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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Steve Nolan

From what I can see in that video, seems like he was kinda losing ground to other dudes while he was doing it?

I mean, could still be better than his open turn and it could be related to something else, too. It is intriguing though!


There is a reason why no one does this. It’s slower and you lose air on your turn.

Steve Nolan

That’s the same reason I’ve hated the backflip on back to breast IM turns for a while, so I assume this one’s the same kinda deal.

I’m still all for trying random stuff like this.


I do believe when done well, the back to breast roll over turn is faster than a regular open turn or bucket turn. Yes, you lose your breath but it’s not terrible because you were just swimming backstroke and were able to breathe freely before the turn.


I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty out of breath after the backstroke leg of the IM just because the kicking takes up so much oxygen. I used to do the roll over turn in college but officially retired it as a masters swimmer. It wasn’t worth the oxygen debt and the risk of mistiming it (which is higher as a masters swimmer due to my varying speeds in races).

Go Bearcats

As long as you are disciplined in practicing it, then doing the back to breast turn is very easy to do in competition. I’ve done it so much over the past season that it feels weird to not do i – to the point where if I am kicking on my back and going into a 25 of swim, I do it there as well.

Know the facts

The event was pyramid seeded and this was prelims. Levi Brock, next to him, went from a 54.75 seed time to a 51.45 there. Keep that in mind when you are watching the guy in the white cap pull away. It might have helped Joey, hard to say.

Steve Nolan

I was looking at the guy in the black cap two lanes above, they hit most of the walls around the same time. (Somewhat tough angles tho, but some of the lane markers helped.)

Know the facts

I really don’t think comparing Marat Amaltdinov and Joey two lanes down and watching them underwater is a good comparison to know if a turn helped. Plus pullouts totally discredit their distance and speed through the breakout.

Steve Nolan

When I said in my first comment “and (losing ground) could be related to something else, too” I was putting streamline and underwaters and pullouts and everything into the “something else.” It does seem like he was on the walls longer than the other dude, but that’s just me eyeballin’ it.

But I mean, there are no real facts here, we don’t have a direct comparison between his old open turns and the flip, which I think I also said. So. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Sam Green

could be useful for a 50 on a relay but a 100 seems like a bad idea

Spartan Sharks

Joe Heiser did it better!


Heard that guy has been doing that for a couple years.

EJ Giantzen

SLOOOOOW!! Long Live Joe Heiser!!!

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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