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OPEN TURNS - Which Style Is Better For You?


Which Style Is Better

For You?

Last month, we discussed the 3 steps swimmers must do to set up for a PERFECT open turn. This week, we are diving deeper into what happens after swimmers have completed those 3 steps and both of their hands have touched the wall.

In case you haven’t read Part I of this series, check out last month’s issue of Starting Block Magazine!

Let’s Get Started!

In reality, there are only two styles of an open turn. The two styles are called:

1. The Spin Turn 2. The Crunch Turn*

Both of these styles are still being taught and used by swimmers all around the world. The most interesting piece of these two turns is that they are fundamentally the same movement pattern--with the only major difference being-- where the body is directed towards after the transition between hand touch and push-off.

What Does the Direction of the Body have to do with Open Turns?

The direction of the body is the path the swimmer’s body follows during the turn. With these two turn styles, swimmers can decide what path to follow based off of how they angle their body.

During a Spin Turn – swimmers touch the wall, then immediately angle their ear towards the surface of the water on whatever side they choose to turn with while getting the opposite hip up towards the water’s surface. This allows the swimmer’s legs to crunch up, then spin around to the side—before planting on the wall. So swimmers go from a vertical to a horizontal position, as quick as possible.

During the Crunch Turn – swimmers touch the wall, then they follow the same line they used to hit the wall in the first place to transition back off the wall. It is a straight in and straight out type of turn, where swimmers stay vertical the entire time.

What is the Fundamental Movement Pattern that’s Similar Between these Two Turning Styles?

Here are the STEPS to the fundamental movement pattern that’s similar between these

two styles:

1. As soon as the swimmer’s hands hit the wall, they bend at their knees and bring their knees into their stomach--crunch the body into a small ball.

2. After the ball is completed, swimmers angle their body (according to the turn they are trying to execute) and start rotating their body—staying in a ball---so the feet come forward/under the body and eventually, plant on the wall. The moment the swimmer’s feet plant, the swimmer’s head and chest will be at a further distance from the wall, as they will be holding onto the wall with one semi-straight arm.

In order to get into the position with onearm at the wall, swimmers will let go of the wall with whatever arm they are turning towards, by bending the elbow of that respective arm and bringing their hand towards their side. So if a swimmer turns left, they will remove their left arm and bend their elbow—bringing their left hand towards their side.

Once the arm is at their side, swimmers will externally rotate the forearm of that arm (keeping the elbow bent), but changing the angle of the palm to face away from the body.

After the palm is successfully angled away from the body, swimmers will fully extend that elbow and eventually, winding up into their normal “ready” position.

Key Technique Point: You always follow where your fingertips point, so if your fingertips of your extended arm point down, during this step—you’ll go towards the bottom, etc.

3. Normal “ready” position is defined as such: swimmer’s feet and knees are shoulder

width apart, one hand should go on the wall, and the other arm off the wall—pointing to where the swimmer wants to go.

4. After an awesome “ready” position has been achieved, swimmers perform a traditional push-off by extending the legs and letting go of the wall with the other arm, by bending its’ elbow behind the swimmers head (creating a shark fin). Then eventually, extending that arm straight to reach for the other arm—locking into a streamline—as the swimmer finishes their leg extension.

5. If all four steps are completed correctly, swimmers will push-off the wall nice, tight streamline about 1.5m below the water’s surface.

Pros & Cons of Each Turn Style: Spin Turn:


CONS It’s HARDER to perform Requires great body awareness to spin sideways

Land on the wall in a different ready position, as the toes are angled towards the side of the pool they spun towards, which can add more variability to the push-off.

A swimmer must be able to get their ear down & opposite hip up towards the surface—as quick as possible

Crunch Turn:

PROS It’s EASIER to Perform

GUARANTEED, awesome push-of every time

TWO fewer STEPS on the wall (no ear or hip movement like in a spin turn)

You Still Get A BREATH


Easier to perform this turn without getting into a tight ball, which slows speed down even more

With these Pros and Cons in mind, it’s obvious to me that beginner swimmers and younger swimmers should learn the crunch turn first, then as they progress and get older start teaching the spin turn.

As always with technical advice, just because something is FASTER on paper-doesn’t mean it is FASTER for you. Listen to your coach to see if you can actually execute a great spin turn, and if you can’t—stay with the crunch!


Abbie has been in the competitive swimming realm for over 20 years. From qualifying for the Olympic Trials to working at USA Swimming’s headquarters, Abbie has been on all sides of the sport. Abbie believes anyone with the heart to train can benefit from technical advice!