Teaching Butterfly by Richard Thornton (1995)


I was a butterflyer and distance freestyler.  Those who have seen me swim said I had a unique stroke with my head movement and such. Since then, I think I’ve learned a lot about butterfly but I still don’t know that much. When I say that I think there are certain things I think are true, nobody knows for sure. The human body is such and it’s so interrelated with all the systems and the muscles and the different things that I just don’t think there’s one way to do everything. You’ve seen that in breaststrokers.  You can have a whole team swimming one way in breaststroke and they’re successful and one kid will do it totally different and be just as successful.  That’s kind of the beauty of the sport actually, because there’s not just one way to do everything. I think fly is much the same way and I’ll go over that.


Some things like this you can’t sit there and teach every child every thing. Like Ernie Maglischo’s talk just an hour or so ago that’s one of those things that we need to understand, or at least parts of it. But how many swimmers are going to sit there through that type of lecture even if  you try to make it as simple as possible. If there’s one thing that sets all the other parts of the stroke in motion and sets them doing the right thing I try to keep it really simple and work on that thing and I try to find that thing for each swimmer and remember what it is. For instance, for a swimmer getting the head down at the right time makes the hips do the right thing and makes the kick proper and makes the hands pull properly.   There’s no reason to say all four things, it just gets confusing. So I don’t say too much at meets, and every once in awhile a parent goes, how come you never coach, but I try to find the one thing that sets everything else up.


I find teaching butterfly very difficult.  I find the biggest problem is the breathing. I think the swimmers right away could swim butterfly properly, but as soon as they take a breath it just falls apart, and everything disintegrates. My little pet theory, and I can’t really try this out, because I coach the Senior group so they already know how to do fly when I get them, but my little pet theory is to teach them to do butterfly without breathing and then once they’ve done that for a month or so, and the stroke is a habit and they’ve got the stroke set up, then put the breathing into it. But I haven’t been able to try that yet. I don’t mean they should swim a lot of no breath fly, but there’s a number of drills which you’ll see on the videotape where they go right arm, right arm, both arms, left arm, left arm, both arms, and so maybe you won’t breathe on the double arm stroke but you’ll breathe on the right and left sides. You can do swims like that or you can do 25’s with the young ones where they’ll swim 3 or 4 strokes, or maybe 5 or 6 strokes and then the second half of the lap they’ll do some kind of drill instead of swimming, so they’ll do it right and then they’ll go into a drill, and I think at that age it would be very effective. Once they were strong enough, they’re in shape, they kind of have the timing down, then go back and try to put the breath into it. I haven’t been able to do that but I think it would be successful.


Butterfly is a rhythm stroke.  If you get the head going at the right time and doing the right thing, everything else falls into place. We talk about getting the head into the water before the fingertips enter. What I say up here may not be what actually happens, but it’s enough of an exaggeration that they can learn it, so I always talk in the way swimmers can understand. Get the head in the water before the fingers enter, and also try to get the forehead in forcibly, not any deeper than normal, just forcibly. For years coaches always said get your head down, and I’ve watched, and I’m going to demonstrate a lot up here because that’s the way I coach. I used to swim and I’d put my head down and I would go like this and I was getting it down, but until I got my forehead down that is what made my arms come over better.  It loosened up the shoulders, because your shoulders are a lot looser with the head down, then they are with your head up.  I find the part of butterfly that hurts is always the recovery in the shoulders so the better job they do getting the head down and getting the body going downhill the easier butterfly is.   So landing zone timing and connected body parts, everything wants to go in one hole, just like you dive.  (A lot of these are Bill Boomerisms, and I don’t use many of these, but I think they’re good to go over.)


The head is like it’s throwing the anchor overboard, and the chain is the body and it follows it in. When you’re in great shape and swimming great butterfly it feels like that. To you and me it’s been a long time, and maybe some of us never swam fly very well, but the swimmers can feel it when it’s on.   That’s what they lose on the end of a 200 fly when they start losing their stroke. They start trying to muscle it, kick harder, pull harder, and now they’ve lost that body. So all that extra energy they’re putting into their arms and legs is wasted because they’ve lost their streamlining and they’ve lost the power they get, as the body moves and snaps it adds power to the kick and to the pull and you lose that when you try to go harder. OK, so you want to go faster but stay in our stroke,  always within the confines of the stroke.


