Triathletes and Flip Turns: Are they worth the Trouble?

A swimmer, a biker and a runner
August 25, 2008

Mike Ricci


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The argument against doing flip turns is a strong one: You don’t do flip turns in a race! While that is a valid point and I can see the logic behind it, but I can take the same logic and say, ‘While swimming in open water, you don’t get to hold on to the wall every 25 yards.’ So, which is correct?

Yes, there are no walls in the open water to help you when you get tired. Surely, when you swim with flip turns, it’s a tougher swim. Why do you think people don’t do them? Because they are harder! When your legs get tired on the bike, you shift to an easier gear and when you get tired of running you either slow down or you walk. So it goes in the pool: when you get tired, you stop flip turning, or if you use open turns, you rest longer on the wall.

Open Turns hurt your swim technique: Every time you stop to reach for the wall your hand comes out of the water. Is that good technique? I would say no. By swimming laps with flip turns, you are most definitely improving the fluidity of the swim. Going from stroke, stroke, flip, stroke, stroke you are keeping your swimming smooth. There has been some talk about how flip turns are like hypoxic breathing where you are holding your breath while exercising. Some people have gone as far as to say that doing flip turns improves your VO2 ? I am not sure if this is true, but it’s certainly harder and it takes me a few strokes to get my breathing back to normal when coming off the wall. On top of that, when I don’t have that challenge of holding my breath every 20 seconds or so in the open water, I think that’s to my advantage.

What I suggest to beginners is to flip during warm up and during any sets shorter than 100 yards. So if you are doing a set of 10×50 then flip every one. If you are doing 100 yard repeats, maybe flip turn every other 25 yards. Give it a try and I am sure within a few sessions you’ll have it down. If not, be patient and stick with it. It may take some time, but it’s well worth it.

I have heard every excuse in the world why not to do flip turns, and I am NOT BUYING it. Do the flip turns, they will make you a better swimmer. :-)

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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