When you should and shouldn’t learn flip turns

Doing flip or tumble turns in the pool can help take your training to the next level, but are they necessary for triathletes? Andrew Sheaff has the answers

Young female swimmer is performing a flip turn at a wall of an olympic swimming pool
The use of flip or tumble turns can be a contentious topic among triathletes. Some swear by them, and some hate them. As with most topics with strong supporters on both sides, there’s typically some subtlety that’s being lost.  

What is a flip turn?

A flip turn, or tumble turn, allows you to change direction at the lane end at speed, rather than stopping, touching the wall, turning around and pushing off the wall to go back up the lane again.
Effectively, you swim until just before the lane end, dive into a forward roll, twist under water so you’re facing the direction you came from, and push off the wall with your feet.

Should I be doing flip turns?

Rather than providing a black and white answer to a nuanced topic, I’ll provided some suggestions based upon certain circumstances. Then, you can decide if it’s the right decision for you.

You’re already accomplishing your goals

If you’re accomplishing your goals in the water, you’re making progress, and you’re not doing flip turns, there’s no compelling reason to change. Flip turns are NOT a requirement for open-water racing.
You’ll never have to do one in competition, so you never have to do one in training, either. If you’re happy with where you’re at, there’s no reason to change it up for a skill that’s not required in competition.

You just don’t want to do flip or tumble turns

Perhaps the most important reason of all – you don’t want to! As mentioned above, flip turns are not a competitive skill in open-water triathlons.
You don’t need to be able to perform one to race effectively, successfully, or safely. While this might seem like a rather lame reason not to learn, remember that participating in triathlons is something that should enrich your life and bring you joy.
If learning flip turns is going to make participating in sport less enjoyable, don’t sweat it.
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Racing pool triathlons

If you ever race in triathlons that take place in pools, you might want to learn flip turns. They’re going to be faster in the long run, even if it’s a struggle at first.
As you improve, at some point your turns will limit your ability to race competitively when other triathletes are performing flip turns and you’re not. Take the time to learn the skill.

You have problems with breathing

If you struggle with your skills once you get challenged with your breathing, and this is made worse by choppy open-water conditions, flip turns can be a powerful tool. Performing flip turns will definitely test your breathing as you’ll be going an extended period without oxygen.
This will force you to learn how to manage your skills when you’re really out of breath, and you won’t need to be in a race environment to do so. You can do it any day of the week. Of course, ensuring that you don’t breathe during open turns can work as well.

Improve your triathlon swimming breathing technique 

You’re looking to gain an edge in your swimming 

Flip turns are harder.  They’re not just harder to do technically, they’re harder to do physically. As mentioned above, you’re going to be without air for a longer period of time, and that extra challenge may provide a physical stimulus that can take your training to the next level.

You want to move into competitive swimming

If you have any notion that you might one day compete in swimming, learn flip turns sooner than later. There’s going to be a learning curve both physically and technically, and you might as well get working on it today.
Turns will absolutely limit performance in competitive swimming, so learn flip turns as soon as you can.
Top image credit: Getty Images