Conquer the Open Water, Step 1: Flip Turns

Open-water swimming can be daunting for some triathletes. It is an element of the sport that can affect all levels of competitors, from those with little experience who just plain fear the open water to more experienced swimmers who have to adjust from the confines of a lap-pool to the expanses of an open-water event.

More: 6 Tips to Help Transition From the Pool to Open Water

The best way to get used to the open water is obviously to swim in it; unfortunately, our access is often limited.

If you are one of the lucky ones who has access to an open body of water, adding one swim session per week in that venue will greatly improve your ability. Be sure, however, to follow proper safety guidelines which include the following:

  1. Know the area—boat traffic, currents, depth, underwater hazards and creatures of concern;
  2. Always swim with a buddy or better yet someone in a kayak—NEVER alone;
  3. Wear a brightly colored cap;
  4. Be aware of the water temperature and use a wetsuit if the water is at all chilly (toleration of cold water varies from athlete to athlete, so know your own limitations);
  5. Don't forget sunscreen; and
  6. Never head out into the water when a storm is brewing or it is foggy.

More: Introduce Yourself to Open Water Swimming

If you are like most of the pool-bound triathletes that I know, you do not have access to open water. But, there are several aspects of open-water swimming that you can work on in your local pool.

Part I of this series will address one fundamental pool-swimming skill that makes training (in general) more efficient: flip turns.

I often talk with triathletes who are adamant about not including flip turns because they feel they have no benefit for open-water swimming: "I don't do them in open water; why should I do them in the pool? My open turns are just as good!" 

But being able to execute a proper flip turn enables you to best mimic the flow of open-water swimming—meaning your body never stops. With "open turns" the swimmers pops up, grabs onto the wall, pauses (some longer than others), takes a breath and then pushes on; and while it is a way to change direction, it is not the most efficient and does not mimic any element of open-water swimming.

More: Perfect Your Flip Turn With Natalie Coughlin

Learning a new skill like this is often difficult, especially for older athletes; but it is well worth the time and effort to master flip turns.  When I first started training for triathlons, I changed directions in pools with an open turn; and when I worked out with "swimmers," I quickly noticed how rapidly and smoothly they changed directions with their effortless flip-turn. It did not take me long to decide it was time for me to learn. Two weeks later, with lots of water up my nose, I was a convert.

More: Extra Air and Fast Turns in Distance Swimming

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