Learning Tumble Turns

In March, 6 months or so after Catalina, I was finally swimming at a reasonable pace, without pain from my shoulders. It took that long, swimming much shorter distances over the winter, to nurse them back to health. Looking at the swim distances covered by month, I ‘only’ covered 247 km from October to March, vs 410 km over the same period the year before.

At the beginning of March, I decided to try something I had shied away from for years, learning to do tumble turns (flip turns in the US).

Historically, all of my pool swimming over the previous years has been done with ‘open’ turns. I would hit the wall, take a massive big breath while swivelling round, before pushing off, typically covering 5 metres before taking my first stroke. Many times I had swum in lanes next to people doing tumble turns, and seen them take distance out of me on every turn. At 2Swim4Life, nearly all of the faster swimmers were doing tumble turns, in various flavours.

I started off with just a few tumble turns, and only at the deep end of the pool. I was terrified of trying to tumble at the shallow end, in little more than a metre of water depth. I found that I could do them pretty easily, but they were achieved in the same way many things are in my life…. with brute force and ignorance. While some of them were ‘nailed’, I would surface after the push off gasping for air, and in poor shape to complete the next length. I clearly needed to make the whole tumble turn more relaxed, less aerobic, and to train my body to become more used to NOT having that massive extra breath at the end of each length.

I learned that the trick was to put a 1/4 twist into the somersault, then to throw the second required 1/4 twist into the push off the wall. Plenty of videos are available on the internet to help with that. Actually, more of the videos suggest not twisting in the first part, but doing a whole flip onto your back, then doing the whole 1/2 twist in the push off. I am sure this works great too, but doesn’t seem to work so well for me, especially as I have dodgy hips….


Tumble No Twist

Tumble No Twist


Sideways Tumble

Sideways Tumble

Later that week, I decided to spend 15 minutes at the end of a session trying to tumble turn at the shallow end. It was a bit of a leap of faith type exercise. I felt deeply uncomfortable throwing my legs over, and having my head so close to the pool floor. At first, I tended to initiate the somersault too early, and would find myself missing the wall completely, floating in an undignified heap at the end of the pool. But surprisingly quickly, the shallow end tumbles improved, and after a short while, instances of bits of me hitting the floor, or complete fails, became rarer and rarer.

The next step was to start introducing tumbles at both ends of the pool, in longer and longer blocks. I decided to go ‘cold turkey’. I was now going to only use tumble turns where possible. Open turns were gone for ever! I was still struggling with efficiency, and had the horrible feeling of being very out of breath after just a few lengths. But session by session, and after only a couple of weeks, I was swimming 100 uninterrupted lengths, all with tumbles, and not feeling like I was going to die afterwards.

After about 5 weeks now, I can swim 100 lengths at a good pace, similar to what I was able to do before with open turns.  I am still waiting for an improvement over what I could do before, but I am confident that will come! I am not sure I look that stylish, but at least the arm waving to stabilise myself has now gone, and I can tumble in one smooth motion.

There is a valid question on why someone who tends to swim long distances outside needs tumble turns. The answer is I don’t really, but there are no epic swims planned for this year, and this gives me something new to work on, and to hopefully avoid getting too bored in the pool 🙂

Next task – going back to school on my stroke…….


2 thoughts on “Learning Tumble Turns

  1. *chuckles*

    I swear I thought you couldn’t become a marathon swimmer until you’d cleared the flip turn hurdle. I can do them. Hate them. Prefer (and usually DO) open turns, and only learned flip turns because I didn’t feel like a “real swimmer” unless I could do them.

    But congrats on learning a new skill!

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