Coach Pete

Expert advice for Swimmers, Triathletes, and Coaches

Backstroke to Breaststroke Transition Turn in the IM

The Crossover or Modified Roll Turn With Pullout (backstroke to breaststroke transition turn in the IM)
Michael Phelps demonstrates the difficult crossover or modified roll turn from backstroke, the following breaststroke pullout and the breakout.
By Kevin Milak Demonstrated by Michael Phelps Photos by Kevin Milak

Before the rule change that allowed a rollover turn on backstroke, the modified roll turn was the quickest way to turn from backstroke to breaststroke in the IM. However, this turn has not faded into technique history as “what we used to do before they changed the rule.” Many elite athletes continue to use this turn during IM transitions from back to breast.
The rule regarding backstroke to breaststroke transition turns states:
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.²
In this article, we will be taking an underwater view of this difficult turn, the following breaststroke pullout and the breakout. Not only will we have a fish-eye view of the turn, but it will be demonstrated by the best IM swimmer in the world, Michael Phelps.
How To Do It:

Approaching The Wall
Swim into the wall the same way you would approach the wall for a backstroke flip turn. Your distance from the wall when you initiate the turn should be slightly less than it is for your normal backstroke turn. This may require you to lengthen your last several stroke cycles slightly in order to get yourself closer to the wall (Photo #1).

On the last arm stroke, instead of rolling over onto the chest, your body will roll halfway onto the chest so that you are perpendicular to the bottom of the pool, with your chest facing the lane line. Your last arm stroke (Michael’s right arm) will reach behind your head (Photo #2).

Touch And Roll
Drive into the wall, bringing your hand and forearm behind your head. During this final moment before you make contact with the wall, you must be careful not to let your shoulders pass vertical (which would be illegal). Plant your hand fairly deep on the wall, just behind your opposite shoulder (Michael’s left shoulder). Your fingers will be pointed down and behind you (if the wall were a clock, Michael’s fingers would be pointed at 7 o’clock), with the palm of your hand flat on the wall (Photo #3).

Once your hand is on the wall, continue to roll onto your stomach and somersault. Bring your other arm (the one that did not touch the wall; Michael’s left) down toward the bottom of the pool, which will help you to bring your body into alignment and stop you from flipping too far (Photo #4).

Roll onto your side‹not all the way onto your stomach‹as your feet come in contact with the wall. Your feet should be relatively high on the wall, fairly close to the surface, and your toes should be pointed parallel to the surface. Bring your arm that came in contact with the wall overhead to meet your other arm so that you can get ready to push and streamline (Photo #5).

Push and Stretch
Push off on your side with your eyes looking toward the side of the pool, tightening your streamline as your legs straighten. Streamline with your elbows close together behind your head and your torso flexed and straight (Photo #6).

Push and Stretch As you get set up for your pullout, rotate onto your stomach by turning in a corkscrew motion as you push off the wall. Your legs should be squeezed together with your toes pointed. Make sure to exhale as you streamline, so that you do not float to the surface before you are ready to make your breakout. Be sure not to hold your streamline so long that your body begins to lose momentum and slow down (Photos #7 and Streamline).

The Pulling Phase
The arm motion of the pullout can be described as an exaggerated butterfly stroke: the pull and press of the arm strokes are very similar motions. Begin to sweep your hands out with the palms pitched slightly outward and upward so that the hands are outside the shoulders. Once your hands are outside the shoulders, the palms of the hands will begin to face backward. This motion is primarily a stretch to get your hands into the correct position for the next catch of the pull (Photos #8 and #9).

Flex and bend your elbows nearly 90 degrees until your hands nearly come together under your chest. Then press the water under your body from the point at which your hands pass under your chest until they pass by your navel, accelerating your hands as they go through the pull. Throughout most of this phase, your hands will be close together, with your thumbs and index fingers forming a diamond pattern (Photo #10).

The final phase of the pull is the upsweep, where your hands push out from under your body to push slightly upward. Your hands will stop against your thighs, with your fingers pointed down your leg. This final part of the pull should be the fastest your hands will move during the pullout. During the momentary glide, shrug your shoulders and squeeze your arms close to your sides (Photo #11).

Kick to Surface and Arm Recovery
The closer you can recover your hands and forearms to the body, the less drag you will encounter. Flex your elbows enough that your arms move forward with your hands almost sliding across your body. As your arms are passing under your stomach, your feet should begin to recover by bending your knees slightly. Your feet should recover very gently so as not to cause too much drag (Photos #12 and #13).

Use the propulsive phase of the kick to finish the recovery of the arms. Your body should be close to the surface, and as soon as your arms are back up into a streamline, they should begin to press outward to begin the first breaststroke pull. Your eyes should always be looking down throughout the entire pullout, from streamline to breakout. You will only begin to raise your eyes during the first breath of the first stroke cycle of breaststroke (Photos #14 and Breakout).

