Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tri-Coaching: Flip Turns for Triathletes - by US Masters Certified Swim Coach Brett Collins

This article comes at a perfect time for me (Nic). Short backstory:  I was recently swimming next to my son during his group swim lesson and loved seeing my little guy swim laps. He did however represent 8-bit Mario swimming when asked to do the breast stroke (like when mario is swimming and keeps popping his head above water) but other than that, he was holding his own.  However, when it was time to practice flip turns, he didn't want to do them citing "water gets up my nose" and "my mom says she never does them".  The instructor responded "well, your mom isn't here and i think we need to learn them"  ... too which josh responded "she is actually right there" and pointed to me like 5 feet away.  Yeah... umm.. that's embarrassing. Well, josh had to do the flip turns and i was happy he had to do them and not me...

That evening, i read this article and had to chuckle at the irony.  But wanted to share with others as the article sites some good reasons to consider them during tri training.  I can't promise I am converted but I do think I will give them a go this summer.   

Flip Turns for Triathletes 
by US Masters Certified Swim Coach Brett Collins of
**NOT a sponsored post**

For nearly all swimmers regardless of your means of competition (triathlon, open water swimming, or traditional competitive swimming) the majority of your training takes place in a pool because it’s typically much more convenient finding an open body for water; the open water swimming season for most of us is also compressed to just a few months each year due to frigid water temperatures, thus your forced to an indoor pool whether you like it or not.  Waves, visibility, and taste of the water aside, the major difference between indoor and open water swimming are the walls and the lingering question: Should I do flip turns?

For those that are unfamiliar with the concept of flip turns, it’s where a swimmer essentially performs a summersault at the wall to transfer their momentum in the opposite direction (shown above) instead of touching the wall with their hand before heading back in the opposite direction (this is called an open turn).  Based on my experience, unless you arrive at triathlons or open water swimming through the sport competitive swimming odds are that you do not perform flip turns, possible are intimidated by the concept, and most likely don’t see the need in learning flip turns.  It’s probably no surprise, but I’m a believer in everyone performing flip turns and let me share some strong arguments why.

The biggest reason everyone should perform flip turns, this includes you triathletes, is that it’s the most efficient and fastest way to get off the wall.  With an open water swimming focus you may not be concerned about getting off the wall fast, but let’s reframe the same concept: if you’re not getting off the wall fast and efficiently transferring your momentum, then you’re slow and inefficient at the wall.  Digging into this thought a little deeper: if you perform an open turn (touching the wall with your hand) you’re going to slow down before you get to the wall and inherently create a mini break for yourself (wanted or unwanted).  Thus think of a flip turn as a way to maintain your speed, level of exertion, and keep your heart rate up.  So by performing flip turns at every wall you’re going to better mimic an open water swim by maintaining your momentum lap after lap.

A second benefit is that flip turns force you to maintain breath control since you most likely will hold your breath longer than swimming regularly; you also need to perform a controlled exhale as you flip to prevent water from entering your nose, furthering the breath control exercise.  Therefore this can help prepare you for handling waves in the open water where you go to breathe and your greeted with a wall of water.  By performing flip turns you will become more comfortable with the hypoxic feeling and not panic if you have to hold your breath for a few more strokes than planned the next time you swallow a wave.

Finally, a few lesser benefits are you’ll swim faster with little change in any other aspect of your stroke, you’ll most likely find that flip turn are fun once you get the hang of them, and lastly there is a “coolness” and confidence factor that comes when you consistently perform flip turns. I guarantee you that people will look at you differently in the pool and most likely will respect you more in the water.  I’ve also found that the intimidation of flip turns can also work in your favor by having people shy away from swimming in your lane if they’re not a strong swimmer.

So hopefully I’ve convinced you that flip turns are at least worth entertaining if you’re already not already on the flip turn bandwagon.  Consider it a challenge, a worthwhile challenge.  Remember that while looking cool is a pleasant side effect of flip turns, there is true training value in flipping at the wall instead of performing an open turn.  Now I would consider it unfair to convince you to perform flip turns and then not provide any advice on how to achieve the task.  Thus, next week I’ll provide some tips on how to perform a flip turn, but until then mull it over and open yourself to learning a new skill.

Written by Brett Collins, US Masters Swim Coach Certified
with TZCoaching
Brett Collins is a lifelong competitive swimmer who started competing
in triathlons after college. Brett is a certified U.S. Masters Swim
Coach where he has coached Age Group and Master's swimmers dating back
to 2004 and now is the head swim coach for triathlon focused swim
programs with TZCoaching in the Chicagoland area.

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