Chollet, D., Seifert, L., Boulesteix, L., & Carter, M. (2006). Arm to leg coordination in elite butterfly swimmers. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 27(4), 322-329.

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This study proposed the use of four time gaps to assess arm-to-leg coordination in the butterfly stroke at increasing race paces. Elite male swimmers (N = 14) swam at four velocities corresponding to the appropriate paces for, respectively, the 400-m, 200-m, 100-m, and 50-m events. The different stroke phases of the arm and leg were identified by video analysis and then used to calculate four time gaps (T1: time gap between entry of the hands in the water and the high break-even point of the first undulation; T2: time gap between the beginning of the hands' backward movement and the low break-even point of the first undulation; T3: time gap between the hands' arrival in a vertical plane to the shoulders and the high break-even point of the second undulation; T4: time gap between the hands' release from the water and the low break-even point of the second undulation), the values of which described the changing relationship of arm to leg movements over the butterfly stroke cycle.

As pace improved, elite swimmers increased the stroke rate, the relative duration of the arm pull, the recovery and the first downward movement of the legs, and decreased the stroke length, the relative duration of the arm catch phase, and the body glide with arms forward (measured by T2), until continuity in the propulsive actions was achieved. Whatever the paces, the T1, T3, and T4 values were close to zero and revealed a high degree of synchronization at key motor points of the arm and leg actions.

Implication. The coordination of the legs and arms in butterfly stroke depends upon swimming velocity. Slow butterfly swimming would seem to be counter-productive, in terms of relevant neuromuscular patterning, to swimming the stroke at race pace. Perhaps butterfly is a stroke that should only be swum at race pace at practice.

The teaching of butterfly is challenging because the appropriate coordination depends upon swimming it fast, and early learning does not allow that. It is difficult to imagine any value in using flippers when swimming the stroke except in the very early stages of learning for young swimmers.

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