The Flip turn…..

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Well this opened a whole can of opinions…..! do you need to learn them to do an OW swim of course not. Like Tri Bars or a disc wheel on a bike, they could make you faster but they are not essential and any old wheel will do. Just like any old turn will do in training but if you want to race faster and your tech and training are in a good place it might just be the next thing to add to your arsenal of training!

Full details on the training peaks site


How to Perfect Your Flip Turn for Faster Swimming

Friday, February 10, 2017 | By Dan Bullock


Should triathletes spend time perfecting their flip turns? I get many requests for this kind of instruction, and I questioned its relevance to multisport athletes for some time. Usually it crops up during a training camp where we have a lot of time to practice. While the mechanics of the movement can seem quite straightforward, the act of following someone into a wall, executing the roll over at a slight angle with someone on your feet is just a lot to process for many triathletes. Many swimmers have more pressing swim improvements to work on for greater race day gains, so it depends on the ability of the swimmer and their overall goals as to whether or not it is worth their time.

Of course there is no direct benefit on race day as the very nature of a long and unbroken course is often the attraction of an open-water swim to a novice triathlete. However, perfecting your flip turn will keep your average swim speed within your sessions higher. Braking at the wall with an open turn (touching the wall with your hand) and pushing off can be a huge interruption to your swim speed. A smooth change of direction coupled with a continuation to your average swim speed makes more sense to the pace and rhythm of open water and thus of race-day simulation.

A good turn will not only speed up your swim repeat times, it will also develop breath control as flipping becomes a short hypoxic exercise as you wait for a breath after a good push off from the wall. The ability to control your breath will be of use on the occasions when perhaps turning at a crowded buoy you don’t get that window of opportunity to take your normal breath due to congestion, rough water or another swimmer drafting on your less dominant breathing side.

A complete how-to guide on flip turns would take hundreds of pictures and diagrams, so instead I will outline some key points to focus on and mistakes to avoid. A swim coach will quickly be able to take you through the finer points. An idea I use to initially connect the concept of swimming and then performing the “forward roll” (yes pretty much just how we did it in school gym class) is to swim freestyle down the lane and perform a roll or somersault in the water every 10 strokes. Think about combining the momentum of the last stroke in order to initiate the roll. Think about how that last stroke brings your chin down onto your chest into a tucked position. Perform the roll fully so you are facing the wall you are swimming toward, and continue with another 10 strokes before you roll again.

As you approach each roll, take your head quickly down with the last stroke to help raise the hips. A lift of the head during the final approach (which many swimmers do thinking it will help create momentum) will actually just sink your legs. A balanced roll with even momentum will have you face the wall you are swimming toward. Keep practicing this aspect until you are continually facing the right way. When you progress this into the wall you will not roll so much and by the time your feet land you will be facing up, performing what is basically three-fourths of a somersault. A nose-clip or a controlled nasal exhalation will be necessary. Both hands will find their way to the side of the body as you roll over and place your feet onto the wall. A small flick of the hands in a downward motion helps the body’s momentum. The hands then remain where they are so they are ready in the streamline position to push off the wall.

The below video offers a good example of this process. Notice how the swimmer keeps his head down and his hands move back so he is already in a nice streamline position as he pushes off of the wall:

The streamlined position involves pushing off from the wall with the arms outstretched. Ideally with one hand on top of the other, upper arms tight against the ears, legs together and toes pointed straight back away from the body. They should not be pointing to the bottom of the pool. A good streamline will reduce drag and maximize the speed gained from the powerful leg push off the wall. This will be the fastest speed you attain during the length of the pool (aside from a dive) so it’s best to try and maintain it for as long as you can before you slow when you start to swim.

Many swimmers partially push off on one side, but to make life easier until you perfect your own style you can just roll straight over and push off on your back. The twisting onto your front can then take place during the push and glide making the movement easier to perfect.

