View Full Version : So, I'm a bit scared to try to learn Fly

August 7th, 2009, 11:26 PM
I've heard a lot of stories about how if you don't know how to do fly properly you could seriously wreck your shoulders.

One story one of my friends told me that a friend of hers dislocated her shoulder in the middle of a race.

I do want to try it but I'm a bit intimidated to tell the truth. Plus, I'll look ridiculous the first time I try :blush:. Total embarrassment I'd predict.

Any tips to get over the fear?

That Guy
August 7th, 2009, 11:35 PM
use fins until you get the hang of it. they're a great way to generate enough propulsion to get your arms out of the water if you don't already know how to. i've seen people go from not being able to swim fly at all to doing it pretty well just by adding fins.

August 8th, 2009, 06:12 AM
Do one arm fly untill you get the timing and rythm, then put it together.

Without a history of shoulder problems, I would not expect a problem.

Remember, fly is mainly body driven and the arms only come into play once you have established good techique. Then you can start pulling harder.

August 8th, 2009, 07:33 AM
I'm trying to learn right now!
First off, I decided to take it slow. A few years ago, I started learning fly and pulled or strained or pinched something in my neck. That ended that.
I started a couple of weeks ago doing one-arm fly (all right) for three-four lenghts of 25 yards, once or twice a week.
Now I'm doing 3-3-3 drills: three one-armed fly (left), three one-armed fly (right) and three full-out fly. Sometimes I'll start out with the full-out fly, then switch into the other two. Here's a clip of the drill: http://www.goswim.tv/entries/5375/butterfly---3-3-3.html
I'm also getting lots of rest, about 30 seconds rest for each 25 yards. It's much more demanding than the other strokes, especially while you are learning it. And the stroke falls apart when you are tied, to a point where it doesn't make sense to continue. (Some call it 'butterstruggle.')
Even with the rest, the fly work has taken my workouts up a notch.
For dryland exercise, I'm doing rotator cuff exercises. I think the 'prehab' work is particularly important for this stroke because of the potential for shoulder strain.
I don't do any fly with fins. I gave it a try and it threw my timing off. Maybe I'll try again later. I have read others who put the fins on and had terrific results, so for you it is certainly worth a try.
However, I do use fins when I practice dolphin kicks alone.
Right now, I'm doing a little more than a half-length of fly and slowly getting better. It's slow progress, but I'm comfortable with that.

Good luck!

August 8th, 2009, 11:22 AM
Without getting into detailed specifics of how to learn the fly (I read and agree with suggestions made so far in the thread), I'd still like to share my passion and approach to Fly with you.

I'll just go with a few statements that apply to me.

- I do have to be careful with shoulders issues. This is one of my main limitations to swimming (that and knee issues)
- Freestyle may sometimes hurt my left shoulder, although I have a more than decent technique
- Biggest obstacle for me in learning the Fly (way back then) was making sure that my arms could recover without touching the water. For this, I practiced a lot of fly arm recovery dryland, laying in my bed, on my belly. I would recover back and forth several hundreds of times
- These days, I am preparing for a swim training season where I intend to develop butterfly. In preparation for this, my actual regiment is very simple: 5x200 butterfly (full stroke) done at relatively low speed (I touch 3:45 off 5:00)
- This regiment has Absolutely NO negative impact on my shoulders whatsoever. In fact, all my articulations (shoulders, neck, lowerback, knees) agree with this regiment and never show any sign of weakness or pain, during and after the sessions.
- I am pretty much convinced that once the technique is in place, BF isn't nearly as dangerous as what some people might suggest
- Main problem with BF, is that most people swim it at a very high intensity most of the time. Any stroke done at very high intensity without having gained the technical skills can be harmful for articulations
- When swam at lower intensity, BF is a very slow stroke, and it's important to acknowledge this fact. At first, speed should be built by reducing drag at low speed (in my humble opinion), so months of slow BF done at a pace slower than swimming breaststroke is a mandatory step. This allows for properly learning how to breathe, synchronize breathing with body ondulation with kicking and pulling action, recovering the arms while keeping shoulders open (not closed). It takes a lot of practice which should be done at the lowest level of intensity possible (again, in my humble opinion).

Lean it with the fins like other have suggested, and enjoy the process! Soon, I will post a short clip of what my slow butterfly technique looks like.

August 8th, 2009, 01:22 PM
Try the fins, yes good idea . Also learn to do it slowly so that you can glide/coast between each stroke.

August 8th, 2009, 06:45 PM
In addition to all the advice above...

