Should You Learn To Tumble Turn?

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One of the questions we often get asked by improving swimmers is: Should I learn to tumble turn?

A tumble turn is often known as a flip-turn in the US and looks like this:

Whether you should put in the time and effort to learn to tumble is a really good question. You might be busy improving your freestyle stroke technique and building up your swim fitness but when is the right time to learn and is it ever essential?

The advantages of tumbling are :

- Ultimately the fastest way to turn because of the mechanics of the turn and the greater in-out spring effect off the wall.
- A fast turn means you can stay with with swimmers who would otherwise be slightly faster than yourself, useful in a squad training situation.
- Easier to execute on a high walled pool without a gutter.
- Going back to push-turns feels clumsy and awkward afterwards.
- You look like a real swimmer!

If you want to become a competitive pool swimmer (racing in the pool) then developing a good tumble turn is going to be essential. Done well, a tumble is ultimately faster (perhaps as much as 0.3-0.5 second per turn) than a good push turn. The key phrase here is 'done well' - a bad tumble can easily be slower than a well executed push-turn.

What are the disadvantages? :

- Tumbling can be challenging to learn because it is disorientating at first and without a constant exhalation, water can easily go up your nose, both of which are very off putting.
- You can't take a breath during the turn itself which makes things harder aerobically, especially when swimming hard over distance.
- It's a skill not used in open-water swimming, so if you are an open water swimmer or triathlete you won't get any advantage from it.
- Requires a supple back.

We suggest:

- As you are developing your swimming, get to the point where you can swim competently and have a good level of swim fitness before giving tumble turns a try. Trying to learn before that point will be a little premature.
- Expect things to be quite hit and miss at first - you'll fluff plenty of them but equally when you nail one it feels great! Gradually your hit ratio will improve.
- You might get comfortable doing them when fresh at the beginning of a swim but after a few laps they feel progressively harder as your breathing rate increases. Keep persevering, over time you will be able to go further and further without reverting back to push turns.

Tumble turns are a nice skill to have in your locker but if you are a recreational or fitness swimmer, or triathlete or open water swimmer, then don't sweat it if you ultimately struggle to pick them up. Put some effort into tuning up your push-turns and you'll only lose a little time to the very best tumblers.

For tips on how to develop your tumbles, check out SS Coach Fiona Ford's 2 minute guide:

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

I actually think tumble turn is useful for open water training.
In open turn you can take a breath and a break every 25m. This is not available in open water.
Tumble turn swimming is closer to the feel of constant swim and the breathing restriction during the turn can be imagined as swimming trough a wave where you also may miss a breath.
I personally tumble turn specifically to train for open water. My open turn would be faster in the pool than my tumble turn but the feel of continuos swimming is more "realistic".

Rob said...

In recent years (I have just turned 50) I have found that after a few tumble turns I get dizzy and it ruins my swim session. Which is a shame because I was just getting into the swing of them :(

Anonymous said...

I also get dizzy sometimes when doing tumble turns, that's very unpleasant, but I intent to insist: I think being capable of naturally tumble turning, as well as jumping into the water at the start, are very important for having more assurance in the water.

So of course it is going to be also useful in open water. The key is to flow with the water, not to fight it, as many triathletes do.

Gavin said...

"Put some effort into tuning up your push-turns..." So, having decided (thanks to this useful article!) that I'm not yet "ready to tumble", what makes a good push turn and how do I tune up mine?

Fred said...

I think you should learn it purely because you look so cool when you do it ;)

Ray said...

I just want to add a comment from personal experience on the potential benefit of tumble turns. Some 6 months ago a minor groin pain kept increasing until by November last I was unable to do any exercise, including swimming. An orthopaedic surgeon diagnosed a labral tear in the right hip most probably caused by my sometimes awkward turn after each length in the pool as I tried to reduce my times. I had the repair operation in December and am now half way through my 3 month rehab with a physiotherapist. Before I start swimming again, I will find an instructor to help me master the tumble turn to improve my turning. My pool is a 25 metre pool, so a 1000 metre swim involves 40 turns. This issue may not apply to many swimmers, but anyone who feels their turns are sometimes less than perfect should seriously consider tumble turns.

Adam Young said...

Great points all - thanks for posting.

Gavin watch out for a future SS feature!


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