The longer you take to somersault over, the more likely you are to sink lower in the water. As a result of this, when your legs finally get over they will be pushing from quite a deep position and you will likely need to come straight up for air, ruining the streamlined glide. Eventually you will want to push with your feet planted on the wall quite high up in order to help develop a shallow push and glide.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid landing on the wall with the feet tight together. This creates a weak foundation from which to generate power.
  • Don’t miss out on the free speed off the wall by rushing into your stroke too soon.
  • As you land your feet, ideally your knees will be at a 90-degree angle. Less than 90 degrees leaves you too compact which will lengthen the time you spend in the turn.
  • Be close enough to the wall so that when you land there is some bend at the knee. There will be no stored energy returned from a straight leg push off.
  • Land the feet too deep on the wall or too near the surface and you will struggle to push off horizontally under the water.
  • Go with the simpler “forward roll” style, which will leave you on your back, face up and ready to push off and twist during the push and glide. Adding the twist earlier in the turn (i.e. a straighter-legged pike) complicates things.
  • Avoid lifting the head as the turn starts thinking that it will initiate the roll faster. All this does is sink the legs and slow the start of the turn.
  • Try to breathe on your last stroke into the wall, otherwise due to a lack of air the push and glide off the wall will be compromised.
  • The more speed you have heading into the wall, the easier the turn becomes to perform. It really is one of those leap of faith moments. The slower you approach, the harder it is generate the forces need to facilitate a good rotation.
  • Remember your nose clip for those upside down moments, or learn how to exhale out of your nose during the turn.

Slowly introduce the flip turn into your training. Preferably in a quiet, empty lane attempting clockwise and anticlockwise swim lengths before you demo it to your teammates during a workout. The basics will come quickly, so work on perfecting those before you add the stress of performing it while in a busy lane. Take time with the process, and then enjoy the free speed and increased efficiency that proper flip turning can bring to your workouts.

T10, coming this week

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A necessary part of recording and checking your progress is to test yourself on a regular basis with benchmark sets in the pool. Tests could include Timed swims, measuring stroke counts, taking Golf scores, working out your critical swim speed or performing a Step test. Parameters should be kept identical down to the smallest detail. Ideally perform the test at the same time of day, same length pool and have a similar warm-up before the set. Testing on a fairly regular basis should be a key part of your training. Many triathletes know their VO2 max, most would know their resting HR and average speeds for their 10mile bike TT or a 5K run. However, we should also be familiar with our best efforts in the pool.

Measuring these improvements allows us to rebalance the levels of drills and fitness sessions in an overall training plan. When technique measurements are improving then we maybe able to relax some of the pure drills sets and add fitness sessions. If the fitness benchmarks are not improving then I might suggest relaxing off the fitness sets and adding some more drills sets.

If you feel you have not been improving then recording and keeping a set of meaningful data is essential. Your comparisons need to be personal – not just comparing against others, which do not provide a real constant. The general speed of the group in your Triathlon or Masters swim session may have moved on massively and to still be ‘stuck’ in lane 1 is not a failing on your part.

Recording your own set of tests, taking your own measurements and charting them monthly or per training cycle needs to be done otherwise you will have no idea of how you are progressing. It is only this kind of strict and accurate measuring that can really gauge whether or not you are improving. Comparing one open-water swim to another or even the same course from year to year is of very little use other then to be a rough guide. Currents, weather and variations to the actual course layout will have the distance change significantly and the potential time taken to vary massively.

If after charting your progress for several months and you note you really are not improving then questions can be asked. If you can honestly say that you feel your technique is holding together then maybe it is time to check how hard are you working. If you can ‘hang on’ to an even stroke count throughout a 400m swim then that is a great step forwards. The next step is to have the control and enough feel for the water to swim the same number of strokes per length regardless of speed. A decent male adult competitive swimmer in a 25m pool will swim 13-15 strokes per length regardless of their speed. They will still swim the same distance per stroke. Inefficiency will allow the stroke count to increase, not more speed. A higher stroke count will rarely equate to more speed only more tiredness.

Good technique gets you so far and needs to be good before moving onto more serious fitness swim sessions. There comes a time though when you need to work hard as well. Not to the extent your technique falls apart but you should be getting out fairly tired after the appropriate sets swum at the appropriate intensity. Speak to your coach about some of the usual swim tests that could be incorporated into your swim training.

