Freestyle Flip Turn: Why The Breakout Matters

by SwimSwam 3

August 04th, 2017 International, Masters, Opinion, Training

Courtesy of Gary Hall Sr., 10-time World Record Holder, 3-time Olympian, 1976 Olympic Games US Flagbearer and The Race Club co-founder.

The breakout is the final part of the freestyle flip-turn and it is also where mistakes are commonly made. A bad breakout can easily transform a good turn into a….not-so-good one. There are several important elements to performing a great freestyle breakout.

Dolphin Kick Transition to Flutter Kick

First, after the completion of the final dolphin kick, there must be an immediate transition to flutter kick. Any delay in this change over will cause the body speed to slow quickly, as the legs are the only source of propulsion, since leaving the wall.

Pulling Motion Initiated From The Streamline Position

Second, the pulling motion of the hand should be initiated from the streamlined position. There is a common tendency of swimmers to separate their hands and arms in front long before the first pull is started, increasing frontal drag.

Pulling Motion Is Straight Back, Under The Edge of The Body

Third, the pulling motion of the hand should be straight back, under the edge of the body, not out to the side, then back. Avoiding the out sweep of the hand and arm will also help reduce frontal drag.

Leading Arm Stays Straight In The Streamline

Fourth, the leading arm needs to be kept straight, in a streamline. Most swimmers will relax the front arm, while the other is initiating the pull. Even a small bend in the elbow of the leading arm will increase frontal drag significantly. I often tell swimmers to push the lead arm forward at the breakout, while the other pulls backward, as if they were finishing the race and reaching for the wall.

Keep The Chin Down On The Chest Throughout The Breakout

Finally, keep the chin down on the chest throughout the breakout. It is so tempting to want to look up to see where the surface is, but don’t do it. Lifting the head up has a horrible impact on increasing frontal drag. Trust that you pushed off the wall straight enough that when you take your first recovery stroke, you will find air up there.


With regard to breathing, if the race is 100 meters or less, it is preferable not to breathe on the first stroke or more. For 200 meters and up, that becomes impractical, as the need for oxygen outweighs the potential time gain of holding the breath on the first stroke.

In summary, don’t treat your turns lightly, as I did as a swimmer. Treat them with respect and as an opportunity, rather than an inconvenience. Work all four parts of the freestyle turn diligently and constantly strive to make your dolphin kick faster and stronger. If you work your turns hard in practice, you will soon find that you are leaving your competition behind, rather than the other way around. That alone is worth the effort.

Watch Freestyle Flip Turn: The Pushoff and Breakout

Read More:

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Gary Hall, Sr., Technical Director and Head Coach of The Race Club (courtesy of TRC)

Gary Hall, Sr., Technical Director and Head Coach of The Race Club (courtesy of TRC)

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr [email protected]  
<http://[email protected] <


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5 years ago

Yes Gary. But when are you going to teach us how to the backstroke breakout works? I’ve seen Koga doing a fancy movement

8 years ago

I second that. Gary Hall Jr. knows his stuff and i find his technique tips very helpful.

8 years ago

Thanks for this series Gary, very helpful and I incorporated advice from this breakout article into morning practice today! Hope to see you share more of your knowledge with swimswam, I suspect I speak for some lurkers as well :p