2 Different Types of Undulation in Butterfly

Welcome back to our series on Undulation in Butterfly. This week we are going to dig deeper into the undulating motion in the Butterfly stroke to specifically discuss the two styles of undulating. Normally when I bring up this topic most coaches didn’t even realize that there are two different ways to undulate – but there are in fact, two styles indeed.

If you haven’t read Part I of this series, I would suggest doing so before moving on. In Part I, we discuss what undulation is specifically and WHY all Butterfliers do it!

Let’s get started!

The short answer about undulation in Butterfly is REQUIRED to complete a Butterfly stroke. You won’t get nearly power/propulsion, distance, or the ability to breathe without it. With undulation though, you have your choice of swimming with a FLATTER or more UP AND DOWN kind of stroke.

The Flatter Stroke:

The Flatter Stroke has gained more and more attention over the last decade thanks to the GOAT himself, Michael Phelps. Michael is known for staying really LOW during his fly stroke. There’s that iconic photo of Michael Phelps breathing where you see how low his chin is towards the water – keeping his body line right above the surface.

United States’ Michael Phelps competes in a men’s 200-meter butterfly heat during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

To do this type of stroke, a swimmer has to be a FAST kicker. If you don’t undulate as much, you require MORE work to be done from the limbs, versus manipulating your body position to help you engage in a better catch and kick.

Sarah Sjostrum is another great flat Butterflier. She is known for sprinting fly without breathing. You can see in this video how little undulation she exhibits while moving down the pool!

The Up & Down Stroke:

This is the type of undulation most coaches normally teach. Most swimmers are taught from their learn-to-swim years on up, that undulation is needed in Butterfly and it translates into the Up and Down Stroke.

This stroke is the best type of stroke to teach someone who is a more beginner swimmer, not a strong kicker, or looking to improve their endurance in Butterfly.

As coaches, we have been teaching it right all these years – but if you are a collegiate coach or someone who is coaching the faster groups at your clubs, it’s good to understand you can start manipulating the amount of undulation with your kids to get faster results. It’s similar to a rotated versus a flat stroke in Freestyle. You wouldn’t even teach a kid a flat stroke first in Freestyle — same thing with Butterfly!

One of my favorite undulating Butterfly Strokes is Mary T. Meagher. Mary held the World Record in the Women’s 200 Butterfly for 21 years.

Another great example of a Up and Down Butterfly stroke is Cassidy Bayer who got 3rd at the 2016 Olympic Trials in the Women’s 200 Fly.

Favorite Undulation Drill:

No matter if you’re teaching the Up and Down stroke or the Flat Stroke — make sure your swimmers are initiating that undulation with their chest. One of my favorite drills is dolphin kicking on your stomach with your hands at your side. You can go with or without a snorkel. This forces your swimmers to learn how to initiate the undulation with their chest and not their legs.

Be sure to stay tuned for Part III next week, where we finish up our series discussing the 4 ways to Breathe in Butterfly!

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

5 Responses

  1. Hi Abbie!!!

    I am a 53 y/o Master swimmer from Mexico. I was a competitive swimmer when kid and teenager, then stopped swimming and 3 years ago came back to serious swimming, but I train on my own.

    I have always had one issue with my fly: I dont know how to recover my arms in a relaxed way. My shoulders and arms look kind of tense when I make the recovery, consuming energy at the moment I should be “saving” it, so to speak. Can you give some tips / drills where I can improve this?. I never was told / taught as young swimmer how to master this.

    Thanks so much!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.