What might be holding you back….

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I have been fortunate enough to conduct a concentrated block of submerged filming recently of nearly 40 swimmers. When this happens patterns are easier to spot and it was easy to see how few managed to set a good arm position to assist propulsion when breathing. It really is a tough one to break unless you have had years of swim training as a youngster. Usually the arm pushes down to assist a lifting motion in order to help the head come up for air. A survival instinct no less, so it is logical and instinctive. For long distance FC this is not ideal as it strains the shoulder, impacts the neck, limits forward propulsion and as we know from a see saw, if one side goes up, the opposite end generally goes down.

wide push down1

If the arm sweeps wide to stabilise the head position as it lifts, we often see a wide kick created to help counter balance the off balance body position. Any excess in exposed surface area will increase your drag and slow you, make you work harder and need more air/energy.


A good swimming position would be to pivot at the elbow, turning it out keeping the hand quite central and turn the forearm to vertical early enhancing the surface area of the hand. You don’t just pull with the hand, use your vertical forearm. The fingertip to elbow position is now in a place it can be of help i.e. pushing water back towards the feet and not down to the bottom of the pool.  Most can create this ‘ideal’ position when the head is in neutral i.e. not breathing.


Problems arise when the head turns to breathe. Ideally breathing should follow your rotation not initiate it via a straight arm push down. Pushing down bounces you along, wasting energy pushing you in a direction you do not want to go – UP. If the kick can assist your rotation and body position the shoulders should elevate without the arms involved – have a look at this drill –


Create the correct body position without the arms involved and then when you do reintroduce them they are no longer needed as stabilisers supporting an off balance body position – or being used incorrectly to generate your rotation. I refer to this as external rotation. Create your shoulder lifting rotation from the legs and hips and this is internal rotation –

bow wave

I try to create the same angles and positions through my arms regardless of whether or not I am turning to breathe. Imagine wasting the ability to go forwards each time you breathed!! You are literally swimming single armed. Not easy when you tire and the kick, hip involvement and rotation start to suffer. At this point the window of opportunity to breathe narrows so we need to prop it up with the arm push down.


So the straight arm push down is guilty of keeping the front of the stroke up and the legs low, straining the shoulders&neck and at the least not pulling you forwards. Think about why this is important.  Swimming can be described as how the hand holds water, anchoring in position, which should allow a streamlined body to pass over it without moving or slipping. Look at the relationship of the hand to the light on the side of the pool. Since we are in water we often forget how we actually travel in the water moving over quite stationary arms.

It is like the difference between running on a treadmill and running on a road, we should swim similar in principle to how we run on the road. Plant the foot and the body should go fwds.  Leave air around the hand and we lose ‘hold’ so the hand slips under the body with no reward of going forwards. Push down and we don’t go forwards only upwards. Lead with the elbow, keep the forearm horizontal and again the arm can slip under the body with little forwards momentum.


Adding a central snorkel will be a great help as a first step towards breaking this habit as the head is kept still and better arm pathways can be worked on.

Learning to breathe to both sides will also be a major step forwards towards interrupting the stranglehold this bad habit has on your stroke. Switching breathing patterns too bilateral is a great step towards improving your symmetry. You do not have to breathe every 3rd stroke for this to work and on race day you might be working too hard to sustain this. In training, an easier option might be too try 2 breaths to the left then take 3 strokes to take you across to 2 breaths to the right would be enough to break the dominant habit of breathing to one side which encourages the straight arm push down. Attack this issue from all sides for best impact, snorkel, mixed breathing patterns, drills and improvements to rotation in an attempt to stop swimming single armed!

