Flip Turns - Should You Do Them?

I can't tell you how many times I've heard a triathlete state: "I don't need to do flip turns .... I'm not going to do a flip turn in open water, so why should I here in the pool?" A recent post on VeloPress reminded me of how frequently this topic comes up, and why that statement is so off the mark.

First of all, it's true: You won't be doing any flip turns during your open water swim. You've got me there, Captain Obvious. However, doing a harmless open turn during training is, potentially, doing more harm than you might think


Well, just as you don't do a flip turn in the middle of an open water swim, you also don't stop every 25-50 meters, take two to three breaths, and continue on. You're impacting your workout in numerous ways when you do this:

  • You're breaking the rhythm (and perhaps even the benefit) of the effort. Whether it's 50, 100, 400, 800, or 1000 meters, having all these 'pauses' just interrupts the swim. You have to get back up to speed, and get back into your rhythm. More importantly you're getting rest in the middle of an effort where you're not supposed to. Depending on how long you hang on the wall, the aerobic (or anaerobic) benefits of the set could be impacted.
  • Chances are, your push off the wall to get things started again is going to be very close to, if not on, the surface of the water. Without getting into the physics of swimming and wave resistance, that's a much slower position to start off your next length. Surface waves cause more impact on a swimmer than underwater waves. So by pushing off at the surface you're going to have to expend more effort to get back up to speed.
  • In the end, this also creates a base 100 time (or base effort / pace) that is slower than what you can actually swim. It can take two seconds (and I've seen worse) to touch the wall, take an extra breath, and push off the wall. In a 25 meter pool that's 2 seconds added to your time every 50 meters. Six seconds per 100 (three turns in a 25 meter pool per 100 meters.) Your coach is creating a send-off for your workouts based on the pace you can hold. When that 'pace' includes six seconds of rest (roughly) is the workout really giving you all the benefit that you need?

Learning flip turns isn't hard. Any good swim coach can teach you to do a flip turn in a relatively short period of time. Will it be pretty right away? Will it be super efficient right away. No.

However, will you be able to maintain a nice flow to your workout? Will you be able to maintain your pace and exert less energy after each turn to get back up to that pace? Will you work on some lung control in the process? Will your workouts begin to have more quality, and benefit?