Mike's Mailbag: Enduring Butterfly

Mike's Mailbag: Enduring Butterfly

 | Monday, September 18, 2017

Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com.

Dear Mike,

Every day, from when I wake up, until when I go to sleep, I always think about swimming. Every day, I’m excited to go to practice and get better. I'm very motivated and all I want is to be a great swimmer. The problem is, the only stroke I'm good at is butterfly, and I always get tired by the time I swim 50 yards at a reasonably fast pace. My coach says my technique is fine, but I want to know how to improve my endurance. I always try to keep going, even when it hurts. But it seems like I don't get better. So how do I build my endurance?

-Trying Hard


Hey Trying Hard,

Butterfly is, by far, the hardest stroke. Especially when it comes to endurance. 50 yards isn’t too bad, though. I remember only being able to do 25 yards (then, gasping, I’d resort to the one-arm butterfly).

Building endurance takes time, and practice. But be careful, here. You don’t want to hammer through butterfly and sacrifice good technique and stroke mechanics. Even though you may really, really want to swim a 100-yard butterfly non-stop, if you swim that with poor technique, you’ll be doing more harm than good.

While you grow, get stronger, and continue to work on your technique, there are a few tricks you can try.

First, isolate different parts of your stroke. Really work on your butterfly kicking. Often, when struggling through butterfly, your body position is the first part that falls apart. A good, strong kick can help this. Streamline butterfly kick on your back, butterfly kick off each wall, and butterfly kick whenever you get a “choice of stroke” during kick sets.

Second, videotape your breathing timing and tempo. Sometimes, swimmers just aren’t breathing at the right time in their stroke, and they’re fighting body positioning. Don’t fight the water — work with the water. Get a swim coach to videotape your stroke to break down what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing as well.

Third, I used to have the same problem in butterfly. My arms would lock up, my body would sink, and I’d struggle to get through the whole butterfly distance. Then one day, a coach told me to stop focusing so much on powering through the water. Instead of fighting the water, he told me to really focus on my rhythm. Rather than powering through the water and trying to maximize each stroke, instead, I focused on the tempo and rhythm of my stroke. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. In my head, when I listened to that tempo, I found my stroke transitioning from this power-get-to-the-wall stroke, into a stroke I could sustain over 100, 200, 400 yards.

This last trick — focusing on my rhythm rather than my power — took time. It took a lot of practice. But over the course of a swimming season, butterfly just got so much easier. I could fly (pun intended) with less effort.

Try these three tips: Isolate different parts of the stroke, video your butterfly to make sure your timing is correct, and focus on the rhythm of the stroke rather than the power.

With time, you’ll go father, with less effort.

I hope this helps. 



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