Lazy Coaching

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2017 the year of LAZY TRI COACHING  – look out for this new trend possibly in 2017. Hopefully it is just the January headlines on FB etc as people want to help kick start your season.  Tri coaches that can’t swim coach particularly well are being devious with advertising headlines on FB etc offering the Holy Grail i.e. we have discovered how you can improve with less swim training. Well you will never get better at swimming without a healthy investment in swim training. What is the one skill most of us acquired to a reasonable level as and only as adults? Driving. Many passed within 8-10 lessons, some longer. How long was it until you instinctively knew exactly where the controls were without looking? without thinking? suddenly you became a better driver once you had more time to fully concentrate on the road rather then trying to find the driving controls. Swimming is a life long skill that can be improved upon at any level but there are few shortcuts and it is definitely a journey never a destination. I was asked recently how much I might improve during a swim camp week. Hard to say and we have had some amazing results so I would say yes you will improve. How much depends on many factors but the important thing is how determined you are to maintain this and continue to work on your own post camp.
Read further beyond the headlines and more often it is not the Holy Grail answer to swim technique offered. It is more about how you could divert your swim time into becoming better bike/runners. For the Duathlete trying the occasional Tri this is all well and good if you are not too serious about Tri. However not working on your swim leaves you-
Tired for the Bike – Exponential fatigue as you spend more time moving against water at near1000 times denser then air  compared to biking through air. I have seen some really tired people stagger into T1.
No useful swim fitness acquired which we have proved is a highly beneficial type of fitness for the other disciplines, especially if an injury prevents run or bike training for a while.
Limited alternatives, ie one less discipline available if you are injured in an attempt to stay fit.
Exiting low down the field and starting your bike with tired, clumsy athletes struggling to stay upright. More accidents happen at the exit of T1 than anywhere else in my opinion and I have watched a lot of Tri’s!
Adding time and allowing competitors to get further ahead. Your £7k TT bike still sitting in Transition at 2hrs as I witnessed at the Outlaw is not going to catch up 45mins over your competitors. Few are going to bike at 40mph for the next 5hrs. No one does no matter how Uberbiker you think you are.
Swim fitness is highly beneficial to the other disciplines as we know 6weeks of structured swim can lead to 13% VO2 max improvement.
You don’t actually have to swim that fast in a Tri, just start steady and not slow down too dramatically given the long distance nature of even the ‘short’ events. Correction of some basic faults should be 10s of minutes quicker over a few Km.
I am fond of saying how learning to swim faster is more like a language or learning a musical instrument. I stand by that. Timing, rhythm, confidence, coordination are all needed. Yes most can get by and that will suffice for many but how far on this journey do you want to take your swimming? Don’t give up on it. Don’t just pass your test, go further on the journey.

Video & Articles Archive

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Some have asked for a handy central location from which to access the many articles and videos we have produced. Since the shift to a new website took away our video gallery temporarily I hope this helps in the meantime.





Feel for the Water

Stroke Rate

Body Position Drills Torpedo  &  Extension

Stroke Symmetry


Legs and what they Contribute

Preventing Sinking Legs


Head Position

Swim Slow to get Faster


Marginal Gains

Swim Consistency

Getting over  a ‘bad’ session.

Good Fitness/Bad Tech- the dilemma

Fitness & Testing

The Other Strokes& How They Might Help


Improving your IM swim

The ‘cost’ of Swim Mistakes

Training in Openwater

Winter Prep, Summer Racing

Feeling clumsy this week…

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If you have taken a week or more out of the water over the holidays this first session back is going to feel clumsy. No swimmer at any level is going to feel great jumping back in. The water will make you feel uncomfortable and what is worse the mind will play tricks on you exaggerating how bad it all feels. We ran some experiments last year and filmed a lot of the JAN week 1 one2one lessons and showed the swimmers the footage. Most were surprised it was not as bad as they imagined. Be positive, swim a few shorter sessions, work on some drills before worrying about fitness. You will not have lost much if anything <if you kept up your bike and run.> I would take off those watches, don’t worry about distance or times just enjoy some relaxed easy swimming to shake out the cobwebs.

Run through this sequence with fins or just attempt a few of the drills movements off each wall for 10m or so before resuming full stroke FC for the rest of the length. Aim for 2-3 x 30min sessions to reacquire the feel of the water. Just keep an open mind about how bad it all feels, the mind wants you back on the sofa resting and still in Xmas mode, trust me it will not be as bad as you imagine! Enjoy.





