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Turnarounds Explained

turnarounds explained

A “turnaround” is a common swim training exercise and worth incorporating into your session especially if you are aiming to improve your speed.

A turnaround consists of a repeated number of sets of a certain distance and a target time in which to swim each set. The target time includes time to rest.

An example of a turnaround session

6 x 100m on 2 mins

The swimmer has up to 2 minutes to complete 100m. The faster they swim, the more time they get to rest. As soon as 2 minutes is up, they have to start the next set of 100m. They must do this six times.

Below is an illustration of what could happen in a turnaround session:

00:00 Swimmer starts their first 100m swim. They are fresh and full of energy, it takes them one minute to complete 100m
01:00 Swimmer has one minute remaining of their 2 minute turnaround time. They will rest at the end of the pool.
02:00 The first two minutes is up and the swimmer must start their second set of 100m. They are still feeling fresh but in spite of the rest, it takes them 10 seconds longer to swim the second 100m set.
03:10 Swimmer has 50 seconds remaining of their 2 minute turnaround time. They will rest at the end of the pool.
04:00 The second block of two minutes is up and the swimmer must start their third set of 100m. Because they have done two sets already and had less rest in the last set, they are feeling a little more tired. It takes them a minute and 30 seconds to complete the 100m.
05:30 Swimmer has just 30 seconds remaining of their 2 minute turnaround time. They will rest at the end of the pool.
06:00 The third block of two minutes is up and the swimmer must start their fourth set of 100m. With just 30 seconds rest last time, they are really feeling tired. Their muscles are not responding as well and they only just make the time with 10 seconds to spare.
07:50 Swimmer has just 10 seconds remaining to rest.
08:00 The swimmer must start out on their fifth set of 100m. They are exhausted because they only had 10 seconds left to rest last time. They just scrape through the 100m in 2 minutes.
10:00 The swimmer did not have any time remaining to rest and must start their final set of 100m straight away. They have not had any rest between this and the last set. They are tired and give everything they’ve got but fail to make the 2 minute target and end up finishing their sixth set in 2 minutes and 10 seconds.

Adapting a turnaround exercise to suit your goals:

Within the turnaround structure, you can adjust the elements to suit your own goals. You can do any number of sets, any distance and set your optimal target time. Usually, turnarounds are intended for improving speed and the ability to build a consistent sustained speed over a number of sets (ideal for competitions). They work to improve overall speed in endurance events too, so if your goal is a longer distance triathlon, having a few turnaround sessions in your schedule will be beneficial.

Turnaround sets are usually over a couple of lengths or a couple of hundred metres, even if your overall goal involves a much longer distance. Keep the set distance to a couple of hundred metres but increase the number of sets if your goal is an endurance challenge.

Choosing the right target time is crucial for the success of your turnaround. If your times are too ambitious, you will fail quickly. If your target times are too generous then your overall performance may not improve much. It can be fun to experiment and work out target times that challenge you and help you improve. A swim instructor or coach can offer helpful guidance as they are experienced in working with competitive swimmers and will be familiar with which distances and times are likely to optimise your progress. You can adjust the distances, sets and target times as you improve.

Turnarounds for beginner swimmers:

Turnaround sets are not just for advanced swimmers. People relatively new to swimming who have the ability to safely swim at least a width of the pool can adapt the exercise to provide a motivational structure for improvement. For example, 10 sets of 1 width on 1 minute. You have to swim one width of the pool within one minute. You get to rest for any remaining time before you have to swim back again, and repeat for a total of 10 times. It stops you procrastinating and taking too much time in between swims. It provides a structure and a measure of improvement when you realise that you aren’t so tired after each width as you used to be. Of course anyone new to swimming should practice in a safe environment under the supervision of a competent buddy or swim instructor.

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