torpedo after you push off.

  1. Tuck your chin, duck your head and somersault. Use your hands to push water toward your head, but keep your elbows tucked to your sides.
  2. While you're finishing the somersault, move your arms over your head and point your hands in the direction you want to be going.
  3. Push off from the wall with the soles of your feet, striking flat against the wall with toes pointed toward the water's surface. Optimally, you should bend your knees at a 90 degree angle, your hips a little more. You should be up, with your head about a foot beneath the surface. Push off at the same level, or go a little deeper in the water.
  4. Turn from your back over to you stomach as you push off from the wall. Experiment with different types of kicks during the push-off-and-rotation phases while you're perfecting your flip turn. You'll rotate easily if you just twist your hands (still together, over your head) and move your eyes in the direction you want to rotate.
  5. Now that you're flipped and rotated, flutter kick to the surface and begin to pull with the arm that was closest to the bottom of the pool when you rotated.

Don't get discouraged if you don't master the flip turn after the first few tries. Just keep plugging along, and one day you'll just get it and wonder why it ever seemed so complicated. After your next competition, you'll appreciate the work.


Flip Turns in Triathlons

Improving your breathing will help you in the pool and out in the open water.
Improving your breathing will help you in the pool and out in the open water.

For many triathletes, swim training is the most neglected part of the fitness scheme. Swimming takes more effort than the running and cycling portion of a triathlon. After all, you can run and bike almost anywhere quite easily, but you have to travel to a pool or lake to practice your swimming. Also, many triathletes just don't like swimming. Perhaps some people just feel like the leg in the water is simply something to hurry through.

Since swimming is the forgotten third of the triathlon, it makes sense that any extra help you can give yourself in the water will give you a major advantage over your competitors. That goes for learning to flip turn. In addition to building your endurance as we discussed earlier, learning to properly execute a flip turn will strengthen your abs -- always a good thing -- and improve your form in the water, helping you slice a blazing trail ahead of your competitors. While you don't want to spend your whole swim workout on the flip turn, commit to doing a few each practice session. It will soon become second nature.


There are a few things you can do to improve your flip turn form:

  • Water up the nose may be a problem. Blow out while you're flipping if you're not good at holding your breath.
  • Before you push off the wall, bring your hands and arms to a perfect streamline position. Channel your inner Michael Phelps to torpedo through the water.
  • As you get ready to kick, keep your feet and legs together.
  • Don't start kicking until your speed drops right after your push from the wall. If you're gliding faster than you swim, go with the flow.
  • Don't breathe on your first stroke after you emerge from the flip turn.

For lots more information on swim techniques, see the links on the next page.



Lots More Information

Related Articles


  • Gmunder, Felix K. "Swimming Technique: How to Do a Flipturn in Crawl Swimming." Limmat Sharks Zurich. (July 21, 2010)
  • Koskella, Kevin. "Incorporating the Flip Turn Into Your Swim Workout." Competitor Triathlon. Sept. 8, 2009. (July 21, 2010)
  • Kostich, Alex. "Learn to Master the Flip Turn." (July 21, 2010)
  • Trifuel. "The Basics of the Swimming Flip Turn." (July 21, 2010)