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  FLIP to the WIDE Side

Printed with permission from:

Pool's Edge Column - Swimming World Magazine - February 2007

By: Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen Aquatic Edge, Inc.

It's never too late to learn something new.

In 1997 I found myself on the pool deck at Cal State University, Bakersfield (CSUB). I was 35 years old, had one year of Division II eligibility left and thought I knew just about everything there was to know about swimming.

I was wrong.

My new coach, Pat Skehan, was one smart lady and an experienced coach. She was smart because she recruited and signed a master's swimmer (me!) to her college program. As for experience, it turns out swimming is in Pat's blood.

Pat's dad was John B. Skehan who owned and operated SKWIM, the very first competitive swim camp in the US that opened back in 1965. Pat began working the camps at the age of 10 or 11, and it was natural that she would choose a career in coaching. As a grad student in 1976, she worked under the great Doc Councilman and decided she really liked working with college age kids. So, she spent nine years coaching at the University of Rochester before heading west to take the head coaching position at CSUB in 1989.

I knew none of this. All I knew was that Pat had given me a second chance to swim at the collegiate level (the first was back in 1980), and I was looking forward to being a part of a college team and to being coached.

In the first week of training at CSUB I noticed a quite a few of my teammates were killing me on the walls. Later in the week we were working on turns. Coach Pat yelled out to me, “Hey Karlyn…split your feet when you flip!”

Huh? What does she mean, "split your feet?" I have been doing flip turns for almost 30 years this was news to me.

Skehan replied, “Tuck your chin, do a tight somersault, split your legs, plant your feet and push off on your back," she said. “Your feet should be about shoulder width apart when they hit the wall."

Hmmm…this was a totally NEW kind of turn, very different than the one I had learned many years ago. You know the one; the knees and ankles are squeezed together, the body and legs twist or turn slightly to the side as you flip (or just after), the feet are placed cautiously on the wall (watch those heels!) followed by a big push. I've done a million or so myself.

So I try it. On my very next turn I tuck, roll, split, plant and push.

WOW! I literally EXPLODE off the wall. I have just done the best turn of my life.

"Splitting your feet on a turn comes out of what I learned while earning my master's degree in biomechanics at Indiana University," Skehan explains, "it's basic physics."

"Have you ever seen a great basketball player set his feet together and try to jump? Probably not," Skehan says. "Pushing off the wall is the same mechanics as jumping, only done on the horizontal plain. Splitting your feet puts them in a straight line with your hips, which gives you more power in your push. You will always find more power in straight lines," Skehan concludes.

A more powerful push means greater wall speed and more distance traveled, which translates into more streamlining and less swimming. Sold.

Besides splitting the feet, the other big difference is that you are not wasting time and energy twisting or turning before leaving the wall. Simply split your feet, get off the wall FAST and push off on your BACK in a streamline position. As you leave the wall, rotate to your side and use your first arm stroke (the one closest to the bottom) to transition to your stomach. NEVER breathe on the very first pull or look forward as this will slow down your momentum.

I immediately began practicing my "split feet turn" at every opportunity and soon reaped the benefits; lifetime bests and some the fastest turns on the CSUB team.

Don't get me wrong…the "new" turn felt totally weird at first, but weird is a good thing when you are trying to make a change. However, initiating change takes ACTION, so go out and give this new turn a try at your very first opportunity.

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic. Begin it now." -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

BIO: While attending CSUB on a full athletic scholarship, Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen at the age of 36 won three events at the 1998 NCAA DIV. II Swimming Championships (400 IM, 100 back and 200 back) setting an NCAA record in the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 2:00.54. In doing so, she became the oldest person to set and/or hold an NCAA record.

Karlyn's killer turns can be seen in the "bonus" section of her DVD: Go Swim Freestyle Swimming with Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen at www.goswim.tv

For more info visti www.aquaticedge.org