Landing zone profiles stay narrow on two planes and that was confusing to me. It talks about narrowing the shoulders, streamlining getting in, don’t enter in here, but get them in and that T, pressing the T is the landing zone if you look at your body it’s like a T on a wall or a cross you could call it. You want to press this down as you enter. That will naturally bring the hips up and follow it in. I don’t think you should be teaching kids to stick their butts up, or raise your hips on your kick. I think if the hips go down quickly on the pull like Jon Urbanchek was talking about in the breaststroke, and if you get your head in properly, the hips will naturally come up. Anchor the lats and slide over the hands with fingertips down.


The catch in fly is just like breaststroke is here.  They talk about anchoring the lats and sliding the hands with the fingertips down and moving the hips forward. Talk about having little wheels like those suitcases you see in the airport with the little wheels.   Talk to the kids about rolling the wheels forward right here so it’s down and forward. Never unhinge the head, there shouldn’t be a lot of bending. Jon Urbanchek talked about having a cast on your neck in breaststroke. I don’t think it should feel that rigid, you don’t want them to be stiff, but you want it to move as a unit, and they will be able to see forward. I think fly has a little more chin forward than the breaststroke, but I don’t really talk about it because I don’t want them lifting their head.


Rhythm and balance are the keys, not power. The rhythm and the balance are very important. If it’s moving properly it will be in balance.  If you’ve ever thrown a frisbee or a ball, and it’s flown really well and really far, and then you say, “Well this time I’m going to really throw it far,” and you throw it even harder and it goes off to the side or it doesn’t go anywhere,  that’s what we’re talking about. It’s like that 80-90 % effort, once you go to 1 00 % many times everything just gets out of whack and you fall apart.

When your elbow exits you throw your hands away. On fly you exiting with the elbows.  Throwing your hands away means sculling at the back of the stroke.  It’s not pushing straight back, it’s sculling back and out. Now in freestyle you rolled so that same motion away from the navel to the hip looks like a backward motion. But in fly it’s in and it’s back and it’s out and the elbows come forward. I went from a junior in high school at 2:10 in the 200 meter fly and 1:54 short course and by June I was going 2:02 when I was in the finals of the Olympic trials and then for two years I swam terrible and I remember doing weights and pushing straight down in my stroke and I instead of  going 1:47 1 was going 1:49’s and 1:50’s.  Then in my senior year I figured out my rhythm was better if I finished back and out and I went right back down and swam fast again. When I tried to muscle everything for two years and the worse I went, the more I tried, and the harder I worked and the slower I got until I hit rock bottom.  All it was was just relaxing and letting the stroke finish back and out that’s a scull pattern down there. Many of your good swimmers, if you just go home and watch them swim, you’ll see they do that.


A lot of swimmers try to accelerate their arm pull to go faster, and I think that’s a big mistake. I think you want to accelerate, you want to try to hold your distance per stroke, and you want to accelerate your timing of your kick and also I think if you just work the last six inches of the stroke a little harder a litter more snap at the end of the stroke I think you’ll accelerate. There’s only one way to ensure that you will accelerate on the end of a race, and that is to increase your distance per stroke and increase your tempo. If you do one or the other or one at the expense of the other, you might go faster but you can’t guarantee it. But if you can increase both or at least feel like you’re trying to increase both, you’re guaranteed to accelerate. A lot of people try to rush and pull harder here, and they need to keep that butterfly pattern.   Just that kick will also help them snap the stroke and they can accelerate that way.


Keep the arm stroke up for vertical balance and rhythm.  Control body alignment with length and speed. It’s talking about keeping everything out here as much as possible and getting back to that point. In other words, keeping the body long.  A longer body travels through the water faster than a shorter body, so the longer you can stay in the streamline position the better you are. So when you take your pull, you want to get back into this position as quickly as possible, much like the freestyle we talked about.  They talked about in backstroke stay on your side as long as you can roll quickly, stay on your side as long as you can roll quickly. Butterfly is much the same way. It also talked about and I heard this from Richard Quick about Summer Sanders, but he’s been trying to get his swimmers to come in around their sternum and that gives them a better backsweep. Many swimmers aren’t very good on their insweep and so if you can shorten the sweep they’re not good at and lengthen their triceps and lats, which is where a lot of us do all our weight work and everything else it would make sense. Or at least not change somebody that’s successful, but it might be worth trying with someone that’s not having very good luck in butterfly. And if it works, maybe start teaching it with the age groupers.


