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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Hswimmer
6 years ago

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

Coachie
6 years ago

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

Swim coach
6 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.

Daven
Reply to  Swim coach
6 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

Sprintdude9000
Reply to  Swim coach
6 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?)

newswim
Reply to  Swim coach
6 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.

coacherik
6 years ago

If he is going to stick with that stroke, he may need to consider more than two kicks underwater of each wall. He is breathing every stroke so the oxygen loss of going further underwater (taking advantage of a strong kick, based on is technique and reliance on it). Unconventional to say the least, I wonder if he can get going on a higher tempo to finish the race, like BR or straight arm the final 10m of a 100 free.

Or wait until the 400m fly comes about……

Steve-O Nolan
Reply to  coacherik
6 years ago

I expected his turnover to really pick up on the last length and then it just…didn’t. He kinda did it his last stroke into the finish, though!

WETNSWMMR
Reply to  coacherik
6 years ago

Yes I was thinking that his stroke might do really well in even longer distances…

Admin
6 years ago

I did this to a small degree. I called it front-loading.

You emphasize the FRONT kick and simply allow your body to naturally roll through the back kick. It saves a lot of energy for the back half of 200 fly.

ONE DOWN SIDE: I could NOT make FRONT-LOADING work in the 100 fly. It just wasn’t fast enough. (I went 1:55.6 in the 2-fly and only a 53.9 in the 100 fly, so very slow in the 100. What’s interesting is that I could go out in a 55 on the first 100 of a 200 with no pain.)

The technique Yuya is using is EXTREME. I can’t tell, but is he kicking twice when he’s… Read more »

Coachie
Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
6 years ago

Number of kicks per cycle is not regulated

Gramps 98
Reply to  Coachie
6 years ago

you are allowed 4 kicks for every butterfly stroke, any more and it is illegal

Tim
Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
6 years ago

There are no regulations regarding number of kicks per stroke on fly. Heck, if you wanted to take one stroke per lap, you could kick the rest of the length of the pool. Wouldn’t be fast, but would be legal.

Micswim
Reply to  Tim
6 years ago

Tim:”There are no regulations regarding number of kicks per stroke on fly. Heck, if you wanted to take one stroke per lap, you could kick the rest of the length of the pool. Wouldn’t be fast, but would be legal.”

As I understand it, you cannot take one stroke and kick the rest of the length of the pool and still be legal. Even Masters have to keep their arms moving now, whereas a few years ago they were allowed to kick multiple times between pulling, as long as the arms were kept out in front.
USA Swimming Rule 101.3.2 (re butterfly) states : “Both arms must be brought forward simultaneously over the water and pulled back simultaneously under… Read more »

Sprintdude9000
Reply to  Micswim
6 years ago

That rule doesn’t state that you’re not allowed to pause your arms though

Anonymous
Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
6 years ago

I also want to know if he is doing 3 kicks per pull.

Steve-O Nolan
Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
6 years ago

I feel like Tyler McGill’s stroke was kind of like that, too. He did it so quickly it just kinda looked like a hitch, but it did add some distance to each of his strokes.

JD
Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
6 years ago

Go to Settings, Speed, modify to 0.5 or 0.25. Between 0:11 and 0:16 top left corner you can see him kicking only twice. It would be interesting to see 3 kicks. Masters swimmers, I think, are allowed to kick 3 or more times.

JD
Reply to  JD
6 years ago

watch again to your right between 0:47 – 0:51

academicjock
Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
6 years ago

In my comment, I’m going to use the term “normal fly”. My meaning of that term is as follows: “normal” butterfly means that the swimmer kicks as the hands enter the water and then kicks a second time as the hips are passing the hands. In contrast to normal fly there is Yuya’s fly in which he kicks as his hands enter the water and then kicks a second time as his body starts to move over his hands. Both of his kicks are in the front half of his stroke as he does not kick when his hips are moving past his hands.

Fly has an inherent weakness for top speeds as, during the recover there is no propulsive… Read more »

ole 99
Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
6 years ago

Definitely not 3 kicks. Check out seconds 11- 25 of the video again (on the left of the screen on the start and right of the screen from above).

Stroke&Turn
6 years ago

Unlike breaststroke, there is no required cycle in butterfly, i.e., one could kick as many times as one wants between arm pulls (assuming that you’ve surfaced by 15m and aren’t doing underwater recovery with your arms). That said, Yuya does appear to be fully submerged on virtually every stroke which should result in a DQ.

USA Swimming Rule 101.3.2 (re butterfly) reads:

“Stroke — After the start and after each turn, the swimmer’s shoulders must be at or past
the vertical toward the breast. The swimmer is permitted one or more leg kicks, but only one
arm pull under water, which must bring the swimmer to the surface. It shall be permissible
for a swimmer to be… Read more »

Swimmer A
6 years ago

HA! I remember vividly the day when I discovered this stroke in practice during my senior year of college. We came back from our training trip and we were pretty beat up, so while we’re doing this fly set I started to kinda “cheat” my stroke and glide under water like Yuya. It was the craziest thing! I was holding under 30 sec pacing 50s (yards) and it was completely effortless even though I was dead tired (note: I was a 2:00 flier in yards, so that wasn’t bad given the conditions).

Unfortunately, I never got to swim this stroke in a race since I was primarily a distance swimmer and there was like a month left in my career.… Read more »

Sprintswammer1992
6 years ago

I think comfort is a huge aspect of swimming that many coaches overlook, everybody is built differently. That 47.9 Manaudou swam at Euros looks crazy and inefficient but he was comfortable sustaining that stroke, same thing with phelps bouncy 200 free stroke. I think coaches and swimmers should strive to find the perfect rhythm and stroke that utilizes their strengths and comforts.

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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