Since promising Cindy to teach her how to swim a long and efficient butterfly, I’ve been watching swimmers of various fluency at my pool (not very hard – swimming fly attracts butterfly like daffodils 🙂 ) as well as videos of exceptional swimmers like Misty Hyman and Mike Phelps online. I’ve since learnt that it’s a very hard stroke to diagnose sans footage… hats off to swimming coaches! Here’s two of the most common mistakes I’ve seen, and two I’ve learnt in my own skin:
(i) head too high. This seems to be much more detrimental to the stroke than it does to the front-crawl. Unlike the front-crawl where a high head mainly increases drag, in the butterfly a high head also affects the body rhythm (the pulse is ineffective going up) as well as the recovery (it’s physically impossible to do a low, straight-arm recovery when the head is held up). Everyone who does this butter-struggles.
(ii) chop-chop (aka too fast pull). These are committed by better (and sometimes fast) flyers who have a high stroke rate but low stroke length (e.g., 13 strokes / 25m). I noticed these as a “chop chop” pattern: it takes about the same time for their hands to go from entry-to-exit (pull) as it does exit-to-entry (recovery). I can’t say what they are actually doing, but from my experience, I “chop chop” when my hands are slipping through the water and/or pulled too narrowly and/or not with high elbow. The pull is the propulsive phase and should take longer (at least 3-fold longer) than the recovery.
(iii) inward rotated legs. I was experimenting with pigeon-toeing (inward rotated feet), and then inwardly rotating the legs so that the kneecaps are touching. A few kilometers later my knees hurt, and I’m backing away from trying again (can’t practice when you’re injured!) It might be from the repetitive whipping momentum applied out-of-plane.
(iv) too long a glide. When I was looking to be more efficient, one of the advice was to spend longer in the glide (the streamline after entry). So I did that for a long time, and yes, it’s sound advice to an extent. But following the “some is good, more is better” thinking, I got to a phase where I milked the glide until I get buoyed up to the surface and have no forward momentum. So every arm stroke is pulling from Park – no fun. My current thinking is that if anything, it’s far better to slow down and lengthen the pull.