Breaststroke and Butterfly Turns (Open Turns)

The swimmer tucks hips, knees and feet up tight under the body. They get the feet on the wall fast and kick back at the wall with both feet with power and drive. The leading arm (first arm off the wall) is kept in tight by bending it at the elbow and keeping it in close to the side. The swimmer keeps the trailing arm tight by bending at the elbow and ‘saluting’ or pretending to ‘pick up the phone’ as the leave the wall.

PROGRESSIONS for breaststroke and butterfly turns

Open turns

Demonstrations by swimmers skilled in open turns will be helpful for beginners.

The progressions and actual turn mechanics are the same for these strokes. A simultaneous two-hand touch is required as per FINA (swimming’s international governing body) swimming rules. As soon as the turn is completed and the feet have left the wall, individual rules for the two strokes again apply.

The turn is broken into three basic components: approach to the wall, turn and pull-out.

Approaches to the wall should be practiced, so swimmers touch the wall on ‘a full stroke’ – that is, with arms extended into full recovery. Gliding into the wall causes swimmers to lose momentum for the change of direction.

Rather than gripping the pool deck, swimmers should be encouraged to touch the wall at surface level with the fingertips. The turns are easier to execute if the swimmer ‘leans’ on the wall with the fingertips, rather than the palms.

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Touch – arm back – turn to side

This drill could be introduced on land at first, then practiced in the pool, with the feet on the bottom.

The swimmer touches the wall as described above. One hand remains ‘leaning’ on the wall, with the elbow very slightly bent. The eyes should continue to look at this hand throughout this drill.

The other arm, with elbow leading, is drawn quickly back past the rib cage and extended back to the next direction the body will take at completion of pull-out, at or just below the surface.

This has the effect of turning the body from front on to the wall to being slightly sideways. However, the swimmer should not turn sideways but try to go from front to back, with one elbow being pushed into the side (ribs) and palm upwards to the other hand (after leaving the wall), imitating an answering-the-phone action.

Approach and turn

Touch – arm down – feet on wall – streamline

In this drill the swimmer bring the knees to the chest and the feet to the wall in a pendulum motion.

As the feet approach the wall they ‘change places’ with the hand on the wall. The uppor body moves away from the wall, beginning to submerge on the side. The ‘leaning’ hand and arm, with the elbow bent about 90 degrees, slides behind the head and streamlines with the other arm. The eyes watch the ‘leaning’ hand until it leaves the wall. Feet and body are angled sideways on the all. Hips and knees are flexed.

The swimmer holds this position for 2 to 3 seconds before standing up.

Butterfly pull-out

The swimmer performs the turn progressions into the streamlined position, extending the legs and hips powerfully. As they leave the wall on their side, they use at least six dolphin kicks to rotate from the side to face down, in readiness for the first stroke.

Breaststroke pull-out

Pull – push – shrug – – hug – streamline

This drill can be learnt concurrently with the above approach and turn, but they are not combined until the swimmer is familiar with each, as these are complicated moves for beginners.

Once again, land practice is useful, particularly for younger swimmers.

The underwater pull after the start and the turn is the only time in breaststroke when the hands are allowed to pull through to the hips.

A butterfly-shaped pull is drawn with the hands and arms. The elbows are fully extended as the hands push back until the thumbs touch the thighs. The shoulders shrug towards the ears. Elbows hug the rib cage and hands are drawn forwards along the center of the body, back to the streamlined position. Hands are kept close to body.

Once land practice has developed some idea of the pull-out, swimmers can practice from a push-off in the water.

The legs remain straight but relaxed.

Pull – push – shrug – hug – streamline – kick

Once the swimmer is familiar with the longer pull, the kick can be added during land practice or in the water.

During the forward recovery of the arms, the feet are drawn up in readiness for the kick. As the arms snap into full extension, the feet kick forceful back and together. The chin should be kept tucked in close to the neck throughout the pull-out to maintain a streamlined compact body position. The face looks directly towards the bottom, but the eyes can see slightly forwards. The head should break the surface as the first surface stroke reaches its widest point.

Swimmers enjoy the challenge of holding a tennis ball with the chin while practicing streamlining off the wall, and later performing a pull-out, to establish that the head should not move up and down during the pull-out.

When the swimmer can manage the basics of the approach and turn and the pull-out, the two can be combined. As the legs are extended, driving the body off the wall, rotation from the side to face down is completed before the pull-out starts.

The swimmer should be able to start the first surface stroke as soon as the kick is completed.

Turning practice variations

A great practice is to learn to turn to both sides equally well. In training instructors have many ways of developing this skill:

  • In morning sessions swimmers turn to the left. In afternoon sessions they turn to the right.
  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday turn to the left; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday turn to the right.
  • Alternate turning each lap. First lap turn to the left, second lap turn to the right.
  • Alternate turning each effort. If doing 10×50 breaststroke, for example, swimmers turn left on the odd-number efforts (1,3,5,7,9) and to the right on the even-number efforts (2,4,6,8,10).

As with anything, the more a swimmer does ‘proper perfect prior practice’ of a skill the better they get at it. For variation, when swimmers are swimming long freestyle sets, they can explode the last three strokes into the wall breaststroke or fly, do a fast breast or fly turn, explode three strokes off the wall in breast or fly then go back to swimming freestyle.

There are countless variations to turning practices and drills. The only limit is the imagination of the instructor!

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