The Corkscrew Open Water Turn

If you are looking to excel in open water races or triathlon swim legs then you need to regularly practise your turns. Every open water turn gives you the opportunity to save a few seconds and the possibility of dropping other swimmers who may be drafting off you.

In this post we're going to look at an advanced way of turning called a corkscrew turn. It's a fast and tight way to cut round a buoy and a very useful skill to have in your locker. Even if you are not an advanced swimmer give this a try in training, it's a lot of fun and makes turns a lot easier when you need to cut a tight line at a turn buoy.

The Corkscrew Turn

Take a look at the following image sequence of Paul Newsome demonstrating this turn:

Paul approaches at full speed (1) and slides his arm closest to the buoy (2) past it, note at this point he has his back to the buoy and can't see it. He then flips onto his back (3) and his recovering arm comes over the top as in backstroke, enters the water at the front (4) and continues the body rotation back onto his front again (5). Setting off on his new heading he quickly gets back up to speed using good stroke rhythm and a healthy burst of leg kick (6).

Turning left (as shown above) you slide your left hand past the buoy to rotate onto your back, whilst turning right you slide your right arm past. Make sure you practise both! In a particularly tight turn you might not be able to turn sufficiently in a single corkscrew, in which case perform two in a row, one immediately followed by another.

If you are relatively new to swimming then this may look like an advanced skill but it is not actually that hard when you get the feel and timing of it.

Turns And Strategy

A conventional turn bends you through a wide arc as you stay on your front and you gradually stroke around the turn (blue line below) :

That's fine but if the wider path is blocked by slow swimmers you are going to be held up without the ability to perform a corkscrew turn which is much tighter (red). In relation to other swimmers drafting you, if they can't perform a tight turn themselves then you have a golden opportunity to shake them off your toes.

Practise In Training

There's very little chance of turning up on race day and performing a good corkscrew turn without practising them beforehand. Get together with some friends in open water, or in an open area of your pool, and work on getting the feel and rhythm of them. It's a lot of fun and like all open water skills can make a huge difference to your performance on race day, so much so that you should practise these skills all year round either in open water or in the pool.

Swim Smooth!


Paulo Neves said...

Thank you! Nice tip! Although I had never been told this technique, once I tried something similar and it worked! The next time, it did not work at all. It takes some practice I thought then! Now I understand I was probably rotating in the wrong direction! Never thought of the proper technique so I guess I was choosing a random direction. Thank you for your clear explanation! I am looking forward to getting in the water and try this myself again and again! You say you can do 2 corkscrews in a row to turn around a particularly tight turn, which makes a lot of sense. Do you think it can be done at the end of a pool lane instead of the traditional flip turn?

BobC said...

How important is kicking to completing the turn?

Would it be possible to get an underwater video of this turn?

Adam Young said...

Hi Paulo,

If you're very good at the turn you can do it in the confines of a swimming lane but you may need a little more space at first. Some pools use double lanes - that would be ideal!

Hi Bob,

Kick is quite important to help keep your momentum up but if you have great technique doing it you can use less kick. It depends a bit on the length of your stroke etc.

At the moment we don't have any underwater video of it but that's a good idea for the future.


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