Racing Skills – The Turns

According to the PVS Calendar, the 2016-2017 Short Course season is 8 meets old…Thus, kids have had the opportunity to flex their racing muscles in most of the freestyle events as well as the strokes. Last week we focused on the importance of good mechanics at the start of a race. This week, let’s talk about the turns! There are a few visual guides in the pool to alert athletes that they are approaching a wall, the flags, the ‘T’ at the bottom of the pool and the marker on the wall. While the execution of the turn at the wall is different for each stroke, the goal remains the same, maintain momentum and achieve maximum velocity off the wall. This summer, with our Olympians, we saw examples of the effectiveness of the underwater butterfly kicks in maintaining/increasing velocity, and conversely, we’ve likely seen examples where our kids come to a complete stop at the wall! The following sections will go over some tips and tricks for each stroke/turn.  If you can take away a few of these and implement effectively in your races, you may get that 1/10th of a second improvement that will win the race, make the ‘cut’, or just put a big smile on your face.


In reviewing the USA Swimming rulebook on turns, there is not much a swimmer can’t do to take advantage of the wall. Rule 101.5.3: ‘Upon completion of each length the swimmer must touch the wall’. That’s it! Touch the wall! Quite a few coaches have spent a lot of time analyzing how swimmers can maximize their velocity and efficiency with the freestyle turn. I think coach Gary Hall Sr. does a really good job in breaking things down.  Check out this link to see him explain the components of the turn and watch the short videos of execution in real speed and slow motion.


How to Flip Turn Part III: The Push Off


The backstroke turn  allows the swimmer to turn to their breast prior to the wall (in a continuous motion) and  return to their back upon leaving the wall (USA swimming Rule 101.4.3). This differs from the freestyle turn in that the swimmer is not allowed to be on their side after pushing off the wall. Any underwater kicks must be performed on their backs. This poses another challenge for many swimmers: to execute a turn that is fast, but also keep the water from going up their nose! Check the video link for Speedo’s presentation of Ryan Lochte’s mechanics:

Ryan Lochte Backstroke Turn


USA Swimming rules get a bit more ‘wordy’ with their explanation on breaststroke, “It is not permitted to roll onto the back at any time except at the turn after the touch of the wall where it is permissible to turn in any manner as long as the body is on the breast when leaving the wall.”  (USA Swimming Rule 101.2.4) As with backstroke, the swimmer cannot be sideways after they push off the wall. I think there is some leeway in allowing the swimmer to rotate to their breast, but clearly they cannot begin any part of the pullout on their side.  Further, ” At each turn and at the finish of the race, the touch shall be made with both hands separated and simultaneously at, above, or below the water level. At the last stroke before the turn and at the finish an arm stroke not followed by a leg kick is permitted. The head may be submerged after the last arm pull prior to the touch, provided it breaks the surface of the water at some point during the last complete or incomplete cycle preceding the touch.” (USA Swimming 101.2.4) This allows the swimmer to get their timing down so they can lunge to the wall without having to complete a full cycle of the stroke. At the elite level, the timing will allow for a full cycle so the arms are extended and the propulsion comes from the kick into the wall. Rebecca Soni provides a good explanation of the turn and how to utilize the arms/hands to get the legs to the wall quickly. Take a look:

Rebecca Soni Breaststroke Turn


Much like Breaststroke, the front part of the turn has to be on the breast and the hands touch the wall separated and simultaneously at, above, or below the water level. Fundamentally the turn is exactly the same as the breaststroke turn, the difference being the timing of the stroke into the wall. Ensure to use the visuals available, the marker on the wall & the ‘T’ at the bottom so the arms are extended into the wall. The video of Michael Phelps, narrated by Bob Bowman shows all the movements to perform this effectively:

Michael Phelps Butterfly Turn

As swimming techniques and rules are constantly evolving, so should every swimmer, especially at the age group level.  As swimmers grow and gain strength, their bodies will take less strokes per length of the pool and turns will need constant tweaking and sometimes total re-evaluating.  It’s always good to try different approaches to the wall and through the turn.  You never know what might work best for you until you give it a try!  We’re fortunate in PVS to have two great clinics upcoming November 19th put on by Fitter and Faster that may be helpful for your age group swimmer. See below for details:

Fitter and Faster Clinics:

11 & Under

12 & Over


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