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At race pace, James’s butterfly turn takes about one second – from the moment his fingertips touch the wall to the moment his feet leave the wall. This is way too fast to see the details, so we’re going to slow it down, and take a look at about a dozen small things that James does…that add up to a lightning-fast turn.
So let’s start with the moment when James’s fingers first touch the wall. Naturally, he practices a two-handed touch on every wall. That’s a given, so let’s look beyond that – at the arms. James has timed his approach so that his arms are fully extended at the touch. He wants to be traveling at maximum velocity going into the turn, and that’s going to be RIGHT AFTER his hands hit the water after the pull and recovery.
Next thing we notice is the head and eyes. James doesn’t look at the wall. He looks down, and this keeps his head and shoulders in a better line heading into the turn. Again, it’s all about maintaining velocity going into the turn.
Next thing we notice are the legs, especially the slight bend at the knee. Without disrupting his overall body line, James is already moving into the tuck as his hands reach for the wall. This is just one of the many fine points that make James’s turns so fast. Instead of touching the wall and THEN thinking about the tuck, James ANTICIPATES the tuck and gets ready for it. Instead of REACTING to the wall, he ANTICIPATES what will come next when his fingers touch the wall.
So now let’s look at the actual touch – here -- and what happens in the split second right after the touch. The first thing we see is that the right arm collapses and the head continues to move toward the wall. James knows that speed and momentum carried INTO the wall equals speed and momentum OUT of the wall.
Next thing we notice is the coordination between the left arm and the legs. The left hand comes off the wall IMMEDIATELY after the touch. James sends the ELBOW back and the hand back in one decisive, continuous move. At the same time, he tucks his knees and sends his hips and feet into the wall. The BACKWARD motion of the left arm intensifies the FORWARD motion of the hips and feet. These two opposing motions work TOGETHER to intensify the speed of his turn. Let’s notice one more fine point – the feet. James actually CROSSES his feet during the tuck. Not all breaststrokers do this, but James finds that it decreases resistance and increases the speed of his rotation.
James practices turning to both sides, and here we get a better look at how the turning hand just BRUSHES the wall and lets go immediately, as James sends the elbow back and the hips and legs forward.
One thing James does, that we’re seeing more and more at the elite level, is that he spins slightly sideways rather than falling back as he gets his feet to the wall. He wants to be just slightly toward the breast when his feet hit the wall, and the spin turn gets him into position a bit quicker than a fall-back turn.
Finally, we love how James is in a super-streamline position with the hands, arms, and head BEFORE his feet leave the wall. It’s just one more fine point that James works on, that we like to see ALL swimmers work on…to achieve maximum speed on their turns.