Monday, January 21, 2013

The Wall is Power

It is NOT a place to stop for a second and catch your breath.

It's not??

On Friday morning, four of us showed up at the pool for Masters swimming. During the warm-up, Christine realized that none of us did flip turns. Only one of us had even attempted them before.

So she threw out her planned workout and announced that we were going to learn how to do flip turns.

Because "The wall is power. It is NOT a place to stop and catch your breath.".

Learning how to do flip turns is a five-step process.

Step one: do a somersault in the water. Unlike my rather horrifying lack of gymnastic ability on land, I am a little more agile in the water. It didn't hurt that I mastered the water somersault during our summer trips to Cape Cod and Florida when I was a wee lass. Others in our group were not quite so lucky and ended up with lots of chlorinated water up their noses. Not a fun way to start.

Step two: stand arm's length from the wall and do a somersault. "I promise you won't hit your head" Christine said. I stood what felt like two inches from the wall and took a few deep breaths. Omigod I'm going to hit my head!

I didn't.

"CĂ©line, you're not standing close enough to the wall." Omigod, I'm totally going to hit my head.

I didn't...but it was scary.

Step three: do a somersault next to the wall and end with your feet planted against the wall, ready to push. Once I had mastered the wall flip, adding the foot plant was pretty simple.

Step four: somersault, plant feet, raise arms above your head and push hard off the wall - staying on your back. Ok - that was pretty easy too.

Step five: somersault, plant feet, raise arms above your head, push hard off the wall and spin around so you're on your stomach again and ready to continue freestyle. This is where my awkward, inability to feel where my body is in space issues became rather evident. I pushed off, spun around and found myself heading straight down to the bottom of the pool at an angle that would have had me two lanes over in no time.

"Alright" said Christine "I want you to swim 250m and do flip turns. No more stopping at the wall.".

We all looked at each other with a slight look of fear and pushed off the wall. It became evident pretty quickly that flip turns while swimming take a bit of getting used to. Breathing rhythms that I've finally mastered no longer work when, every 25m, you have to do a somersault (blowing water out of your nose the entire time so you don't get chlorine brain), push off the wall, flip over and kick. That's a lot of time without breathing when you're already panting.

For the runners out there, imagine running hard and after every 50 steps you run you have to hold your breath for 8 steps. Actually, it's more like you have to exhale continuously for 8 steps.

Out of 10 flip turns we did, I managed two well and the other 8 involved chocking, water up my nose, missing the wall or pushing off in the wrong direction. Very frustrating.

"Do it again" Christine said.

We did it again. It went a little better and I probably did four respectable flip turns.

"Do it again" Christine said.

I was no longer afraid and was now determined to figure out a breathing pattern that would allow me to do a flip turn and not come up gasping for air. It got better with each flip but I was still having a lot of trouble with my breathing. All I could do was gasp and sputter from end to end.

How do people do this when they are swimming as fast as they can, panting like crazy?

I have no idea how they do it but I know that they do. So I will be able to as well - with lots of practice.


  1. I printed out your five step process and shall bring this to the pool with me on Friday morning. I have wanted to try these for a long time but just never sure exactly how to begin. Keep it up!

  2. I really need to start working on these again! I see the cool kids (literally) doing them as well as a couple of the former collegiate swimmers, and they make it look so easy. Practice, practice, practice.