I like the wide stroke, just like Jon did in breaststroke.  The reason for that is that a lot of swimmers rush up here there’s now way they can keep their elbows up.  They take these little strokes and all of a sudden they drop their elbows. If you go wider with the stroke and you’re moving forward you can move forward on your arms so when you do come in you move forward so now it’s hard to drop your elbows. I think you want a little elbow drop here, that’s OK, but if they go quick like this, they’re in trouble, but if they go wide, they’ve got plenty of time to get up over those arms and I think that’s really important. I don’t know if they go as wide as the video we saw of Barrowman, but I think it’s close for some of them.


Stay connected hands press the T.  We talked about all that, do not kick to achieve vertical balance. We don’t use your legs to get your hips up in other words. They should come up because your head’s going down. It’s a teeter totter type of thing.


Set your surface rhythm with your underwater kick.  That means your underwater kick off your walls. I never thought about this, I’m going to have to go home and play with it, but if you’re going a 200 yard butterfly and you’re trying to accelerate throughout the race, then maybe you want to kick faster coming off the walls at the end of the race than in the beginning. I mean a quicker kick, but he also says that you should try to set your kick to your stroke. Kick real fast like you’re going to go 25 fly and then try to swim a 200 flystroke off that kick is tough. So you want to get your kick set and then put your arms onto that kick, so you don’t have to change rhythms as you take your first stroke.


Count or create your rhythm out in front.   Stone skip down the pool. Butterfly should look a little bit like a stone skip down the pool and I think the video of the new world record holder in the 200 fly shows he’s very light, swims very light, feels like you’re on top of the water. When diving really don’t go that far underwater. Your center of gravity probably goes almost in a straight line, so I think that’s the key also. They may not feel like that when they’re learning the stroke.  They may feel like they’re doing a lot of undulation because they’re over exaggerating from what they were doing.  But to you looking at it, it has to look like very light swimming, just like a slight curve.


It’s very important when you train butterfly as you start moving into the later ages to do all of the energy systems. When I swam fly if I didn’t pace it perfectly I died at the end of the race. I never could understand why because in freestyle I never died, because I actually swam in the distance group. I’m looking back, and it’s like if I knew then what I knew now it’d be a lot better. But I didn’t do any aerobic fly, because I hated swimming fly at practice. I hated going 20 100’s or that stuff.  I should have done it, or I should have done something that we do now. We do a lot of aerobic fly. I’ll show you the drills.  We do a lot of drill down, swim back, freestyle down, butterfly back, a lot of IM’s that are fly-back, fly-breast, fly-free and that type thing. When you break it up they can train aerobically easily in their stroke. If you’ve ever watched your guys, you give them a 3000 backstroke and all of a sudden the backstroke doesn’t look like the same stroke they race in. So I think it’s important to do some.  They still get some aerobic work and if we go free-fly, I tell them I want their heart rate not to go fast, I don’t want them to go fast fly easy free fast fly. I want them to learn to swim easy butterfly. And a lot of drills — right arm, left arm.  I think there are 10 or 12 drills you can do, and I think the drills are very good because they exaggerate. A lot of times when you’re trying to make a change, this might be their stroke, point a and point b might be where you want them to go and they move like this much and say, “Oh that was really different coach,  is that it?” Sometimes you have to go to here. By doing the drill here, they’ll swim here, so we do a lot of the drill work.  A lot of it is just for distance per stroke, and dolphin motion and they’ll learn those things. We do a lot of right arm down swim back, left arm down swim back. Long course sometimes we’ll go 20 yards swim, 30 meters drill.  So we leave the wall going fly. That way they can get their speed up and they don’t have to swim quite as hard. Anaerobically you have to do your fast 50’s and 25’s at race pace and you have to do your broken 200’s, broken 100’s, and things like that.


The ability to hold stroke. Karen Moe used to do a lot of 200’s where she’d swim 100 free then 100 fly.   She’d swim the second 100 fly, because if she did the whole 200 fly she used to fall apart, but she could do the second 100 fly. So she’d start doing fly but she’d be fatigued from the freestyle, but her fly would still feel fairly strong, and that was a good way to learn butterfly also.


I’m going to show a video, and I think that if you’ll notice long course swimming in the Olympics, unlike the days when I swam, you see very few people in both finals, the 100 and the 200 of any of the four strokes.   And I’ll show you the kicks — I think the kicking patterns is the difference. The Europeans and Australians are specializing to be successful against us, and in, many cases we’re using in college especially the short sprint strokes, and the short sprint kick, because that’s effective for yard swimming with a 200 relay and the 100’s of the strokes and they can hang on for a 200 yards with their walls. Those same swimmers are not very good long course in the 200’s. Stanford backstrokers are a prime example, they go 1:40’s and  1:41’s but they can’t go under 2 minutes long course. But they’ve made a decision and they hold a world record in the 100, and it’s better to be world record at one than 3rd or 4th place in both, so that was a good calculated risk on their part, but it also shows their difference. I’ll get to that when the video’s on.


