In swimming, an open turn might seem pretty straightforward…you touch the wall, turn around, and keep swimming. In reality, it’s not quite that simple.
Whether you’re racing butterfly, breaststroke or IM, or you prefer open turns to flip turns, it’s time to take your turns to the next level! Read on for tips to perfect your technique and shave off extra time in your open turns.
Open Turns vs. Flip Turns
In competition, you will see open turns in the individual medley and the short axis strokes: Breaststroke and butterfly. Swimmers touch the wall, tuck in tight and push off to start their next length.
In backstroke and freestyle (the long axis strokes), most swimmers will do a flip turn. And that’s just what it sounds like: Swimmers do a flip close to the wall and push off to keep swimming. For more flip turn tips, check out this post.
However, it’s important to note that not every swimmer does flip turns. There’s a good chance that many of you reading this choose to do open turns for all four strokes – and that’s totally fine! Let’s dive into a few ways to make your open turns more efficient so you can swim faster during your workouts.
How to Do an Open Turn
A good open turn consists of four steps:
1. Two Hand Touch: For your open turn to be counted as legal in competition, you must touch the wall with both hands simultaneously.
2. Elbow Your Brother: After touching the wall, you’ll start turning. Drive your dominant elbow back, like you’re elbowing someone in the stomach. As you do this, your torso will start to turn toward that elbow and your knees will start to tuck in toward your chest.
3. Call Your Mother: After driving one elbow back, the opposite hand should come by your ear, sort of like you’re “calling” someone on the phone. During this time, you’ll start to drop down under the water in preparation to push off and your feet should make their way toward the wall.
4. Push Off in Streamline: When your feet hit the wall and your arms are in streamline position above your head, it’s time to push off! Maintain a tight streamline to maximize your distance off the wall.
7 Open Turn Mistakes & How to Fix Them
Improve these seven aspects of your open turn to reduce the time spent at the wall and, as a result, swim faster!
1. Not Touching With Two Hands
If you are planning to race breaststroke, butterfly or individual medley, it’s important to practice all open turns with a two-hand touch. If you don’t touch the wall with both hands simultaneously, you will be disqualified in a race. It’s best to build muscle memory now, rather than risk your personal best time not counting in a meet!
If you never plan to race and you want to disregard this rule, go right ahead!
2. Swimming too Close to the Wall
Another mistake we see all too often: Swimmers getting really close to the wall before turning. Try to avoid touching the wall and bending your elbows to pull yourself closer to the wall. Instead, think about keeping your arms extended and staying as far from the wall as you can.
3. Grabbing Onto the Wall
It may be tempting to grab onto the side of the pool to help yourself turn, but do your best not to! A good open turn should not require any sort of grip on the wall. Instead, think about tapping the wall and pushing off of it with your hands to get where you need to go.
4. Pulling Yourself Too High Out of the Water
In that same vein, swimmers who grab onto the wall likely also pull themselves up out of the water when they do an open turn.
This is inefficient – you’re pulling yourself away from the water, which means you’ll have to spend extra time dropping back down into the proper position to push off.
Instead, try to stay as low as you can throughout your turn. Use your momentum to drive you, rather than pulling with your arms!
5. Not Being Compact
Many beginner swimmers are flailing all over the place in their open turns, which creates a lot of excess drag.
As with all other aspects of swimming, we want to decrease drag in our turns as much as we can. In open turns, we reduce drag by being as compact as possible.
To make your body compact in an open turn, focus on tucking your knees into your chest as you initiate your turn. Then, instead of turning around 180 degrees to start swimming again, rotate your body as you drop back to “call your mother.”
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6. Not Pushing Off In Tight Streamline
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Streamline is the fastest you’ll ever be in the water. If you neglect your streamline technique on every open turn, you’re leaving lots of extra speed on the table…and tiring yourself out faster!
Every time you do an open turn, focus on a good streamline. Over time you’ll build muscle memory and soon enough you won’t have to think about it!
7. Training the Movement too Slow
If you want to race (or just swim fast in general), you need to practice fast turns! If you only ever do slow open turns, that’s what you’re going to do in a race.
When you train fast butterfly, breaststroke or IM, you should be working on fast turns as well. The more comfortable you get with the fast pace, the more you’ll be able to refine your technique and work on making your turns as efficient and fast as possible.
Master Open Turns With This Swim Workout
Try this swim workout in the MySwimPro app for some extra open turn practice! Sync your smartwatch for set-by-set guidance and extra analytics.
- Distance: 2,600 yards/meters
- Duration: 55 minutes
- 1 x 300 Freestyle Easy @ 4:30 50 Free, 25 Back
- 4 x 50 Kick @ 1:00, Streamline on Back
- 6 x 50 Transition IM* @ :50
- 4 x 75 Mid Pool IM* @ 1:15
*Transition IM = 1×50 Fly/Back, 1×50 Back/Breast, 1×50 Breast/Free
*75s Mid-Pool IM = Start in the middle of the pool. Swim 12.5m butterfly, 25m backstroke, 25m breaststroke and 12.5m free.
Main Set (2x)
- 4 x 100 IM @ 1:35
- 2 x 50 Butterfly Best Average @ 1:00
- 2 x 50 Breaststroke Best Average @ 1:00
- 1 x 100 Free Easy @ 1:30
1 x 100 Free Easy @ 1:40
What tips do you have for perfecting the open turn? Share your thoughts in the comments! For more swim workouts, technique tips and training plans, download the MySwimPro app.
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