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How to swim the butterfly stroke

The butterfly stroke has a special place among the competitive swimming strokes.

It has a reputation for being hard to learn. It is quickly exhausting.

Yet when you have mastered this stroke, swimming a few lengths of butterfly can be a lot of fun because of its unusual and spectacular movements.

Butterfly Stroke Video

Here is a video that shows above water and underwater action of the butterfly stroke:

Swim Phases

Initial Position

Let’s analyze the different phases of the butterfly stroke. We imagine that the swimmer is in the following initial position:

1) He floats horizontally on his chest.

2) The head is in line with the torso, the face is turned downwards.

3) The arms are extended forward and shoulder-width apart. The palms are facing downwards.

4) The legs are extended and together, the knees are slightly bent.

5) The feet are pointed.

Stroke Cycle

Now the swimmer begins the stroke cycle:

1) The chest is pressed downwards, then released.

2) The arms move a little bit outwards, then bend at the elbows and the forearms and palms are brought into a backward-facing position.

3) The chest starts to rise.

4) The hands move backward and inwards towards the chest.

5) Simultaneously, the hips drive down and the knees bend.

6) The hands arrive below the chest and change directions to move towards the hips.

7) As the hands move from below the chest towards the hips, a first dolphin kick occurs.

8) Shortly after the chest and shoulders are at their highest point and clear the water.

9) The hands exit the water close to the hips with the palms facing inwards and the recovery of the arms start.

10) The arms hover above the water surface and return to their initial position. Simultaneously the palms rotate so that at the end of the recovery they are turned downwards again.

11) When the arms are fully extended forward and shoulder-width apart, they enter the water.

12) A second dolphin kick occurs.

13) The next stroke cycle begins.

Swimming Technique

The following articles cover the butterfly stroke technique in more detail:

Body Movements

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Body Movements: The wave-like body movements are at the heart of the butterfly stroke. This article explains how to generate this body undulation.

Arm Stroke

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Arm Stroke: This article discusses the different phases of the arm stroke and how to properly execute each phase.

Dolphin Kick

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

The Dolphin Kick: Explains and demonstrates the dolphin kick. Covers technique, number of kicks per stroke cycle, propulsive phases plus some additional tips.

Breathing Technique

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Breathing Technique: Explains when and how to breathe while swimming butterfly. Also covers breathing to the side and breathing frequency.

Learn How To Swim

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Learn How To Swim Butterfly: This article gives an overview of our swimming lessons to learn the butterfly stroke.

1) At first, you learn the body undulation and dolphin kick which are the foundations of the stroke.

2) The next step is to practice the underwater arm sweep.

3) Afterward, you learn the recovery of the arms above the water.

4) