One-Hour Workout: Flag Turns Swim

Use this excellent, non-traditional pool workout to simulate open-water-specific skills.

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This week’s workout comes from Kirsten Lewis, the founder and coach of WeTri Triathlon.  Lewis works with athletes who go on to make Team USA qualification, win national titles, and take overall wins. She now focuses on the WeTri Elite Squad as well as WeTri camps and clinics for long course athletes.

Lewis loves the “Flag Turn Session” because this workout simulates real-world open-water swimming. “What we are doing is simulating buoy turns, runs out of the water, and the surging that happens out in the open-water,” she says. “This way you will have a better feel for all of it when your race begins.”

Flag Turns explained: Using the overhead backstroke flags found at many pools, swim toward the farthest flags until you are underneath. Do a flip-turn before hitting the wall—or simply turn around if flip-turns aren’t yet a part of your swimming vocabulary—then turn back without pushing off, and swim in the other direction After the turn, quickly increase your arm cadence, pull through completely, and add extra kick to get back up to speed quickly.

“Flag turns are an awesome way to practice how it feels to do buoy turns, or when you get stopped or sidelined by a swimmer in front of you,” Lewis says. “It’s all about getting used to changes of pace and going from a stop to a strong swim.”

“This session is awesome to add into your training plan as you approach your race,” she adds. “Open-water swims have all kinds of variables that are different from pool swims like buoy turns, surges in pace, and navigating the stops and gos of other athletes around you.  With this workout you will go into your race very prepared.”

Lewis suggests doing this whole session in your wetsuit to get the true race-day feel. We suggest doing this when you’ve got a lane entirely to yourself.

100 easy free, focusing on catch and feel of the water

3 x 100 easy to medium pace with every other 25 at tempo, and then back to medium for the next 25; 5 seconds rest between each

Main Set:
6 x 50 flag turns; 15 seconds rest in between

6 x 100 flag turn every other 50; rest 10 seconds in between

100 medium-paced, no flag turns

4 x 100 flag turn every other 50, fast on the way back from each flag, then medium pace on the next 25

200 with flag turns every 50, then jump out of the pool, safely run around the pool once, and jump back in, right into

50 easy

At the end of your session, jump out of the pool run around (carefully) once, and then stop and take your wetsuit off as fast as you can.

Jump back in and cool-down any stroke for 100.

Total: 2,150

For a longer session, do this set 3 times through with some speed in your 200s.

For advanced athletes, do your flag turn sessions on the clock at your 75% pace, and be sure to surge out of your flag turn each time. 

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