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Mat Hudson

Session #3 – May 21

Let me list out the principles in learning Butterfly that come to mind:

  1. Build rhythm inside the body first (internal harmony).
  2. Then, blend the body’s rhythm with the rhythm of the water and gravity (external harmony).
  3. The, you can gradually send more powerful signals through those harmonized channels.

If you lose the rhythm with the water/gravity, then you start fighting against those forces. Slow down the stroke until you feel you are back in control, back in rhythm.

If you lose the rhythm inside the body, then stop everything and get that back (return to pulsing until it returns).

Butterfly is a carefully controlled oscillation above/below the body’s neutral line in the water. You are playing gravity and water pressure off each other through the flexing frame of your body. The goal is to maximize forward horizontal movement by minimizing vertical movement. Keep the amplitude minimal and the faster one wants to swim (the faster the tempo) the smaller the amplitude needs to be (as the period between waves decreases also.

The key is to redirect downward drive of the body mass to forward slide. It’s called precession in physics – redirecting a force vector 90 degrees. In the case of butterfly, we are taking the downward press of gravity against the front of the body, pressing against water pressure pushing upward and sliding it forward between the two.

You need to keep the body as one long, flexing unit, but avoid bending (hinging) at neck, hips and knees. The body is like one long, FIRM rubber fin, not a flimsy plastic fin, and definitely not a hinged mechanical snake.

The key to the long, firm, rubber fin like body is in resisting bending at the hips and knees. Let the legs be one long fin, anchored in the abdominal region. When you press with the feet, the legs are one long lever and the abdominal muscles take the load. If you bend at the knees (and thus also at the hips), it breaks the lever in half and the quads take the load, and you break the long sleek body line which can more easily slide over the ball of water.

The long, very stretched, extended body line is the key to sliding forward more easily. After diving into the water, it is this fully extended body line that transmits more forward momentum and is more easily lifted by the water, to set up for the next pull and exit. This long extended body line creates a lower exit angle (more forward than upward), which allows a minimal rise above the surface.

How the swimmer exits from the water sets up the pathway for the rest of the stroke cycle. If she is pointed upward too steeply, or extending her neck and thoracic, then that increases the upside amplitude and then requires a deeper dive underwater to compensate (gravity will balance the equation either by driving the head deeper or keeping the lower half of the body dragging deeply through the water). The key here is to use the fully extended body line, patiently waiting until water pressure lifts it closer to the surface and then thrusting forward more than upward to just barely clear the face above the surface for a breath.

The crown of the head stays pointing forward, the eyes looking downward, the scapula arcing forward and downward to keep the thoracic arcing downward, to limit the upside amplitude. With a low exit angle, this immediate arcing of the upper spine, redirecting motion curve back into the water minimizes the amplitude, and thus sets the body up to make a more shallow dive into the water, thus setting up a lower amplitude pathway forward.



See attached image…

The pulsing action is initiated by a press downward of the sternum (which represents the head-neck-thoracic unit) and then a slide forward of the shoulders to redirect this downward force into a horizontal one. The thoracic is ready to curve downward, the hands are poised just below the neutral line.

Imagine laying your sternum on a pilates ball, with arms drapped forward . Push your body forward slightly with your feet and as the sternum rolls forward, and the head rolls downward, slide the shoulders and arms forward – translate the rolling of the body into forward reach. The reach of the shoulders prevents the head from sinking deeper and pulls it forward instead.

The press of the sternum initiates a slide forward of the shoulders. The hands redirect the downward force into a forward direction. The head-neck-thoracic sink between the shoulder blades, and thus downward motion is absorbed and redirected, preventing the body from going too low.

The first pulse of the sternum does not get the swimmer moving forward much because that first pulse is just sending the first pulse of water under the body (we may call them ‘balls of water’) .  Lower down, the wave of the body line presses against that ball of water, squishing it backwards in order to nudge the body forward. (This is how many kinds of fish propel through the water – they create vortexes and then push against them with their undulating body.) After the second pulse there are then two balls of water somewhere under the body – one under the face, and one under the feet.

The pulsing, undulating body is a conveyor belt, smoothly sending a ball of water sliding under the body line.

Pulsing is the foundation of the butterfly action because it requires the internal harmony and then the external harmony. It is the most minimal oscillation above/below the neutral line and our reference point for the dynamic balance around that line. At any time you lose the balance while doing whole stroke, you should return to pulsing to reestablish this internal and then external rhythm.


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~ Coach Mat