For those who are confused, if you watch butterflyers, some can do both, but you’ll watch and you’ll see the long-distance butterflyers, the 200 flyers, the 400 IM’ers they have their hard kick on the entry, and their easier kick on their pull through. They go hard kick, lighter kick, hard kick, lighter kick.   Some of the Europeans have even gone to one kick butterfly. Those swimmers are amazing.  They can go eight  800’s butterfly. They can do that type of swimming. The sprint flyers and I was one of these, the power flyers, have their hard kick on their inward scull and their easy kick on their entry. That type of butterfly is quicker and will always win a 25, 50, or 100 but you’re setting your rhythm off your kick in that butterfly and you’re setting your rhythm on a fatiguing factor, your legs. In the distance fly you’re setting your rhythm with your head motion and your head coming down, so you’re setting your rhythm on a part of your stroke that doesn’t fatigue, and so Stanford and Cal are teaching the longer fly and trying to set the rhythm off of that. And I’ll show that in there. You can see the disaster of Matt Biondi finishing his 100 fly at Seoul with his legs going; you’ll be able to see Gross in his 100 and 200 fly at Seoul and you can see the different strokes he uses. And most of the European’s, and  Melvin Stewart, and Tanner have learned, and they have not been taught, they have learned to switch kicks with a 50 to go on the long course 200. They completely switch and you’ll see Gross do it. I think it can be taught, I’m not so sure I’d teach everybody, but if someone wanted to be a great 200 flyer and they were the kind of kid that would do everything you said, it would be worth your time to teach it.


The only reason I bring these videotapes in is because the types of sets you do will design the stroke. What I mean by that, is if you do a lot of 25’s they can use either stroke, but if you’re the type of coach who does a little stroke and then goes 20 times 200 flys every other day, they’re probably going to learn the stroke that’s easier and the longer stroke with the kick that’s designed for distance fly. And that’s fine, because they’re both very effective, however, don’t get mad at him if his 50 fly’s not that good, because you’re not setting him in a stroke that’s going to be successful there. I like them to develop the one that they like and the one they’re comfortable with but I also have to watch and if their parents are getting all over them because they didn’t win the 50 fly at Far Westerns, and I know that kid’s going to be a great 200 flyer some day when he gets to an age where they have 200’s then I have to help that kid out and talk to those parents. They’ll find out what’s natural to them, you’ll see.


We have a swimmer on our team, and she switches.  She’s undisciplined, she doesn’t know she’s switching.  But when she goes to survival stroke as I call it, she’ll switch on her own. She hates the 200 fly and she’ll never swim it because she’s a sprinter, so there is really no reason for me to take the time to teach her when to do it even though I could because she knows how to do both of them. But when I have a swimmer that is 200 oriented I’ll do sets to develop the switching. You could do sets of 4 50’s with an easy 100 free after each, and you could do progressive sets of 4 50’s where they change their kick on the last 50 and really sprint it. There’s ways to teach these things, and the same thing goes for breaststroke, and backstroke and all those strokes.


It’s much like freestyle.  An example, distance freestyle is two beat, and sprint freestyle is 6 beat. If you watch Perkins, he has a light leg kick, very high floaty legs, low shoulders, and with a 50 to go those Australians come home in like 26 flat long course, and all of a sudden they look like Matt Biondi the legs sink down, and the shoulders come up and they make a total stroke change with a 50 to go. They learned their lesson very well in ’76 when they lost to Goodell.  Many of these people have developed this on their own and some of their coaches don’t even know why they do it. Melvin Stewart didn’t know he did it, he just thought he’d kick harder. I’ll show you some of these things now if you’ll turn on the video.


