Butterfly, Discussion on Overall Technique
I am going to reply to this post with my summary interpretation on fly technique but first I will describe where I am with the fly and how I got here.
About a year ago I casually decided to improve my horrible swimming "technique" and re-teach myself freestyle, back, and breast strokes. Somewhere along the line I started playing with the butterfly stroke too which was particularly helpful in making sure I got the most exhausting workouts. So far, my mission is to improve my enjoyment of exercise and make the best out of my limited opportunity for swimming which does not include any formal instruction (Masters would be fantastic but it's not in my near term plans.) In fact, my swimming season could end anytime now so I am taking this opportunity to record what I think I've figured out.
In reading older posts on this board, I came across a comment from someone who wrote: practice, study, practice, study, practice, ... That is what I've done. I've searched out advice on the net, downloaded and studied video, and taken a lot of notes. I haven't come across any type of consensus that the best video instruction or book to buy is "such and such" or found too much consensus on anything other that it's a hard stroke to learn. Other than for a couple of sources, info has come in bits and pieces. A personal instructor and film of myself would be great, maybe it will happen someday.
I began attempting butterfly without even having learned how to dolphin kick which is what I worked on first. After several workouts, I started getting the legs in control and could actually do some fast but very inelegant "butterfly" for up to 25 meters at a shot. My exercise routine has been pretty consistent in rotating two laps of each of the four strokes. I gradually started reading more info on the fly and I discovered I was supposed to be kicking twice instead of once. Initially, it seemed impossible to kick twice but (within a couple sessions) I worked in the second downkick by doing (what I thought of as a) "bunny hop" kick shortly after the first kick ended. For many a workout I worked on arm motion and breathing the most and took lots of notes in the evening. I was not getting the progress I was looking for which made me try even harder. Then I found that some recommend learning with one kick (but I wasn't going back to one now), and I realized the improper timing of my second kick but I was unable to do anything about it. I also discovered that some advice I had apparently misinterpreted had led me into unknowingly dragging my legs straight during part of the stroke. Then I wrote what I'll call my first brilliant rule of butterfly:
"You must learn to rhythmically undulate the entire torso properly for butterfly, and be able to control it, or you will not succeed. This is the first order of business. Do this and learning the rest is a matter of time and perseverance. Don't learn the butterfly undulation, and time don't matter."
Since then, I've been working on undulation almost exclusively. I am very bad at forcing myself to do drills for very long and for the other strokes I do not do any significant drills. For butterfly, I had been doing some isolated kicking and body movements and also plenty of non-breathing and slower motion butterfly. But it hadn't been helping enough. So I started swimming some more intense laps of just undulating and practicing undulating at the surface. Also, I've tried practicing with the arms recovering underwater instead of over and also swinging the arms over and under while applying little underwater resistance. No matter what I did, I found it hard to correct my fly undulation while pulling and the timing of the subsequent (second) kick. I tried mixing in a stroke or two of fly in the midst of a lap of otherwise plain undulation, but I found it too awkward to revert to anything else once got into a full fly stroke. In particular, as far as I can tell, plain undulation meshes with one kick and not two. I haven't yet tried alternating/mixing in other strokes (like breast and freestyle) with fly in the same lap or even one-armed fly. There are too many possible things to try and learn and none standout as best, so I prefer short drills, getting on with butterfly, and not overly interrupting the rest of my medley.
My breakthrough was in concentrating almost exclusively on undulation though the catch, pull, and push. I think of my body as pushing into an arc, but only in one segment at a time starting with the chest. First there is downward pressure on the chest, then the stomach, then the thighs, and then the lower legs. And by really exaggerating this motion I can finally change the pattern of my undulation. This also helps to loosen up my legs which was desperately needed. However, what I've gotten so far is a tiring jerky stroke with highly exaggerated undulation; but the sequence of my undulation seems to be finally on the right course. I've got a lot of smoothing and flattening out to do and it seems like I need work re-integrating my arm-stroke.
In reading earlier threads here, I found someone had posted a couple video frames of Phelps' stroke positions. I actually took the same source video file and extracted a few frames myself at the precise points of my interest (see attached jpeg). I am imprinting these positions into my mind and I intend to focus on executing these stroke points as shown. I looked at video of several other top swimmers (Ian Crocker and others including female) and I could find the same points of interest in their strokes. Phelps' head and trunk goes deeper below his arms than most others (but not all) and Phelps is one of few who breathe every stroke, but I think the stills of Phelps do the intended job.
Comments, arguments, ridicule, or advice on anything is welcome.