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JOURNEY 27: The Importance of Tumble Turns and Streamlines in ITU Racing

ITU racing is the fastest form of a triathlon race. This is because the bike leg is draft legal, meaning you can ride in a pack. Therefore, you have fresher legs for the run because when you draft behind someone you spend up to 30% less energy due to the reduction in air resistance. When racing at this speed, gaining every little advantage and taking seconds from your competitors is key. This means the swim leg is critical. You should aim to position yourself at the front of the swim to ensure you’re in the lead group on the bike. It’s extremely difficult to gain ground on the lead bike pack, particularly if they are working together and riding fast. The swim leg is vital to setting up your entire race and could be the difference between winning and not winning.

Some junior ITU races are swum in a pool. As opposed to open water swimming, the pool races obviously require turns at each end. A poor turn and streamline can cost you up to 2-3 seconds compared to a well-executed turn. A 400m swim in a 50m pool requires 7 turns, so you could potentially lose around 20 seconds in your swim from poor turns. Even more time will be lost in a longer swim. Therefore, inefficient turns in the swim could cost you a spot in the front pack and from there it will be extremely difficult to win the race.

A tumble turn is the quickest and most efficient turn. So, how do you achieve a quality tumble turn and streamline position?

Here are ETPA’s top tips for tumble turns and streamlines:

- Approach the wall at speed:

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction (Newtons 3rd law), so the faster you come into the wall the faster you will push off.

- Don’t breathe on your last stroke:

Breathing slows you down because you move your body into a less streamlined position and, as mentioned above, you want to maintain speed into the wall.

- Position both arms by your side:

After the last stroke with each arm, leave your arms by your hips, with your fingers pointing towards the other end of the pool, and they will stay in this position throughout the turn. While your body flips over, your arms will act as levers and push against the water to help increase flip speed. This means as your legs end up on the wall your arms are still pointing down the pool and are already out in front in a streamline position.

- Know where to start your turn:

The point where you start your turn is important to be able to generate the maximum force off the wall. Starting too close to the wall means your legs will be cramped and it will take longer to push off. Alternatively, if you turn too far from the wall your legs will have less range to push off from, so you won’t be able to push off as forcefully.

- Lead the turn with your head:

Once you’re ready to start the turn the first thing to do is lead with your head by pushing it down in the direction you want to go. Your head will lead the action for the rest of your body to follow.

- Tuck your body in:

To make your turn as quick and efficient as possible tuck your chin in and bend your knees. If you don’t do this, the radius from your centre of gravity is larger and your speed will decrease. By tucking your body into a ball you are minimising the radius and therefore increasing your speed.

- Legs straight over the top:

To have the fastest turn possible you want to take the shortest path. You want your feet to end up on the wall, so to get them there you must flip them directly over your head as this is the shortest path.

- Your arms must be in a streamline position before your feet hit the wall:

As mentioned previously you want to finish your last 2 strokes with your arms by your sides. This allows you to leave your arms in the same position while the rest of your body flips so that once you’ve flipped, your arms are already above your head. You can then position them into a streamline quickly before your feet hit the wall.

- Feet hit the wall shoulder width apart:

Pushing off the wall is similar to doing a squat jump but horizontal in the water. When doing a squat jump you can’t jump as high or generate as much force when your feet are together or too far apart. The best position is standing with your feet shoulder width apart to jump the highest and the same is for pushing off the wall in swimming to be able to go further underwater.

- Push off the wall whilst upside down:

When your feet are on the wall you will be upside down. Push off the wall and then twist onto your front once you have left the wall.

- Butterfly kicks:

Doing underwater butterfly kicks increases the speed and distance you travel underwater and as a minimum should be taking you past the flags.

- Do not breathe on your first stroke:

Using the same principle that breathing on your last stroke will slow you down, so will breathing on your first. You should be accelerating away from the wall and you don’t want to lose speed whilst accelerating, so avoid breathing on your first stroke of the lap.

To achieve an ideal streamline position, you want to have your:

- Hands overlapping

- Biceps squeezing the back of your head (no space between arms and head)

- Legs fully extended and are close together with toes pointed

- Head in a neutral position, looking straight ahead not forwards

- Trunk/core in a neutral position (no rounding or excessive arching, should have natural arch)

- Shoulders/arms forming a straight line with your torso and legs


Keisuke Kobayashi, Koji Kaneoka, Hideki Takagi, Yasuo Sengoku, & Masahiro Takemura. (2015). Lumbar Alignment and Trunk Muscle Activity during the Underwater Streamline Position in Collegiate Swimmers. Journal of Swimming Research, 23, 33–43.

Wadley, B. (2012). Ideal Preparatio N for the High School Athlete to Become a Collegiate Sprinter. ASCA Newsletter, 2012(5), 25–26.


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