Should Every Swimmer Undulate while Butterfly Swimming?

All, welcome back! I’ve actually gotten this question quite a bit – should every swimmer undulate while Butterfly swimming? So I decided I’d go ahead and write a new series on this subject. The short answer is, yes, you have to – but there’s still a few decisions you need to make.

Undulation in Butterfly:

Undulating in Butterfly literally means the smooth, wave-like motion seen in swimmers while swimming Butterfly. To complete the undulating motion of the Butterfly stroke, swimmers will move around their short-axis (or about hip) level and create a wave or worm-like motion as they go down the pool.

Why is Undulating Important?

It puts swimmers in better physical positioning to complete a stronger Butterfly Pull and Kick. When swimmers undulate, they are constantly moving their hips back and forth. The point in their stroke at which the hips are at their highest is right after entry. From there, as swimmers continue their pull – their hips start to sink towards the bottom – hitting their lowest point at the time of the breath or about ¾ of the way through the pull. As the hands finish the pull and exit the water, the hips start the journey back up towards the surface again.

If you think about this constant rhythm within the Butterfly stroke, by keeping the hips high after the hands enter allows a swimmer to really engage their chest muscles and pull down, aggressively. Also, the couple of the lowest (hip) point during the Butterfly pull with the second kick – allows for snapping of the arms around to the top of the stroke again.

Swimmer’s back muscles are constantly firing during the Butterfly stroke. You must have a strong posterior chain to complete this stroke. Dryland Exercises like superman’s, back extensions, and hollow holds are great representations of how strong your posterior chain is.

Why Do YOU have to Undulate?

Swimmers have to undulate in Butterfly for 3 reasons:

1.) Larger Distance Per Stroke

This is a key element here, as without a larger DPS– swimmers will expel A LOT of energy with little return.

2.) Allows for a Breath

Without undulating, it is EXTREMELY hard to get the breath in in fly. It’s very hard on swimmers necks to breath without bringing a part of the spine up as well. If you’re skeptical, try it and let me know what you think!

3.) More Efficient Kick

Essentially without undulating, swimmers entire stroke will fall apart. If you don’t undulate, your legs will be more towards the surface during the stroke – which as we’ve discussed in previous posts, if you move air – you don’t go anywhere. We want swimmers to move water. Both the kick and the pull (without undulation) become significantly inefficient. Undulating is the real reason a swimmer can have a smooth Butterfly stroke.

Why Do People then Discuss NO Undulation?

We can thank Michael Phelps for that. There are some swimmers out there who swim with a FLATTER Butterfly stroke– Michael is one of them. But, what most people are forgetting is that Michael STILL undulates – he just keeps his body-wave smaller than others.

Be sure to stay tuned for next week’s post, where we will discuss the two types of undulating motions in the Butterfly stroke.

Until Then,

Abbie Fish

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