MARCH 1, 2016

U.S. Olympic Trialist Jesse Kelly Explains …

Jesse Kelly SwimQuestIt’s all about the flip!

With most triathlon swim events taking place in open water, it’s easy for athletes to find the pool confining and the necessity for a turn at each lap is often felt as an interruption to what your trying to accomplish in training. However, location and logistics often dictate that pool will be the primary training facility. So it’s time to start thinking about the flip and turn (or tumble turn) as fundamental. Here I explain how you can utilize the turn as a primary training tool for your swimming technique and speed.

Flip turns are not vital for triathletes but they offer many benefits during pool sessions. Flip turns help maintain flow and rhythm, and that helps to emulate the continuous swimming open water experience if only just a little more than a hand-grab turn. More than that, flip turns are akin to learning to wheelie for a cyclist; perhaps a skill that may never be used in an event but one that significantly adds to a general confidence and skill in riding a bike. Flip turns are also quite easy to learn, and just spending a few minutes each pool session will soon have you flipping out!




A triathlon swim leg with a mass start and no lane lines can feel like you’re being thrown into a washing machine! So skills like the flip turn will aid in your water maturity and assist in situations that are almost impossible to emulate in normal training conditions.

Messing about underwater SwimQuestAdd adverse weather, chop and waves, as well as the impact of lifting your head to find direction, you quickly find a thrilling race is also an overwhelming experience. The subtleties of muscle control needed to perform the flip turn will complement your water confidence even in the most hostile swimming environments. Simply put: flip turning can help you be better prepared for the rough and tumble of the triathlon. Along with the turn, other water activities will also help with general water tenacity, from diving off the side to playing games; swimming underwater, grabbing objects off the bottom of the pool, or learning to swim underwater on your back and controlling water running up your nose; all these activities aid in water maturity for all swimmers.



Whether it be a flip or hand-grab turn, it’s the thrust off the wall itself that’s that offers one of the most beneficial aspects of swim training. For the triathlete it actually offers an advantage over straight open water swimming. The reason for this is because no swimmer (save an athlete with disability) will ever go as fast as the moment they push off the wall! This is the reason why all short-course swimming records are significantly faster than long course records. Swimmers simply go much faster because of turns. The push off is the moment of immense power and speed, and mastering the streamlined, super-flat torpedo position is precisely what you want to emulate in the stroke as you swim. Being stretched and streamlined is essential to stroke technique, especially with rotating and reaching out with the forward arm and grabbing the water for the ‘catch’.

And you want to feel that that you’re a torpedo firing off the wall. The tricky thing is that the torpedo position does not come naturally, but it is something that all swimmers can easily develop.

The perfect position is about strength, balance and flexibility, and it’s a facet of swimming that you can work on both in the water and out.  Don’t be shy! One of the best places to practice the position is in the mirror and seeing exactly how you are standing; how pointed you are, how stretched out your arms are, whether your hands are laid on top of one another, the biceps pushed in just behind your ears, your head tucked right in between your arms, and your whole body perfectly stretched and straight.

An effective land drill is simply hanging from a pull-up bar or other sturdy gym apparatus. Suspended completely relaxed and stretched out is not nearly as easy as it sounds, especially with older and less flexible athletes. The muscles, ligaments and tendons may take a while time to feel naturally fully stretched and relaxed, so it’s best to begin this drill with your feet on the floor or otherwise supported so not all your weight will initially be utilized. Of course you do not want to strain yourself, and master athletes will most likely not have the flexibility to obtain this correct position overnight. But spending a couple minutes each day doing a torpedo stretch will help you become more relaxed and more streamlined and flexible, and will directly benefit you both off the wall and in your stroke. Most can develop the ability to hang with their entire body completely.

Virtually all high-caliber swimmers are already quite flexible with that attribute gained simply through the years of swimming, land-training and stretching. Other common swimming stretches and exercises will also aid in flexibility. The torpedo position helps you obtain the ideal position in the water. You’re actually working the muscles and stretching out arms, legs and torso, to achieve the elongated position. Eventually it’ll take minimal effort while gifting the athlete with a huge benefit in technique and speed.

So whether you’re doing a flip turn or push turn, start to look at the wall as an opportunity to develop the most vital aspects of your swimming. Channel the power and speed of the turn and your streamlined torpedo position directly into the power, speed and smoothness in your stroke.

Thank you Jesse! Jesse Kelly is a UCI Elite mountain biker and USA Cycling Coach who utilizes his collegiate and openwater swimming experience in training. Jesse is a long-time member of the Serpentine Swimming Club, and provides coaching and consulting via

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