Mar 2, 2011 2:56 PM
Here is a picture of me swimming 200 yd Butterfly for CSUN Division I NCAA. Some food for thought for those not familiar with swimming, colleges all race in 25 yd pools. One way (one lap) is 25 yds, while for the rest of the world including the USA year around swim clubs all swim with 50 Meter pools. If you ever have the opportunity to swim in a 50Meter pool, you will notice a significance in size.
- Imitates the movement of a Dolphin
- Use momentum to keep moving/ Timing is crucial
- 90% of the body is used as the kicking in the stroke
- Breathing can make or break the stroke
- Arms have little to do with the stroke, even though it is the only thing you can see above water
- Perfect example of trial and error to really perfect the stroke
Butterfly Stroke 101:
The butterfly stroke imitates the movements, which a dolphin performs. The only exception is that a dolphin does not have long limbs like we humans do, therefore, this makes it very difficult for the human to perform the stroke. Visualize a dolphin swimming; it performs a worm like motion from the nose all the way to the back of the fins. Now visualize a human with the arms to the side and perform the same worm like movements from the nose to the toes. You can not let the legs separate because now you will have less surface area to push the water.
Momentum is key to keep the movement going without any interruptions. This is when timing plays a huge role in the stroke. Being able to time the dolphin kick, while incorporating the arms and breathing makes it a timing stroke. i.e. when cooking a meal you must be able to time accordingly to make sure when you are all done all the dishes are done on time without getting cold or burnt. If you take a butterfly stroke then pause and try to take another stroke, momentum stalls you and you will start sinking like a rock.
When the stroke is broken down we end up with 3 different components: 1st the dolphin kick, which starts from the head and ends at the toes, 2nd the arms gives us additional speed & control, 3rd we have the head, which provides slight movement for the breathing. If any of the three are misplaced throughout the sequence, Butterfly can be tough and a long journey to perfect.
The head only moves a couple inches throughout the Butterfly Stroke. It moves slightly up (leading with the chin to prevent excess movement) to provide air throughout the swimming. If the head moves too much it will create drag throughout the swim and if compared to a dolphin there head does not move too much.
People think that the arms have control over the movement of the butterfly stroke, the truth lies in the kick (Full Body Kick). Going back to the comparison of dolphins and humans, we have limbs which make it difficult to imitate the motions. We use our arms to provide more propulsion through the water and allows control. If the arm timing is off by a second, it will slow the momentum causing the stroke to use power to compensate for momentum.
Swimming is a sport/ activity, which requires lots of time and effort (time=years of practice). Since water is completely different then land, we must indulge our bodies in water to create a second nature feeling. i.e. we are born on land and learn how to adapt to land, while water animals spend the life in the water adapting to their surroundings. If you were to have a child start learning and spending a couple hours in water, after several years the child would adapt to the water’s surroundings. Therefore, trial & error plays a crucial role in developing an experience swimmer. Another example of trial & error is having a child just play in a body of water everyday without any real instruction. Since water has different rules & properties then land, the child would adapt by learning what movements in the water make it easier & efficient. After the basics of movement in the water are mastered, you introduce specific drills/ training, which emphasize further adaptation for correct movement for all the different swim strokes.
Further Analysis of the Butterfly Stroke:
Learning and perfecting the Butterfly Stroke is very complicated especially reading it in text. This is something that would make more sense in person and being able to show visuals. At the bottom of this post I will show several pictures to see if it helps connect the dots. Remember that since we are land based mammals, we need to imitate the masters of the water (In the case of Butterfly the Dolphin is the closest). Either through still shot photos or in person, being able to look at how the dolphin is structurally put together and how it uses its body to move through the water.
Every time the dolphin picks up speed it presses its head/upper body down and out in front keeping the same movement. So humans need to first learn how to properly use the dolphin kick motion. Since this part of the stroke accounts for the most powerful part, the movement needs to be practiced over and over. Keep looking down 45 Degrees in front and keep press both the head/ chest down and out in front. This creates the initial start of the dolphin kick and maintains momentum. As you press the head/ chest, the movement follows through naturally towards the toes. The most important part to keep the kick moving smoothly is maintaining the knees together to prevent water from sliding through and not providing optimal surface area to create more power.
After the kick is mastered, breathing and head position added into the mix. Now we have the Dolphin kick with proper head position and breathing incorporated into it. Since our goal is to learn to swim butterfly, we would have to imitate and set up for the stroke. Work on dolphin kick towards the surface of the water and taking a couple breathes making the transition smooth & effortless. While performing the dolphin kick toward the surface you should feel your hips expose towards the air and come back down into the water. This will encourage consistent momentum and efficiency. Excess bending of the knees and head will hinder the movement and cause choppy movements. Remember: the masters of the water are graceful and all movements are soft.
Once the dolphin kick with head position are mastered, the final piece of the puzzle are the arms. Again, since butterfly is very complicated and depends on timing, we want to start off by swimming with one arm. Using one arm allows you to get a feel for what the arms should be doing and is a lot easier then starting with two arms. Remember that you want to stick to the main goal of swimming butterfly, butterfly is not swam on its side or rotating. Swimming butterfly with one arm makes it tempting to rotate like the front crawl/freestyle. This is when swimming flat (shoulders & Hips Square to the bottom of the pool) is crucial. There are two options with the arms; 1st the non moving arm should be to the side of the body, 2nd the non moving arm should be in a stream line position (elbow touching the ear with fingers straight out in front). When pulling with the arm keep in mind that there are no straight lines in any style of swimming. Elbow should be slightly bent and pulling straight under the body. Once you pull down towards your hips, your thumb should tap the hips confirming a wide range of motion. The next question is when should I pull and kick? When when the arm is out in front, the kick should start. As the kick starts, the arm slightly bends and starts to pull. An easy way to know if the timing is correct is to make sure that as your thumb hits your hips, your hips should be in the downward position of the kick.
Now we finalize the Butterfly Stroke by practicing it with both arms. As both arms are out in front, the head/ chest should initiate the kick by pressing down/ outward, while keeping the arms out in front. After the the initial kick starts, you slightly bend the elbows outward and start pull underneath the body creating a diamond shape. As the thumbs hit the side of the hips, the kick should be traveling down towards the hips and off into the toes. The key components to the kick from the hips down are to keep the knees together and the big toes together. The ankles will flare outward giving it a fin like shape to provide optimum surface area.
If you have questions, ASK! this stroke depends on a lot of coaching and visualization. Any slight confusion, will result in frustration and lack of progression.
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