A Turn That Is Ever-Changing: The Back To Breast Transition

Elizabeth Pelton transitions from backstroke to breaststroke in the 200 IM.
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Taylor Byers, Swimming World College Intern.

Transition turns in the individual medley are crucial to a successful swim. Within the past couple of years, the backstroke to breaststroke transition turn has stirred up a lot conversation. Coaches and swimmers are constantly testing different ways to complete the turn, along with finding new tricks on how to make this transition faster. As long as the official rules are followed for a successful completion of the turn, it does not matter how a swimmer executes it. This is the official rule for the backstroke to breaststroke turn in the individual medley according to USA Swimming and the NCAA:

The swimmer must touch the wall while on the back. Once a legal touch has been made, the swimmer may turn in any manner, but the shoulders must be at or past the vertical toward the breast when the swimmer leaves the wall, and the prescribed breaststroke form must be attained prior to the first arm stroke.

The best turn method for swimmers is the one that works best for the particular individual. Below are three common turn styles that swimmers tend to use in the individual medley.

Open Turn

The open turn is most commonly described as the “touch-and-go.” This is when the swimmer is finishing the backstroke length of the individual medley and touches the wall with one hand while still on their back. The swimmer then quickly brings the knees to the chest, allowing them to get their feet to the wall. Once the feet are planted on the wall, the swimmer can then push off to start the breaststroke length. The swimmer must make sure they push off the wall where their shoulders are at or past vertical toward the breast so that they complete it legally.

Jessie Patterson, the head coach of Derry Area Aqua Club located in Derry, Pa., feels that the open back to breast turn is the most difficult turn to master in the individual medley. In her opinion, it is crucial for beginner swimmers to master this transition. Patterson says, “Beginners need to practice controlling their body, and the open turn requires you to be able to position your feet on the wall as fast as possible and then leave the wall. This takes a lot of coordination that younger swimmers sometimes don’t have naturally. The turn requires a lot of practice.”

Somersault or Suicide Turn

The bucket or suicide turn was one of the first renditions of the back to breast turn after the open turn was established. This turn consists of the swimmer touching the wall on their back after the backstroke portion of the event and doing a backwards flip turn to bring their feet to the wall. The key to this turn is to touch the wall deeper below the surface and to bring the knees around quickly. Another factor to note is that fully completing this turn with the breaststroke pullout that follows requires more oxygen than the open turn method.

Johnny Highlands, the head coach of Belle Vernon Aqua Club located in Belle Vernon, Pa., feels that the bucket turn is an elite level turn. In order to succeed at it, you must practice frequently because you are limited with the oxygen you have for your breaststroke pullout. Highlands believes that it is a fast turn if done properly and notes that the bucket turn must be catered to the individual swimmer. Some swimmers may be able to hold the pullouts longer, while others may have to rush the pullout a little more. It all depends on the breath control and the strength of the swimmer.

Crossover Turn

The crossover turn is a newer method that more and more swimmers are mastering. Although every swimmer has their own twist on this turn, there are two different ways of completing it. The first way is to take the last stroke of backstroke and touch the wall on the swimmer’s side, not letting the shoulders go past 90 degrees (so they are still on their back). As soon as the hand touches the wall, the swimmer rotates over to their stomach, their arm out in front, continuing to touch the wall. Now they are able to perform a normal flip turn, pushing off at or past vertical towards the breast in streamline ready to start the underwater pullout.

The second main way of performing the crossover turn is to touch the wall on the swimmer’s side, just like the first method. Then, the swimmer will push the wall behind them, bringing their forehead to their knees. The feet will come around to the wall sideways rather than over-top as in the first method. The feet will come to the wall so that they can push off on their stomach ready to start the breaststroke pullout. As with the bucket turn, the crossover turn requires more oxygen to complete both the turn and the breaststroke pullout.

Jeff Thompson, head coach for Germantown Academy Aquatic Club and Germantown Academy High School, believes that really fit and athletic swimmers should do the crossover turn. Thompson says: “You must be fit so that your pull out is not compromised from the lack of oxygen by not doing the open turn transition. You have to be athletic, because the turn requires it; to execute it poorly is a detriment to your speed.” In his opinion, the crossover is faster than the open turn, but only if the pullout is not compromised.

Several different opinions exist regarding turns, so researchers decided to put them to the test. A study was conducted by the department of HPER at Northern Michigan University on the force and time of backstroke to breaststroke turns. From analyzing turns from 14 NCAA Division II women swimmers, it was found that there is no difference in force between the open, bucket or crossover turn. However, it was found that the fastest turn of all three methods is the bucket turn. The study suggests that if the tested swimmers had more time to practice the turns, then the results may have differed.

The backstroke to breaststroke transition is a turn that has changed greatly over the past several years. This vast change goes with the nature of the sport of swimming, where coaches and swimmers all over the world challenge each other to find new ways to improve and become faster.

What back to breast transition turn do you do?

All swimming training and instruction should be performed under the supervision of a qualified coach or instructor, and in circumstances that ensure the safety of participants. All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Len Iglar
5 years ago

Mike Wardwell, Heather Moyer Iglar

Leigh Spence
5 years ago

Emma Spence

Vicky Claire
5 years ago

Annie we need to learn this…

Erin Hunt Bollinger
5 years ago

Brooke Bollinger

Jake Mefford
5 years ago

Laura Wilson Lawrence

Melissa Drehs Masterson

Ellie Masterson

Jan Charles Mittemeyer

The second turn WAS NOT a bucket turn, although I was looking forward to seeing it. THAT turn was a simple back flip.

Heather York DiFulvio
5 years ago

That’s what a bucket turn is, though. Touch the wall, do a back flip, push off the wall into breaststroke streamline.

Daniela Gomez
5 years ago

Summer Heidish bucket turns!!

Annie Blowman
5 years ago

Vicky Claire tomorrow night ?

Tim Grubb
5 years ago

Ty Grubb

Joan Chidester Craft
5 years ago

What about the spin turn?

Karen A Hayes
5 years ago

Karrah Hayes

Karen A Hayes
5 years ago

Karrah Hayes

Joanne Newton
5 years ago

2 of my 3 competitive swimmers attempted the crossover at full speed (foolishly!) and broke their heals on the wall because they did the turn wrong! Oops!!

Rod barratt
Rod barratt
5 years ago

We always teach cross over.. although slightly differently.. and I would say more simply. Seems to work. Everyone can do it.. not just ‘super fit seimmers’ I don’t believe they need to be super coordinated either. Heck.. I can do it and that says a lot!

The bucket turn: what we used when I swam. No one sees good bucket turns any more since you don’t have to touch w hand on wall in back turns – hence they neither have the modeling nor the motivation to practise what it takes for great bucket turns. So – we go with class over Because the athletes are used to tumbling into the wall and a good cross over is not much off that.

James Wells
5 years ago

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bucket turn at any national or international level final… either open turns or a variation on crossover (with crossover being more prevalent in the 200 IM and open for the 400)

Chal De Leon Burns
5 years ago

Naif Alkhatrash
Richard Gonzales Luna
Jacinto Elvis Calo Baldonado
Anthony Lozada

Naif Alkhatrash
5 years ago

Chal De Leon Burns i wanted to try it today but thought better test it slow first than rip off my shoulders ?

Heather Melzer
5 years ago

Jennie Wolf

Donna Meyer Hodgert
5 years ago

Dharma KearTheresa Carriveau are you still working on this turn? ???

Dharma Kear
5 years ago

Yes I am!

Gülnur Gürdal Demirel

this turning skill is much easier, beautiful and less risky

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