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Breaststroke – Timing the Turn

Proper breaststroke turns are all about preparation for how you’re going to hit the wall.

In breaststroke, more than in any other stroke, races can be won or lost on the walls. Sure, there’s a bunch of swimming in between those walls, but if you swim at the same speed as the person next to you, you can WIN on the walls.

When does the turn start?

Most people think it’s when you get your hands on the wall. Wrong! At the very least, the turn starts at the flags; for great breaststrokers, the turn starts all the way at the other end of the pool — on the underwater pull.

In the two video clips, you can see how two great breaststrokers — world record holder Brendan Hansen and NCAA Champion and former World Championship team member Dave Denniston — time their turns. (Click here to buy a copy of Dave’s BREASTSTROKE TURNS & PULLOUTS DVD or Brendan’s BREASTSTROKE DVD.)

Each swimmer adjusts his stroke from the flags so that he lands with eyes down and body fully extended, almost in streamline position. This allows the swimmers to send all their energy and momentum into the wall.

Proper breaststroke turns are all about preparation for how you’re going to hit the wall. If your last stroke into the wall is short and quick…or long and gliding…you’ve messed with your rhythm, and broken your momentum. It’s ideal if you end a length fully extended, and without any break in the rhythm or natural extension of your stroke.

The first step in developing more consistency in your breaststroke turns is to become aware of how many strokes you take from the flags to the wall. The flags are a great measuring point for all strokes, not just for backstroke. In breaststroke as in backstroke, if you reach the flags at a point in your stroke that will cause you to either end short, or long, you need to adjust NOW! IMMEDIATELY!

Either shorten your stroke just a bit, to add the half stroke you’ll be lacking, or start to reach farther on the last 2 to 3 strokes. Most of the time, it’s better to shorten just a bit, or to add a half-stroke, because this makes it easier to maintain momentum. If you decide to stretch it out by gliding, you can end up waiting too long for the wall, which causes you to lose momentum. Experience is key, and you can gain experience every day in practice by paying attention.

If you find that you’re not hitting each wall with body extended, then it’s time to move your preparation line from the flags all the way back to the push-off. Small adjustments on your push-off and pullout can pay huge dividends on your next turn. Make sure you leave the wall with the best streamline possible, and stay as tight as possible during your underwater pull. These simple adjustments can give you a little more distance — enough to set up a great turn.

The reverse is also true, based on where YOUR personal strength lies. If your swimming is better than your push-offs, then you may want to shorten your underwater pull just a bit. While this isn’t the best idea for every swimmer, it might work for you if it gives you one additional full stroke in each length, to set up for a well-timed turn.

The purpose of timing your turns is not to make room for another stroke or to reduce your stroke count. The purpose is to get rid of half strokes and extra-long strokes as you approach the wall. The idea is to consistently hit the wall at the end of a full stroke.

You can watch extended video of Brendan’s and Dave’s turns by picking up copies of their DVDs: GO SWIM BREASTSTROKE WITH BRENDAN HANSEN and GO SWIM BREASTSTROKE TURNS & PULLOUTS WITH DAVE DENNISTON. (And if you think they have great turns, you should see how they swim!) These are two seriously informative videos.

Editor’s Note: In February 2005, Dave Denniston was injured in a sledding accident and is currently paralyzed from the waist down. In August, he will be representing the United States at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.  To read more about this truly inspirational athlete, visit his website, www.davedenniston.com.