There’s going to be a range of swimmers. I took video of all different kinds of flyers. This is a boy at Cal, he’s at Santa Rosa Swim Club.  You have to do some aerobic fly, just up and down the pool, fly one way, freestyle the other way. If you watch his kick (and he’s just doing nice easy fly) hard kick, easy kick; the hard kick is on the entry and it’s hard to see. See how it barely even comes out of the water. He’s not a great flyer, but he’s a 400 IM’er and he went low 4:30’s this year and made a pretty good drop. But for him, he’s not a flyer, so he should do this fly because he wants to save his legs for the end of the race, for the IM.  Tanner is going to go, he’s NCAA champ for two years, 1:44 for yards and 1:58 for meters.  He can change.  His hard kick is on his entry, almost like breaststroke. You streamline and kick. I’m going to have him do a fast lap I don’t know whether it’s this one or the next one, and then I’m going to have him do a build-up lap, and you can watch his kick change. Here’s where I told him to go really easy like he’s going a 400 fly. The snap kick is right there, and it’s real small and quick.  Now he’s sprinting, his kick is harder on his pull through.  He stays long, does not change his distance per stroke does not pull harder at the beginning of the stroke.  He just has a quicker kick, and he changes the timing of it. I think this is when he builds up, he starts out and watch his kick change with about 10 yards to go. That’s hard to do. It takes years of practice or great talent.


Sarah Anderson has been 2:12 long course and 1:59 short course.  She’s a distance swimmer, a 1650 swimmer and a 500 swimmer, and she will switch to the hard kick. It’s misleading, it’s deceiving, because the other kick makes more splash. The hard kick is there, there, you can see snap, snap. See how the head goes down before the fingers enter.


Dave Katamatori was a USC All American.  He’s a 54 100 flyer and he was in the Consolations this summer. He’s 29 years old I think and  he’s coaching and he’s going to try to make the team supposedly. Look how hard his kick is, hard kick, now he’s a 100 flyer, can’t go a 200 to save his life, but he’s in great shape. Hard kick, hard kick, but he can’t go 200 because of that.


This is Allison Kamensky she used to swim at Swim Atlanta. She’s a backstroker that swims the 100 fly. Look how hard the kick is, it’s probably too much air, but hard kick there, hard kick — it’s speed butterfly. She’s about 1:07 long course.


Tanika Jamison is an 8th grader and a 1:06  100 meter flyer.  Hard kick, hard kick — she hates the and 200 doesn’t even want to swim it. For her to do the 200 fly, when she just wants to swim the 50 free, 100 free, and 100 fly doesn’t make sense. I told her to slow down a little bit but she does the same thing — hard kick, hard kick. But she did make some changes, a little bit.   See the difference between that and Sara?  It’s hard to see, but once you look at it awhile you can see it. Hard kick is always on the pull through. She doesn’t have great feel for the water, she drops her elbows a little bit but still does the other things of butterfly properly.


This is the Santa Clara meet, a 400 IM.  Look at the difference in the strokes. See this kid?  He has light legs then hard kicks there.  They’re saving their legs. There is very little kick but  they build a little into the walls. It’ll become more obvious with the better swimmers later.  They’re going really fast, they’re good flyers, but the kick is on the extension. Almost all these guys, most of these are Europeans, Australians or Canadians — there are not a lot of Americans in this field.


This is at the Santa Clara pool, I’m going to go underwater in a second. You can see it, hard kick, hard kick — it’s a laboring powerful fly.  You’d have a lot of trouble long course meters and you’d have a lot of trouble going long fly sets.  Hard kick, hard kick’s there, see the difference? It’s a leg-dominant generated stroke. This is Emily Anderson, 4:32 IM’er.  The kicks are the same size, but look at the difference, she uses her hips to do it. Hard kick on the entry, she’s not a great flyer.  I think they use their hips more. She doesn’t swim any butterfly races, she only goes the 400 IM and distance free so there’s no reason to go teach her how to do sprint kick. If she was finishing a race in butterfly, I might teach her that.


This is an old video of Sara in the flume, 16 or 17 years of age.  Look at her kicks. The hard kick, I call it snappier kick, harder kick is on the entry. She just kind of uses the body motion to do the other kick,  lots of dolphin motion, head in before the hands enter, forehead down.  See how the rear end goes up? Lots of hip motion. This is Tanika, see her hard kick, she’s sprinting, she just switched, see her switch? See now she’s switched there she’s got the hard kick on the entry. She’s gone to survival butterfly. And for here there’s no reason she should ever be doing that, because she doesn’t want to swim the 200 fly.  Now watch she’s doing sprint fly hard kick on the pull through and right here she stutters a little bit and she changes. For me to say to her, you always slow down on the second half of your 200 fly we better do a lot more fly to get you in shape would be wrong. It would make her practice more of the bad butterfly for what she wants to do.


