Joe Gardner Executes Perfect Breaststroke Flip Turns at Big Tens

The notion of doing flip turns in breaststroke (or butterfly) might seem strange.

The first thing that comes to mind for most swimmers is probably “I’ll get DQ’d.” But interestingly, as long as you still touch the wall with both hands, flip turns are perfectly legal in breaststroke and butterfly.

At last month’s Men’s Big Ten Championships, Purdue’s Joe Gardner was spotted doing flip turns in his 100 breaststroke, to the surprise of some onlookers.

SwimSwam recently caught up with Gardner to discuss this rarely-seen technique. The video below shows Gardner competing in the prelims of the 100 breast at Big Tens, finishing in a 54.78. In finals Gardner brought his time down another 3/10th to a 54.49, finishing 20th, though in that race he opted for two open turns and one flip turn (explanation below).

Gardner is at the bottom of the screen in lane one.

(Video courtesy of Purdue Athletics.)

SwimSwam: First off, did you go a best time thanks to the flip turns?

Gardner: I did go a best time at Big Tens by a few tenths, though I can’t guarantee that the flip turns made all the difference. I think the flip helped, and of course [it] has more potential with practice, but other small technical factors contributed to the best time as well.

SwimSwam: Why did you choose flip turns over open turns?

Gardner: To be honest, one reason I chose to do flip turns instead of open turns is because it made the race more fun for me, although it did come with a stress of its own in that it could go very wrong if I made a false move. But I fed off of the risk and it fired me up because I just wanted to try something new and be the guinea pig to see if doing a flip turn has an advantage, which, I feel it does. My prelim and final races definitely could have gone better, but I was all smiles after and was comforting in the feeling of “Wow…I really did that.”

SwimSwam: What advantages do you feel flip turns give you in breaststroke?

Gardner: There’s a number of advantages the flip turn has, but also some disadvantages. As far as advantages go, the flip itself is faster than an open turn, I think about as much as .4 or .5 faster if its a good one. Then when you push off, you have the opportunity to aim lower and slide under all the waves you just brought in, rather than fighting through them as needed for an open turn. Pushing off from that angle feels extremely smooth and you can definitely recognize the difference in resistance when comparing it to the open turn.

The only disadvantage, even if you nail the turn, might be the lack of oxygen. That was my coach’s biggest concern, but to be honest I don’t think it played a part in either of my races. However, when it comes to the 200, I do think it would bring more harm than help when it comes to oxygen.

SwimSwam: What were your coach’s thoughts on the strategy? And was it you or your coach that first thought you should try flip turns?

Gardner: I primarily work with Coach J Agnew, and he was excited about the turn, but also very cautious. I didn’t need to convince him much though, I just assured him I was confident in it and that I wanted to do it.

I realized that to nail this turn, you need some pretty long arms and very flexible shoulders, otherwise you’ll crash into the wall on the flip… luckily, I have long arms and I do a ton of shoulder stretches and I wanted to take the risk. It took just one turn for me to figure it out, then I did a couple more and showed J. He brought over the head official of the meet and he confirmed that everything I was doing was legal–and that got us excited.

SwimSwam: What are your thoughts on the flip turns now that you can reflect on your races?

Gardner: I only started practicing this turn a couple of days before my race. I probably hadn’t done it any more than 30 times. I had no expectation of how doing a full 100 would turn out, so I decided to do it on all three of my turns in prelims, just for that trial and error effect, banking on the hope that I would make it back to employ a different strategy in finals.

In preparing for finals, I decided that when going into my first turn, I really want to come into the wall hard so that I can be out fast the first 50. This meant I may be coming in a little too hard for this turn to work, so I did an open turn. I felt the second wall was the perfect time to do it, while I’m keeping a steady pace with a good amount of strength and oxygen. For the third turn, I decided that my muscles will be more strained by that time and it will be more difficult to make every move I need to make as precise as possible, so I opted toward the open turn. However, I do think that with enough practice, it would be effective on all three turns.

I did enjoy taking a risk, but I still needed to focus on making sure I was scoring points for my team. In finals, I did drop three tenths from my prelims time and moved up a few spots. It is hard to explain [via email], but I relate the strategy to gymnastics, for the reason that every move I made during the flip turn had to be precise. I had to nail it. But again, I could do much better with more practice.

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Eric jernberg
6 years ago

In the next 20 years they will change the rules to allow breast & free flip turns without having to touch the wall with your hands. This first happened with freestyle, then years later the back stroke. Yes, the original freestyle flip turns, swimmers were required to touch the wall with your hand before the flip. Then backstroke followed about 30 years later. It would make sense when they change it for the breast and fly to do them both together

6 years ago

That’s my dad!

6 years ago

Kinda distracts from his more than one dolphin kick off the walls.

6 years ago

The first time your feet come down on the deck will be the last time you flip turn during the breaststroke.

Tea rex
6 years ago

FINA released a statement: “while we have not yet made an official ruling on this turn, we want to assure the swimming community that we are actively researching it. When the worst possible interpretation has been decided on, it will go into effect immediately.”

Reply to  Tea rex
6 years ago

Probably can’t use it in the IM, because it turns breaststroke into front crawl. Unless you do another stroke instead of the front crawl.

6 years ago

If it really is faster, Kitajima would have done it in 2004

6 years ago

Flip turn or not, the set up position on his start is offensive. Just awful.

6 years ago

The reason a traditional flip turn (back & free) is faster than open turn because you are still moving forward when you initiate the flip. When you touch with the hands you are stopping most, if not all, momentum. Now if you didn’t have to touch there is no doubt a flip turn would be faster because you can start the flip 1-3 yards from the wall.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six with the Clay Center Tiger Sharks, a summer league team. At age 14 he began swimming club year-round with the Manhattan Marlins (Manhattan, KS), which took some convincing from his mother as he was very …

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