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Age Group, Coaches, Stroke Technique | Leave a comment

Balance…Key to proper swimming


A well balanced stroke will improve your stroke production and increase your speed. Each and every stroke should be identical. Your left side should be a mirror image of your right side, the length, depth and finish of each stroke should be the same….This is balance,,,,without it, you are not swimming to your potential, with it, you will be smoother and stronger throughout your swim….Once again be intense and think while you are swimming don’t just count the tiles on the bottom of the pool!   

March 12, 2009 Posted by | Age Group, Stroke Technique | Leave a comment

Kick, Kick, Kick

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Travel, from meet to meet. Go across the nation from north to south and from east to west and you will hear coaches bellowing out the same lament to their swimmers….Kick, Kick, Kick! We watch Michael Phelps and are amazed at his kicking power. Does this just happen? Or does he work extremely hard at this attribute? I wonder what kind of kicker he was a a young age grouper? I wonder did his coach ever toss him out of a workout for not kicking? It is so important to get it into your heads that if you  ever want to truly compete on a high level of swimming you have to begin to work on the kicking part of your swim now! There are all kinds of kicking drills your coach can come up with, it’s up to you to get it into your head that what he is doing is good for you. You have to be open to receive his drills with an open mind. I have said this many times, “Your mind is like a parachute, it only works when it is open!” Take the challenge and Kick!…. Kick on your side, kick on your back, kick with a board, kick with fins, kick with your head down, kick with your head up, kick with sneakers on, …just kick.

Make kicking fun, challenge the lane next to you, or kick one lap as fast as you can then jump out of the pool and do ten squats. Jump back in the pool kick a lap as fast as you can and again jump out of the pool and do ten jumps as high as you can.

This can be done as a circuit in your workout ask your coach to make it a part of his kicking drill. Add time factors to your kick sets, this helps push you harder. Your goal should be to improve your kicking endurance….so go KICK!

February 14, 2008 Posted by | Age Group, Stroke Technique | 1 Comment

How to Build Your Swims


Nicolas Alemann – Team Weston Aquatics

  Think of every lap you swim as having a short life of it’s own. It has a beginning, middle and an end. In the beginning get your stroke together by concentrating on efficiency. Then while you are keeping up with being efficient, start building – like beating drums to a roll. By increasing your kick and stroke turnover, you increase your speed down the length of the pool.

You should build every length, every series, every workout. Every stroke also has the same beginning, middle and an end. The hand speed of your stroke should speed up underwater to an explosive push at the end of your pull. Try to increase the length of your stroke as well as the depth and speed of your stroke to be efficient.

Take the challenge – Lengthen your stroke and build your swims…don’t just spin away and wind up going nowhere!

The one arm freestyle drill is excellent for working on your length of stroke and shoulder roll.

February 13, 2008 Posted by | Stroke Technique | 1 Comment

Snorkel Drills

Snorkels are used to improve body balance and stroke efficiency, they are also used to improve lung capacity in regular training sets. The following are some favorite snorkel sets by former national team member Emily Mason while she trained with the University of Arizona

Favorite Set

8 X 50 on 1:00 with snorkel ( long course)

4 X 100 on 2:00 negative split with snorkel

2 X 200 on 4:00 #2 faster than #1 with paddles and Pull buoy

1 X 400 for time with snorkel

8 X 200 on 4:30 (by 50’s) 50 kick streamline no board/50 swim

Descend 1-4 two times


Bow and Arrow Drill

Use your snorkel for this drill – Beginners use should use fins. This drill was designed by University of Arizona Coach Rick DeMount. It is similar to catch-up, but more technical. One arm remains out front, sculling the water until you feel you have a good catch or hold of the water. Your other arm remains above your head , elbow high with your fingertips ready to slice or enter the water. Once your sculling hand begins the power part of the stroke, your slicing hand enters the water and begins the sculling phase. When your slicing hand enters the water make sure that you reach out and not down and remember to roll your body.

Equipment to use

The Freestyle Snorkel is the latest evolution to the original Swimmer’s Snorkel and is the first snorkel designed specifically for freestyle swimmers. The advanced shape of the snorkel fits closer to the face and does not rotate at the mouthpiece for a more streamlined fit with less resistance and increased stability. The new design allows the swimmer to achieve a lower head position during freestyle and therefore further optimize body position. You’ll feel it immediately and without the adverse effects of turbulence – even at top training speeds
Additional benefits include:
•New design uses centrifugal force generated during flip turns to greatly restrict water from entering the tube
•Ability to maintain a natural, rhythmic breathing pattern due to easy achievement of proper body position
•Optimum functionality and comfort from surgical-grade silicone tubing
•Elimination of purge valve results in an increased lung capacity to clear water from tube
•Increased CO2 tolerance and VO2 max from regular use
•Fully compatible with cardio cap (additional accessory) for stimulated altitude training

Finis Freestyler Snorkel

January 30, 2008 Posted by | Stroke Technique | Leave a comment

Butterfly Stroke

Yesterday I visited a small town in the Rocky Mountains called Estes Park. It is the last town just before entering the Rocky Mountain National Park. By now you must be saying,”Ok, so what does this have to do with butterfly stroke?” I took a photo of the majesty and power of this huge mountain. It was  awesome!


