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One of the easiest ways to improve your butterfly is to think like a dolphin – and try to move through the water just like they do.
Have some fun with this. Take a deep breath, dive deep, and imagine that you’re porpoising through the water with a powerful tail in place of your feet.
Try to use your entire body as you dolphin through the water. Start the kick with your sternum, and let it flow all the way through your body, down to your toes.
When I’m really thinking about swimming like a dolphin, my body looks like a sine wave as it moves down the pool.
Let’s watch this is in freeze frame. As I start each new stroke, my hands are high, my chest is low, my hips are at the surface, and my feet kick deep. My body describes…or looks like…a wave.
At the end of each stroke – just for an instant – my body is in a straight line. Not very dolphin-like, but I’m poised to get into a new sine wave during the recovery.
Here’s the new sine wave. My arms are out of the water, but my hands are getting ready to enter out front. My chest is high, my knees are low, and my feet are at the surface.
Just an instant later, my hands enter the water, I take my first kick, and my body is back in the original sine wave.
This sine wave…or porpoise…movement is how I generate power. I use my entire body to move forward – just like a dolphin would do.
One other thing to notice is that, even though my body is undulating, it’s almost always horizontal in the water. I try not to let the sine wave get too big…or to let it travel uphill. I do this by keeping my head and arms low on the recovery, and by sending my hands forward, not down, as they enter.
Here’s a swimmer whose sine wave is too BIG. Notice how she spends too much time diving down and then climbing back up again.
When I think about swimming like a dolphin, I think about sending my body through one hole in the water. This slow-motion clip will show what I mean. My head enters the water and starts through the hole. My chest follows right behind…then my torso…then my hips flow through the hole…then my knees, and finally my feet. Everything flows through the same hole and along the same line or sine wave. And notice that everything goes forward rather than up and down.
This is what coaches mean when they talk about good body alignment for butterfly. It’s all about keeping your sine wave horizontal, and sending your body FORWARD through one hole in the water. Your coach is right: Good body alignment will help you reduce drag and swim faster.
Here’s a fun drill you can try when you have some free time at the pool. It’s called Head-Lead Body Dolphin, and it’s perfect for helping you feel like a dolphin in the water. If you have trouble moving forward on this drill, just put on some fins and try again.
Start with your hands at your sides. Press in at your chest and then release your chest. As you press in with your chest, your hips will come up. Try not to kick too much from your knees; just let the legs flow with the rhythm of your body. Repeat the press and release until you feel you are flowing through the water.
To have a good body dolphin and a good butterfly, it’s essential to have strength in your core body – in your abs. So you should do all the situps your coach tells you to do – and then some more.
Here’s something that I do at my clinics to demonstrate core body control and how important it is to a fast butterfly. If you can learn to do this, you’re on your way to a really dolphin-like butterfly.