The Evolution of Butterfly: Is Yuya’s Dolphin Diving The ‘Next Big Thing’?

There are many different ways to swim the 200 butterfly, and throughout the course of history, several swimmers have “changed the game” and helped the sport evolve. Our own Gold Medal Mel Stewart comes to mind. He is credited with making “side-breathing” famous. Side-breathing is a technique used to help swimmers stay flat in the water and maintain body position. As the stroke continues to evolve, however, you have to wonder if there are more efficient way to teach the stroke or if these standouts are simply just anomalies.

When Mel was 13 years old, he went 1:59.9 in the 200 yard butterfly breathing to the side, rather than picking his head up in front of him, and from then on, he was hooked. He went on to win multiple gold medals and break world records using the side-breathing technique.

Michael Phelps is another swimmer that has helped change the 200 butterfly. While most coaches will tell you to settle into a breathing pattern during any butterfly race, Phelps is famous for, among other things, breathing every stroke. If you watched the men’s 200 butterfly final at the 2015 World University Games today, you would have seen a few of the swimmers side-breathing and almost every swimmer breathing every stroke.

There was one very unique stroke, however. In the video above, Japanese swimmer Yajima Yuya is swimming in Lane 2 on the bottom of your screen. If you pay attention to his stroke, you will notice that his technique is much different than the other finalists.

Yajima went on to win the silver medal with a time of 1:55.73, but the race was very non-conventional. You can see that he heavily relies on his legs and “dolphin dives” on every stroke. His hand entry is very choppy, and the stroke is broken into pieces. Most coaches will teach their swimmers not to hesitate when the enter the water; to start the next stroke cycle as soon as their hands get back out front, but he doesn’t do that. He takes one quick stroke and then dives back under, gliding out as if he was stretching out a 200 breaststroke.

It is becoming more common for breaststrokers to take fewer stroker per lap, but will we see the same trend with butterfly? Both breaststroke and butterfly are short axis strokes, and with swimmers developing stronger underwaters everyday, is it possible dolphin diving will become the new trend in butterfly? The most visible effect is a relative lack of turbulence created in the water as compared to the swimmers around him.

There’s no stature-based reason for this different stroke; Yuya stands 5’11” tall according to his official bio, which is about average for 200 butterfliers (who tend to be a little shorter than backstrokers and sprint freestylers, for example). His countrymate Masayuki Omemoto doesn’t use the stroke, either.

If you were to ask a coach, most would say that swimming the 200 butterfly like Yajima did wouldn’t end well, but somehow it did. Some may think dolphin diving during butterfly is crazy, and as a coach, the thought of one of my swimmers dolphin diving makes me cringe, but it could be worth a conversation. Even now, many coaches will argue that breathing every stroke in the 200 butterfly is crazy, but it worked for Michael Phelps.

The only other swimmer that we could think of that successfully swims like Yajima did is Masters champion Nadine Day. There may be others as well, but it certainly isn’t very common.

Sometimes we need to take a step back and recognize there is more than one way to swim fast. As a coach, it’s your job to help your swimmer discover what works best for them. So now I have to ask, is it possible dolphin diving with a strong kick could be beneficial in the 200 butterfly?

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5 years ago

Im changing to that technique! My fly sucks the regular way I hope this way works out..

5 years ago

He’s fully submerged every stroke. It’s Illegal.

Swim coach
5 years ago

FINA rules state. Read last line:

SW 8.5 At the start and at turns, a swimmer is permitted one or more leg kicks and one arm pull under the water, which must bring him to the surface. It shall be permissible for a swimmer to be completely submerged for a distance of not more than 15 metres after the start and after each turn. By that point, the head must have broken the surface. The swimmer must remain on the surface until the next turn or finish.

The way I read the rule Yuyas stroke is not permitted and should be DQed.

Reply to  Swim coach
5 years ago

the only thing I notice in the strict reading of the rule regarding the last line – it does not say can’t fully submerge again (which clearly he does) just remain on the surface, which one could argue though fully submerged he is still on the surface relative to the start or turn – I agree definitely questionable and possibly not legal when compared to the rules

Reply to  Swim coach
5 years ago

Ok, here’s a comment nobody is going to like: Yajima isn’t the only swimmer in this race that completely submerges each stroke. (Yes, the others are submerged for much less time and aren’t as deep as Yajima, but they’re still submerged. Are they breaking the rules too?)

Reply to  Swim coach
5 years ago

Submerged during the swim, except for 15 minutes off the start and off each wall, is a violation. I view his stroke as legal because his feet break the surface as his head submerges so he is not “submerged” which requires the entire body to be underwater. (Note the 15 meter rule requires the head to break the surface at or before the 15 meter mark….no such requirement during the swim).
As pointed our elsewhere fly is not a cycle stroke so you may kick as many times as you like.

About Tony Carroll

Tony Carroll

The writer formerly known as "Troy Gennaro", better known as Tony Carroll, has been working with SwimSwam since April of 2013. Tony grew up in northern Indiana and started swimming in 2003 when his dad forced him to join the local swim team. Reluctantly, he joined on the condition that …

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