How NOT to swim distance butterfly?

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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.


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