This is the 100 fly. I think it’s Biondi and do you see Gross on this side of him? Biondi is right in the middle and Gross is down one with the real high head and the arms coming out right there. Now Biondi sets his stroke by his leg drive with a hard kick, and I want you to also watch Gross and watch the stroke and then we’ll compare it to the 200 fly which is coming up. See the hard kick on Biondi right there, and Gross is a little lighter.  At the end Biondi fatigues, he’s losing his kick and now his rhythm is dead, and he loses because he gets caught mid stroke. This is a guy that trained for freestyle and just did fly because he was good at it, so to some degree it’s understandable. Now watch Gross this time, the blond guy on this side of him. Watch his stroke. Same thing, hard kick, hard kick right where his pull through is. That’s not what he’s best at, it’s what he does to be competitive at the 100 meters and it’s a skill he has to finish the 200. As we go to the 200 fly you’re going to see a totally different stroke out of him, a totally different kick timing on the next 200 fly.


When I listen to these ex-swimmers talk about the Olympics while they’re watching them I usually don’t agree with too much of what they’re saying. They’re saying that Matt should have taken another stroke and he would have won, but in reality, he needed to somehow get in shape so his legs would keep driving him and finish it. When you want to go a better 100 fly, I don’t think you train a longer easier butterfly, I think you just do a lot of fly kicking and get in shape.


This is 200 fly. Gross is in the middle and Melvin Stewart is on this side and he’s a lot better at it now. Look at the stroke of the guy leading, see the kick, he’s lane 4, totally different, he’s got that same kick that Sara had, the easy, see the difference? It’s the downward motion of the head that sets the rhythm, the hard kick is on the entry of the hands now. I want you to watch what happens on the last 50 and how he changes and this is why no one is going to catch him. Melvin has since learned to do this. Look at that, how easy it is.  He can get his forehead down a little better I think, but he’s so flexible he can get away with it. Look how easy it is.   He’s starting to change a little, but not much, he’s very disciplined. Right now he’s fatiguing, he wants to stay in the stroke he’s trained in, which is this type of butterfly. With a 50 to go, he can make a slight change, because anyone can get through a 50. It’s usually when you go over that. See the difference, he’s got a little bit harder kick now right there and there as he starts to make the change. But it’s changing, and watch the difference here especially as he gets to mid pool. Look how the stroke’s changed. See the difference? Hard kick, hard kick.  Melvin kind of evens his out.  And they’re not going to catch him. Some of them are still swimming in a long-distance fly stroke. They’ll show Melvin at the bottom, he’s right there in 7. He’s having a lot of trouble. And he came back 4 years later, and he was the one winning and doing these types of skills. And I don’t know whether these things were taught or whether they’re learned naturally. I think they’re real effective.


I think they can be taught, but they have to be trained, and it has to be part of your training. The reason I even bring this up, because this is supposed to be a basic talk, is that the types of sets you do will determine what types of kick patterns your swimmers develop, which will determine what events they’re good at.


I think what happens with Stewart is the hips move faster. I think he moves, as he comes up higher,   his hips down and forward harder, and that’s how he switches the kicks or makes that other kick more powerful. But I don’t know exactly.


These are drills. This is Sara. This is a way you can do your aerobic butterfly. Right arm butterfly.  Some people like to front breathe instead. I don’t care as long as I have rhythm. She is working on, distance per stroke and rhythm. She doesn’t do a lot of fly, we do a lot of IM stuff, and if she has a bad day in freestyle, she just goes fly instead because it feels better or it’s just a change. It’s amazing how many 1650 swimmers end up swimming 200 fly and 400 IM and I don’t know what it is, maybe they’re trying to get out of the mile. A lot of it’s the same arm strokes and such, it’s just instead of rolling, you’re diving and pivoting.


This is how I would teach the little ones, right right with a breath, double, double with no breath, right, right, double, double. First year swimmers can do that, not that well of course, but they can do that type of thing. I think this one is right, left, double, double. Then it’s left, right, double, double. Right, left, double, double, left, right, double, double. And they can do this stuff all day long, it’s easy aerobic swimming. You could even do 100 of this type stuff and then a 25 fast and do rotations of that. This is right, right, double, left left double — that way they do less hypoxic work. One up, four down. I hated this when I was swimming, but she likes it, and it’s a good way to get them to hold their breath and use their kick. It gets them to dive too. If you have a kid that lands too flat, you can kind of get them in.


This is kicking on your side, we do 6 kicks per side, the same way you would do 10 kicks per side for freestyle or backstroke. And I don’t really want them totally on their side, I want them at about 45 degrees, I don’t know exactly, maybe a little bit on your side.  We kick on our back — I learned this from Mitch Ivy years ago. It works a small fast kick.  The hands are streamlined out front.  You can do kick swim stuff. You can go kick a lap, swim a lap, drill a lap, all types of long swims.