If you have netflix I recommend checking out the Total Immersion Better Fly for Every Body (or maybe it's Butterfly for Every Body, I can't remember). I borrowed it a couple of months ago and even though I "know" fly I found some of the tips helpful and really made a difference in my stroke. If you're starting from absolute nowhere and you're on your own instruction-wise I really recommend this.

I think someone already mentioned Goswim.com - they have good online videos and others you can buy. I have the IM one which gives good tips on all four strokes

Good luck!

August 8th, 2009, 08:44 PM
I've heard a lot of stories about how if you don't know how to do fly properly you could seriously wreck your shoulders.
Start thinking about butterfly in term of a puzzle you need to put together, not something threatening.

If you suffer learning the BF, that is because you didn't put the first pieces of this puzzle first.

And the very and absolute first piece of this puzzle is body undulation. This fact no one can argue, so it's a good investment. It is the engine of this stroke. Most power generated by the stroke is related to this. And this thing is actually very fun to learn, and you can't possibly run out of breath or suffer learning it.

Then once you got that in place, with the breathing at the right time and first and second kick that occur when they should, you may add an arm to the puzzle. While doing this, you may prefer to breathe on the side, it's easier.

Most people spend a lot of time performing the 1arm BF drill prior attempting to add the other arm. Before adding the other arm, you could try BF front breathing pattern. Then you do very short distances full stroke, or longer distances with fins.

I'll try to give you a little demo of all this in a very near future. Can't guarantee that the quality of the clip will be good, but that should help.

August 8th, 2009, 09:45 PM
When someone tries to explain it to me I get a bit confused as to how your pull is suppose to be done. I've seen people do it with both straight arms and bent arms. I'm guessing most of the pull strength comes from the back arm muscles and some chest muscles?

The timing also seems very difficult to get down as I haven't developed that good of a dolphin kick so it feels like I go nowhere with a lot of effort.

August 9th, 2009, 04:10 AM
The timing also seems very difficult to get down as I haven't developed that good of a dolphin kick so it feels like I go nowhere with a lot of effort. Getting the perfect pulling action on a badly timed dolphin kick wont do any good.

When I swim the butterfly, energy gets put to body undulation, which translates into adding some punch to the kick as well as to the whole stroke in general. Energy entry point is body action first. The pulling action I try to keep it relatively easy. Because too much strength put in this would later be detrimental on arm recovery.

But that's a little complicated at first I find. The starting point is really to get the body undulation.

Because you have to learn when to breathe in the process. In fact, what 'em I saying..

You have to learn to get the head movement (ups and downs) to lead the whole undulation. And it's simple. Look up, look down, look up, look down. Just before breathing, you look up for the little whole in the surface where you will exit to breath. Just looking up like this will bring you to the surface naturally.

In order to get there, you will have to learn when, during the undulation, when to breathe. You'll notice that there's one kick that occurs just after look down (creates some sort of a dive, like a seal would do to dive to get a fish not far under the surface). And you need a second kick in the same time you look up to breathe.

If one can do that smoothly, one can basically pull the way he likes. I personally violate a rule with my arms, I can afford bringing them together (both hands touch themselves) in the front during the recovery (having done hundreds of them this way on my bed before sleep). Every coach is telling me not to do that, I don't care. I use the extra sculling in the front to control how deep I dive. And besides, I reduce the drag caused by arms entering in the water. Some recover straight arms, some bent arms. You have to find a way that your shoulders will like.

As to underwater arm action. Think of it as half breaststroke half free style. Or freestyle but much wider. Give me a week maybe and I'll reply back with my own favorite drill. It's magic. Body undulation with kick no arm whatsoever no board with full breathing pattern.

Tried to find it on the internet I couldn't find good executions.

August 9th, 2009, 04:55 PM
Some good suggestions above.

Body position, balance, undulation will make this stroke much faster and easier than just developing a powerful kick and strong pull. The hardest way to swim fly is when you're oriented vertically in the water as if you were just treading water unable to get enough air. Body undulation can be gentle (small amplitude) and still allow your head to rise sufficiently to breathe easily and have your arms clear the water on recovery. As far as the armpull, don't make your triceps do all the work - use the big back muscles that don't fatigue so quickly.

Hands go in, hips go up, and chest goes deep. Position your arms in a high-elbow catch then let the big back muscles go to work when your chest starts to rise back up. If you can finish your armpull strongly, then you will be able to do a "ballistic" recovery so the upper back / neck muscles don't fatigue so quickly.

One-armed fly with fins is a good drill. I also like breaststroke w/ dolphin kick and fins, which also is a low-energy way to play with the body balance and undulation. Don't kick very hard with the fins while learning the stroke rhythm.

Seriously - when you get the pieces put together, butterfly is an elegant stroke that feels great to swim. It's well worth the effort.

