Improving Your Open Turns on Flat Walls


by Russell Mark // National Team High Performance Consultant

Reviewed by Dan McAllen // USA Swimming Rules and Regulations Committee, Chair

At the Phillips 66 National Championships and all major international competitions, the touch pads extend above the surface making the turn walls completely flat – meaning without a gutter.  On a flat wall, executing a breaststroke turn, butterfly turn, or IM transition with one hand or both hands above the surface can be advantageous to a swimmer.  The elevated hand can provide leverage to push the upper body away from the wall while the legs swing up toward the wall.  With flat walls being much more prevalent overseas than in the United States, it is no surprise that many elite non-US swimmers already turn using this technique.

As of September 2013, USA Swimming and FINA rules made it clear that the hands have to touch apart and at the same time.  Section 101.2.4 (breaststroke) and Section 101.3.4 (butterfly) of the USA Swimming rule book states: 

“[T]he touch shall be made with both hands separated and simultaneously at, above, or below the water surface."

With the inclusion of the word “separated” and no requirement that a swimmer must touch at a turn or finish with the hands on the same horizontal plane, touching with one hand at or below the surface, while the other hand is above the surface is perfectly legal, as long as they also touch simultaneously.