Then today I visited the Denver Aquarium with my grandchildren and watched the power and majesty of some of the most powerful fish in the world they to were awesome! And I thought to myself as awesome as the mountain was and as awesome as the fish  were, I tied the two together and thought a bit about butterfly stroke

A green sea turtle swims past a school of Raccoon Butterflyfish near Hawaii.

  Now this may seem as a weird analogy, but I think that you treat the butterfly stroke as that mountain to climb with it’s high peaks and slippery slopes. Then I think about how peaceful the fish were and how easily they moved through the water no matter how big they were or how powerful they were. They all had a feel for the water and used their body motion to move them swiftly and effortlessly.

If you use your body in a undulating motion keeping your weight up front and kicking from your hip using your legs as a whip. This motion alone will move you through the water. You have to relax and feel the water, not fight it!

A good drill that I have used with my age groupers was a drill that used fins. I would have them put their hands at their sides and keeping their feet together move their body’s in a see-saw motion pushing their chest down into the water and their butt popping up out of the water. This undulating motion moved them across the pool in a butterfly motion and gave them a feel for the water….try it, it may work for you, and don’t make it a mountain to climb, just relax and enjoy it. 

January 28, 2008 Posted by | Age Group, Stroke Technique | Leave a comment

Stroke efficiency

The fewer strokes you take, the more efficient you are and the less energy you expend. The trick is to master what it takes to do fewer strokes per lap while still maintaining your speed. I have found that swimmers lose interest in their swimming or fail to improve because they just swim – doing the same thing day after day. They workout hard, but they are just spinning their wheels. Swimming is a constant challenge, if you pick out something particular to work on you can enhance your chances of improvement. This type of approach to workouts also allows your mind to be open to the challenge. It’s a form of meditation when you concentrate on just one part of your stroke.

Here are a few things you might want to concentrate on while swimming freestyle

  • Keep pressure on the water



  • Hip shoulder rotation


  • Head Position one goggle in one goggle out of the water and high elbow recovery


January 25, 2008 Posted by | Stroke Technique | Leave a comment

Basic Backstroke Start

The key to a powerful, explosive backstroke start is getting a good grip on the wall. USA Swimming has recently passed a rule that should help you and make it a bit easier, by allowing you to have your feet above the water line


Feet above the water line – However you may not stand in the gutter or bend your toes over the lip of the gutter


Even though the old rule kept your feet under the water, you could still develop a solid foundation by focusing on how to position your feet. As with all starts you must stay focused. Stay compressed and be ready to explode in the proper direction.


In this start it may be better to place one foot higher that the other, as in the track start. This is useful if the walls are slick. It’s usually better and safer to go for a good grip than for quickness or distance or height. While you may end up dragging the lower leg through the water a bit more, this is better than slipping down the wall and wind up going nowhere.

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To set up for the start you can either grab the block or the side of the pool. The decision depends on your age, height,strength, and flexibility. Grabbing the block is the ideal way to start, however for younger swimmers I find it places too much stress on the arms and shoulders, and the gutter serves them better. In either case stay comfortable while waiting to hear the command “Take Your Mark”

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When you move to the starting position, try not to lift yourself out of the water. Instead, try to draw yourself toward the wall, focus on the pressure on your feet. Remember, the goal is a strong start that sends you back not up!. No matter whether you grip the block or the gutter, you should roll your head forward as you take your mark. Your head is usually the first thing to move backward when the starter hits the beep. By rolling the head forward, you coil your body and prepare to explode all of your energy and movement.


 ” If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail”

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Age Group, Stroke Technique | 2 Comments

Breaststroke Pullout with Dolphin Kick


Push off at your normal depth for Breaststroke Pull Out and hold on to a tight streamline position


Turn our palms out to begin the out-sweep


As your hands separate and prepare for a powerful pull, allow the legs to float up just a bit


As you continue your out-sweep, you continue to let your legs rise to prepare for a heavy downward movement. The higher you raise your legs, the more range of motion and power you have for the downward kick.


Your hands hook in at the point that will give you maximum leverage for a strong, quick, and powerful pull. Anchor your hands against the water to help you slam your legs down in a fly motion.


As you begin to press back, you bend your knees slightly to add even more power to your downward kick.


As your press back continues, you snap your legs downward in a powerful kick.


As the hands press past the hips, the downward kick is complete, time your fly movement so that the hands and feet finish at the same time. Anchor your hands and use the leverage generated by your hands and arms to help snap the feet together at the finish


Here is where many swimmers will get themselves in trouble with the new rule. The rule states that you get a single downward dolphin kick. an upward dolphin kick is not permitted.

January 17, 2008 Posted by | Stroke Technique | 1 Comment