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I did mention that the last post would be the last of the year but I am very proud of this latest stat. Considering how many extra fitness sessions we now offer across London. 70 swimmers completed the T10 time trial in December, 40 swam further then in October and 5 equalled. Considering Putney super heated the pool to 30deg at the last session to ruin it that is really good. We will go again late January so keep your training up!! Merry Christmas everyone –

I am going to double check some things and award some prizes later in the week based improvements etc


So the message here? keep attending regularly, stay fit and healthy, mix your drills and endurance work and you will get faster.





At this time of year…..

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Technical Endurance


At the moment I am not working my Triathletes too hard in the water as in the UK/Northern Hemisphere for the most part we are now done with OW racing until next Spring. I am hoping to lure them back after the usual break post Kona and the final overseas races are now done. Once snared I hope to keep them coming back with lots of creative sets. We are in a phase I call Technical Endurance which suits the time of year nicely. We are swimming anywhere from 2000m to 4000m with lots of short technical interruptions to longer steadier swimming. We use swim toys creatively to challenge and interrupt the ‘autopilot’ we often are guilty of cruising along on. Ever got to the end of the pool and asked yourself what was I meant to be working on? Too much cruising pace and it is all too easy to stop thinking about what we are doing or what we are attempting to achieve from a particular set or drill. We perform frequent drills while static at the wall between lengths, off the wall for a few meters (the red ‘zone’ of the lane rope is highly useful) even outside of the water on poolside.


Assuming a 25m pool. For all of the following mainsets you might consider structuring your session with-

Warmup: 2-3x

100 FC, 75 with a pull buoy (arms only, PB sits between the thighs)

50 FC, 25 with a pull buoy (try to perform arms only with the PB between your ankles)


Subset – 8 x 25, rest 15s, fast arms with 4 strokes fists clenched into 4 strokes fast arms with normal hands, then easy for the rest of the length. Just looking to get the heart rate up ahead of the main set.


Insert the Technical Endurance Mainset here –


Swim down:

200 technical FC with paddles, fins and a snorkel if you have one to realign the stroke

50 medium pace, don’t over analyse and try to work on too many aspects of your new stroke at once, 50 easy pace, slow and relaxed


Swimming normal FC when the lane rope is Blue and White allows the majority of the length to be swum with a fitness element. The following is a simple way to get a 1500m mainset swum, adding steady fitness but not ignoring technical aspects of your FC.

5x300m <or yards> FC rest 30


Tech Endurance Session1

THEME- with the following ‘interruptions’ will shake up any standard 1500 swim.

1) Fists clenched FC when in the red zone, <5m into and off each wall>

2) Legs only in the red zone <arms folded on head as you push off, by your side as you finish a length>

3) No breather in the red (and you probably will be!)

4) Add fins but point them downwards in the red zone to feel surplus drag & work the arms harder.

5) Windscreen wiper scull off the wall. Pivot at the elbow, fingertips to the bottom of the pool, palms to push out to the pool walls then return to facing each other


Eventually we all want to perform faster but in terms of swimming at this time I think it is important to learn to swim well again. Especially after a season of OW which can undo a lot of good technique. It is a great time to learn to swim well with good technique again. At this time, I encourage slow swimming for heightened accuracy, improved hand and arm pathways and fixing technical issues that might have arose. In fact, I fail to see how else to go about it. There is little to be gained with hard efforts at the moment. The body needs to recuperate, the mind as well. A fresh approach to swim training will lead to more stimulus to improve. The new fad for giant pull buoys will please many by allowing faster less accurate swimming. I call this lazy swimming. You are covering up a multitude of issues in your FC technique that might be uncovered come race day if the temperature goes up and it’s a no wetsuit kind of day. Repeatedly I get asked by Triathletes if they can join my fast Wednesday AM group, one of my stronger sessions that has created multiple Kona qualifiers. The lure of rubbing shoulders with several Kona Qualifiers must be the attraction? For anyone still finding swimming 400m non-stop at any pace tiring then a hard fitness session is not really in your best interest. Technique will be of far more use for the moment. Slow is good, slow is accurate, slow is ingraining new good habits, slow is erasing bad habits, slow is what happens before you start swimming fast closer to race season. Don’t be in a hurry to leave this period of your swim journey too soon. The ads promise great returns in speed with the latest piece of equipment or style of session but it’s a good place to be for a while, erasing bad habits permanently, making use of ‘active recovery’ and learning good movements permanently. To make things permanent is going to take some time and also some frequency.


