“Float Like a Butterfly, Sink Like a Bitch…”

Posted: December 14, 2013 in Swim, Training
Tags: ,

Despite the hours and effort I put in the pool perfecting my stroke technique and what have you, there is one glaring inadequacy that is noticeably absent from my swimming repartee, namely, my ability to do the Butterfly stroke.  And while I’ve been dedicating the last 300-400m of my workouts to practicing my dolphin kick, this inability became glaringly obvious during today’s Master Swim at the Kiwanis Aquatic Center.  Specifically, I can’t dolphin kick to save my life.  I just never learned how to as a child and, really, this is something you need to develop at an early age to be able to do it well (Shit, even my eight-year-old step-daughter can dolphin kick better than me); well, that’s my opinion anyway.  But that’s not stopping me from trying.

When you think of someone doing the dolphin kick, you probably picture something graceful and elegant looking.

Something like this:



I look more like this:


Yeah, not sexy.

So why even bother then, right?  It’s not like I’m ever going to need to perform the dolphin kick during a triathlon am I?  No.  Probably never.  Why I’m even attempting to learn this now is not easy to explain…even to myself.

But here goes…

To start with, the butterfly stroke relies heavily on the arm and shoulder muscles to propel the body forward in the water.  When the arms make a rotating motion through the water, this builds the deltoid muscles, which are on the front and back of the shoulders.  This action also helps build the trapezius muscles, which are situated beside the shoulders on either side of and behind the neck.  In fact, the biceps and triceps muscles play a smaller role in the butterfly stroke so the power more or less comes from the shoulders and, hey, that improved shoulder strength is definitely not going to be a bad thing when free-styling either.   In other words, it’s a more developed range of muscular strength needed to do the butterfly and that’s definitely not going to hurt me in the pool is it?

Likewise, the butterfly stroke requires more use of the core muscles in the body.  The core muscles – those muscles that make up the abdomen and the back – are of vital importance to a swimmer’s power.  That’s another reason why I spend so much time on dry land working on my core to boot.  The abdominal muscles actually provide the strength to lift me out of the water then curve in to return…not that I’m remotely close to being there yet.   However, swimmers with well-developed core muscles are better protected against injury because the core muscles protect the back from injury, regardless of what you might be doing (i.e. running or cycling).  Again, that’s not a bad thing.

But, here’s where things get particularly fucked up for me.  Other swimming strokes require the legs to kick individually to move the body forward.  Lord knows I’ve waged my battles learning how to free-style kick properly (click HERE  for a little reminder).  Instead, the butterfly stroke requires the legs to move as one.  This requires special strength in the buttocks muscles, also known as the gluteus maximus.  The hamstring muscles, situated on the backs of the legs, also are extremely important because the legs must kick in a backward motion instead of the scissoring motion used in most other swimming strokes.  And, if you remember, it was determined in my running analysis that I have an imbalance in my glute muscles that have more than likely led to my past running injuries this year.  So, on top of my current dry land functional strength building program to address this issue, learning to dolphin kick could be considered as a bonus workout to address this imbalance.

However, there is another more personal – and pressing – reason for dedicating more time to finally learning the dolphin kick.  I’ve stated before that I’m trying not to consider myself in the off-season as a ‘triathlete’ but, instead, as a swimmer, a cyclist and a runner…simultaneously.  And if swimmers can do the butterfly, they so should I.  The same can be said of my flip-turns.  Although I can do them, up until, oh, five days ago, I just chose not to.  Hey, there are no flip-turns in triathlon, right?  But after much cajoling and pressure from my coach with whom I still swim regularly, the gauntlet has been thrown down to finally make them a permanent part of my swim routine.  And – guess what – part of doing effective flip-turns off the wall is getting that added boost through the water thanks to a well performed and powerful dolphin kick.  Nuts.

So you know what that means…yeah.

Now, let’s get something straight, I am a LONG way off being able to do anything resembling a decent butterfly stroke, much less a dolphin kick that doesn’t look like a monkey humping a football.  But, dammit, I’m working on it.  In short, I’ve come a long way in the past three years with my swim to the point where it’s the one discipline in triathlon of which I most confident in my abilities, so I may as well keep riding that train to see where it ultimately takes me.  Hey, at the very least, it’s something different to focus on in my workouts and practice as opposed to the usual assortment of free-style drills I already do ad nauseum.


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