How NOT to swim distance butterfly?

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.


Back to the Butterfly

Backstory: five years ago I signed myself up for a SCUBA diving course. At the first class there is a swim test: 200m, and treading water for 10min. I splashed and gurgled my way through the swim, then sank and drowned. Twice, and barely survived on the third trial.

“That’s awful, dude”, I said to myself, “you’ve got to learn how to swim.” So I gave myself two years to learn to swim the butterfly. “But why the butterfly when you can’t even swim?” Why not? “How do you know you could ‘swim the butterfly’?” I’ll swim 1000m of it.

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