The LEG Kick

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Have you ever noticed at the pool the fastest kickers tend to also be the fastest swimmers? not an exact science but next time if/when you are at the pool have a look at the people in the faster lanes. For us who coach, with multiple lanes to observe ie our London Bridge session it is clear that the faster kickers for the most part are also in the faster two lanes <lanes 3&4, 4 being top lane>.
So we know a bad kick is devastating in terms of incorrect propulsion <downwards> and higher energy costs. We know mechanically the legs do so much damage. Toes pointing down, excessive two way pivot at the knee, pedalling through the water all undo the work of the arms as they try to pull you forwards. Correct this and swimming will become a whole lot easier.
But what about the difference between lanes 3&4 <Lanes where the swim speeds are closer? ie at London Bridge where we have 4 lanes and can spot trends a little easier> What is it about the better kick of lane 4 <mechanics, efficiency, speed and propulsion> that adds speed? Don’t panic this is not for everyone and we are not trying to exhaust your legs for the bike. Train the legs within the stroke, get fitter, and so faster. Bike will not be impacted.
Coach Gary Hall who I have a lot of time for suggests “ Improving your freestyle kicking technique will virtually guarantee that you will swim freestyle faster and there is no better way to accomplish this than to incorporate creative freestyle kicking sets into your swim training program. The speed of the freestyle kick is the baseline speed for your freestyle. The higher the baseline speed (kick speed), the faster you will swim, after adding your pulling motion and body rotation. 
First we unlearn this ! if you do suffer from this kind of kick please email me as I have a fins based solution to help remedy this big problem within swimming.


Progress to the narrow, hidden, fast big toes brushing, small hip range <think pendulum, a tiny movement at the hip is sufficient to keep it small at the feet> straight on the upsweep movement, bend on the down beat…have a think about the mechanics of your kick this week.
Try some of these to mix up your kick training <within FC and isolated legs only>
Single Fin can be useful for the leg flick on the down beat
Fins pointing down to get a feel for doing it really wrong <just a few kicks in each of the two positions>
FC full stroke with a small old fashioned flat float to keep kick small at the hips
Pulling with a pull buoy to add some endurance to the ‘core.’
Static horizontal kicking holding the wall as active recovery between lengths
Hands on Glutes to think about the correct muscles lifting a straight leg back up to the surface.
Add dryland to supplement and accelerate –


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Lately our training has involved a lot of steady swimming and working on pacing. It can be dull and I try to mix longer blocks with shorter sprints and relays. Good pacing is key though – Take a look at these 50m splits over 1500m at some recent races. 1500-splits
A client fond of stats prepared this for me. Too fast and you shift energy systems and you need to recover, too erratic and you have too much left at the end and can speed up but not have put it all out there <for Triathlon this might be ok as a pure swim race is very different and few suffer from this!>. This time of year can be dull so do your best to inject some life to your fitness blocks. It is key work at this time of year but keep it from becoming dull with mixed efforts. This is my current favourite –

the six by six <50m pool>

600 every 3rd length pull or kick

12x50fc <25 fast, 25 ez> 4swimmers in a lane, straight down the middle, last in, first out or approx 15 rest. Use the blackline to help guide the pulling hand pathways

5×100, 2min interval best average /recover 100ez <pull and paddles>

4×100, rest 10/20/30 build speed to number 4 / recover 200 ez

2×200, the 2nd needs to be quicker then the first, rest 20 / recover 200, add fins or paddles on 2nd 200

400 strong, recover 200 choice

3.6km mainset