Swimming Turn


Every competitive swimmer knows the importance of turns in racing. But it’s not just the turn itself that can hugely impact race time. The approach to the turn sometimes has an even bigger effect and is ironically often the area of the race where swimmers pay the least attention to detail, choosing rather to focus on the turn ahead.

So why do swimmers slow down?

Lifting the head to look at the wall is the main reason for slowing down in the approach. This can be argued to improve judgement of distance and thereby to allow for better timing, but it also sharply increases frontal drag and reduces speed dramatically. Lifting the head also negatively impacts the efficiency of the mechanics required to initiate the turn. The other major reason for a loss of speed during the approach is simply not swimming. Many swimmers glide for a period before making their turn, thereby killing their momentum, decelerating, and increasing the work needed to get the legs through the turn.

What’s the fast way?

Every competition pool has a “T” on the floor to indicate the wall is 1.6m away. Keeping the head neutrally aligned and using this “T” to judge the distance to the wall allows swimmers to maintain speed and initiate the turn more efficiently. This is faster, although if not practiced at race pace this can be risky and turns can be compromised.

How big can the impact be? Its only 5m.

Race analysis has shown that swimmers can improve by between 0.5 and 1.5s (level depending) per turn by improving their approaches and attacking the wall instead of slowing down.

How to be faster?

Confidence is key! It is very difficult to swim hard and fast into a wall not knowing if the turn will be a success or not, but the idea of “fast in – fast out” only works if you start with the “fast in” part. It takes long-term repeated practice to ensure skills are so ingrained that they can be performed perfectly under pressure, every time. The trick is to never do a poor approach. Even in warm-up or when exhaustion kicks in, make every approach a good one so that come race day this is repeated. Its not easy but it gets easier with repetition. Excellence is not accidental…


Amy Bathgate
About the Author
Amy Bathgate is the Operations Manager at VS Sports, playing an integral role in product development, innovation, and design, and heading up a team of enthusiastic analysts working towards transforming the way sport is analyzed, scouted, and experienced. With over a decade of expertise in consulting, biomechanics, and performance analysis across various disciplines and levels, she understands that the little details make a big difference. One of her passions and specialties is swimming, and she assists and drives athletes and coaches to achieve their performance potentials using stroke and race analysis to better their understanding of the complexities of the sport in order to go faster and train and perform more efficiently. Amy is also a Dartfish Certified Instructor, certified in Functional Movement Screening, and a former lecturer at the University of Pretoria.