This is a drill Sarah likes.  She got it from Bill Boomer when she was at Stanford. I cannot do it to save my life. It’s a pressing the T drill. If you pressed right, the hands will come right over. It won’t feel like fly, but you’ll be over. If you’re head’s too high up, you can’t get your hands over because you’re not flexible. This is a Barrowman drill, we call it Bathtub Breaststroke. Make sure you lay down and get your rear end up. It works on the wrap and starting the inward sweep. We go thousands butterfly where you go right, left bathtub swim. A lot of kids slip on their insweep and this makes them feel the water around that comer and on the swim lap they have to do only seven strokes a lap or eight strokes a lap and they get a nice easy 1000 fly done, and they only have 10 laps fly in the whole thing.


This is swimming with zoomers, and I’ll explain later why I like swimming with fins. Sara is very weak, but has great flexibility and great body motion. So she can swim with big, big old paddles, which most girls who are weak can’t. I couldn’t do it. She can swim and just gets that rhythm. A lot of kids can’t do that. She can pull with a buoy. We do very little of that. But if I give them 8  times 200 IM pulls in a row without stopping, but they can do double arm back instead of fly if they’d like, she’ll do fly just for fun..


Zoomers, or any kind of fins, big fins I think are good for kicking, but I think they hurt your stroke, because they change your stroke rate.  With Zoomers or cut­off fins, or whatever you like to use, if 76% of your swimming has to be sub-threshold, then that means that 76% or more of your swimming is done at not race speed. It’s done with the wrong neuro-muscular patterning. So anything I can use to get them up to race speed without doing too much anaerobic training I will. I don’t like to overuse them, but I like fins, and if she swims at 200 fly gold pace aerobically because she has a pair of fins on, then I’m hoping that her arms and her hands and how she holds water and the hand pitch and everything will get a more specific workout.  I also like sprint assisted surgical tubing for the same reason. That’s just a theory I have. I don’t know if it’s accurate or not. It just makes sense to me.


In my notes I have “ATP with a desired kick.”   I’ve made this mistake, I’m sure many people have. I said, “God you have a great 200 fly but your 100 fly is a little slow. Maybe for the all-star team this summer, they’re going to take the best 100 and 200 person. So if we do a lot more sprints you’ll have more speed.” And the person did a lot more 25’s with all the other things, but they did a lot more 25’s and their kick changed.  It reversed on me and they went slow. Their 100 fly wasn’t any better because they’re just not comfortable with that kick, and the 200 fly got slower. What I should have done, is more speed work and made sure that that swimmer stayed with the kick they were good at. If they were a 200 fly champion and their 100 fly was 12th and we needed it to be 4th, I don’t want to give them a 100 fly stroke and send them out to go win the 200 fly. Does that make sense? I’m trying to make sure they do the kick. Now if I have that special swimmer that’s willing to make that adjustment, and I’m talking about a senior swimmer who’s got world class aspirations, they want to be a world class swimmer, then they might do those 25’s but they might go one kick one way, one kick the other way. And that’s how you start, so they see the difference in the two. Actually, you think when you get tired it would be very difficult to switch your kick, but for some reason it isn’t, because you go to neuromuscular fibers that aren’t fatigued, and you can usually if you haven’t trained something too much you can do it for a lap. You can do it on the last 25 or 50 of your race. It’s when you try to do it for the last 100 that you get in trouble. So if you’ve trained it a little bit, and you know how to do it, it’s very effective and it’s not as hard as it looks. But I would not train 30 kids that way, I would do it special with individuals as they come up through your program occasionally, one every three or four years probably. I think you need to see the difference in the two kicks, so that you can keep an eye on your swimmers, and you can kind of tell what they’re best at.




Responses to Questions:


What are my thoughts on Melvin Stewart evening out his kicks, as opposed to switching them?  In 1988 he was not very good at the 100 fly, he was only a 200 flyer. In 1992, he made the team in the 100 fly, and finaled in it, and he won the 200 fly. Somewhere in there he learned, and I’m not saying he wasn’t coached to do it, but it didn’t sound like he was when I talked to him. He learned to switch his kicks. Now for him to at least even them out, for him to switch them might not work for him, but the fact that he put more power into the power phase of the pull-through, made him quicker. It helped his 100 and helped his last 50. So it’s not exactly what Gross is doing, but it’s similar.