August 10th, 2009, 10:27 PM
As promised
YouTube - Fly DrillSide

It's very simple to perform once you get the synch sorted out. And once you get to this point, there's no reason why the full stroke wouldn't work.

Not sure if just looking at it will be sufficient though. If you are fortunate enough to know someone that already knows the butterfly, you may want to send him think link and ask him to teach you. Otherwise, try it.

Think of it this way. One little kick to dive (head down), glide and one little kick to breathe (head up). Head up head down is the key. To breathe, PLAN your move. LOOK up to see where you're going to breathe before actually wanting to surface. Most of the glide occurs after the dive. You got to streamline yourself, feel like a very slippery seal. Once you got your fish, look up and surface.

Get this and you're getting the most fascinating aspect of BF.

If you have a hard time, then you can try with one arm as shown below
YouTube - Butterfly One Arm Drill (Back view)

Finally, I mentioned earlier in the thread about low intensity full stroke butterfly as being quite safe and soft on articulations. The clip below shows some of this very low intensity (low speed) butterfly. I can maintain this speed for a long while. I never experimented any sort of pain related to this.

You'll notice there's not a lot of undulation in this execution, that's mainly because I am very soft on the first kick trying to be energy efficient. If I was putting more energy to undulation, the overall speed would increase and so would the energy expenditure.

At this speed, I could swim a full kilo without slowing down.

YouTube - Base endurance Butterfly - Full stroke (Side View)

Hope you get to learn it, it's lots of fun

August 12th, 2009, 07:20 PM
Thanks for those videos!!! :applaud::)

I'll take a look at them when I get back to school and have some free time.
Thanks for all the help.

August 12th, 2009, 09:52 PM
Your very welcome.

To help your understanding, don't hesitate to make some stills on the clips. Pay attention to when breathing begins, follow the head movement.

The key point with the first drill, is that when you manage to be able to do this, you're in perfect balance. You don't need the arm pulling to breathe. By leaving your hands in the front not using them, you're forced to lie solely on body undulation to support breathing. Without mastering this drill, chances are that most of your arm action will be spent getting your head (as well as shoulders and arms) out of the water.

This very common flaw is at the base of the fears you expressed in your introduction.

If you have too much of a hard time, don't hesitate to use fins. Without them, think of your feets as if they were a set of fins. Very relaxed and floppy ankles.

August 13th, 2009, 03:22 AM
there have been some very good suggestions in this thread.

you may want to check out the articles by Coach Emmett Hines at:


Slip-Slidíní Away
Vive le Papillon!

i have major mobility issues w/ my shoulders and have managed to learn to do a pretty decent fly. i look at it this way:

you need a good kick. the power comes from the body motion. learning the timing takes a lot of patience (for most average folks) and/or good coaching.

think "forward"... not "up"

keep the hips as high as you can throughout the whole stroke.

learn to relax into the recovery as much as possible.

for a good practice and distance technique... try to incorporate a glide into your stroke. the glide comes at the end of the recovery.

learn to engage muscles in the core of your body... not just the extremities. fly is more of a whole body stroke than any other. i was amazed at what i learned about using core body strength in swimming once i learned to do a decent fly stroke.

one-arm fly will help with the timing. i prefer breathing to the side, inactive arm out front. this drill helps a lot to get you to stretch-out your stroke. you can alternate sides (and full strokes) in any combination you can imagine... just keep it balanced.

make yourself long in the water. visualize it.

what is frequently referred to as a 'pressing down of the chest' is really more of a 'opening of the chest' (ask a Yoga teacher about this term). the better your flexibility in the shoulders/spine, the better you will be at this.

breathe as early as possible... and make it quick.

the kick basically comes at the water entry and exit of the hands. the actual timing is a bit more refined than this, but this is where you want to start till you find your stroke.

do a lot of dolphin kicks on your back... arms out front. when people start complimenting you on this skill, you'll know you are pretty much there.

i never used fins for years, partly to be a purist, mostly because i never had them around. when i finally got around to trying it i used diver type fins and it threw off my timing in a big way. something to keep in mind if you use fins. i've never tried training fins (like 'zoomers'), but i'm guessing they would work better. i think fins would be a good idea to start, but don't get dependent on them, or your stroke probably won't ever really work without them.

play with the amplitude of your stroke. long, slow, deep 'diving' strokes can help till you build up endurance... and give you something to fall back on if you get fatigued and want to 'stay legal'. the more you can flatten your stroke, the faster you can get.

for practice... try just letting your legs sort of drag behind you as you fly... using very small kicks.

when you can start doing fly from a dead stop, floating stretched out in the water, you will know you are on your way to becoming a good fly swimmer.

enjoy it. make it fun.