I think what I would do with the younger ones, is I would teach butterfly from the head. I would teach the scull pattern. I would teach them to kick with both feet.  Then I would do some long aerobic drilling, with an occasional lap of fly and I would do some short sprint 25’s and quick relay type swims.   I would let them develop the kick that’s best for them. Then, I wouldn’t do 10 times 100 flys at the age of 11 and 10. Later, if I saw that one swimmer is the kind of swimmer that takes everything you say and does it without question, and he has a chance to be great at the 200 meter fly or the 100 yard fly but not both, then maybe he’ll go for it. But learn the basic skills, and they will find the kick that’s best for them usually.


Summer Sanders is an amazing example. She has almost a single kick fly, she has the easier distance fly type of butterfly, and yet, she has a very quick 100. She goes 59, she doesn’t go 57.  But  maybe she could go 57. In other words, if she goes to the US Training Center and decides she wants to train for the 200 IM and the 100 fly, and she’s not interested in the 400 IM and 200 fly, if I had more than one year with her, I would switch her kicks. I would at least play with it the first month or so, and if it didn’t work I wouldn’t do it to make her quicker. If she was still going to swim the 200 fly competitively which is her gold medal event, then I wouldn’t even mess with it, I wouldn’t even say a word.


I think they need to have the hands enter inside the shoulders.   As long as they get here to start, I think it’s good. It should be just like breaststroke. I think the ones that are entering wide, and Sara was doing that in our video, they’re not feeling the top part of the stroke. They need to do that, I used to drop my elbows a lot when I first started fly, and Karen Moe suggested I do butterfly without the recovery. They’re so intent on trying to get the recovery right and the body motion. We would just sit here and do a butterfly pull and dive with the head and then bring the hands back up and do it again. I would go maybe an easy distance free swim and I would do a lap like that and then a lap of fly.  Go a 100 free, 25 fly with no recovery,  then 25 fly. And that would be my aerobic fly if I did a 1500 warm-up like that.


Should the arms be out front on one arm fly?  It goes both ways, and actually when Sarah did the right, right, double, left, double — that stuff, her arms were up. I like to take the arms out of there because sometimes the arm conflicts with the body motion. But that’s just my personal preference. Most coaches say no I want you to breathe forward and I want both arms up and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just trying to get the hips and everything moving in the right direction and lengthen out the stroke. It’s a lot like freestyle, except you don’t have the hip roll.


Is there a difference in where the kick is placed between the 100 and the 200 type fly kicks?  I just kind of let them develop their own system. I think the kicks occur at the same place, the amount of energy put into the kicks changes.  I think the top kick is much like you line up and you take a breaststroke kick for 200 breast. I think it’s the same thing, kick right here and they dive into that. I think the arms at the start of the kick would be about right here and it’s somewhere in here. It would depend on what the swimmer was doing. I said earlier, I like them to develop their own style of when they do it. Whether it’s the hard or the easy one it doesn’t matter, you’d have to work with them.  I think the one arm fly helps them. I think some swimmers need to just swim a lot of laps and they’re kinesthetic learners, and they can’t do that with normal butterfly when they’re young. But I think the one arm drills help them do that. You can go a 500 fly one arm and learn the rhythm, you can do that.


When there are timing problems I go right to moving the head, I never talk about the hips, and I try to move the head properly. If they’re doing the right thing with the head, the hips should fix themselves, and if the hips are right, the stroke will be right. In other words, the hips in all the strokes, most stroke corrections if they’re done through the hips will fix the other problems. But sometimes you don’t want to think about the hips to fix the hips. You want to fix the head motion, which will fix the hips,  which will fix the other problems. I’m better off if I just watch them, try a drill, try a drill, try a drill, and then what happens is the swimmers learn which drills fix their stroke, and they need to learn this even at the age of 8, 9, and 10. If I have 10 little kids all day long at the swim meet they should warm up for the butterfly and Johnny might use one drill, and Susie might use another drill. They have to find out what works for them. Certain drills work for some people. Sara likes that one drill that I can’t even do. I’d have to look at them to help you.


Swimming is plyometrics in that if you stretch right before you move the body that puts a slight stretch here and you’ll get more velocity out of the motion. I think butterfly and freestyle work that way. So that stretching may make a more powerful arm pull for them also. I say “may” because I don’t know for sure. But I don’t have any shoulder problems that I know of.  We’ve always tried to stay away from butterfly pulling.  We just try to keep the shoulders from getting sore, but Sarah seems to be able to do it pretty well. I don’t have any drills for pulling only.  I use fins more to get the hips moving, a buoy gets the hips up but sometimes the flotation won’t let the hips come down. So, I try to get the hips down more importantly than up, so I haven’t used buoys for that reason

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news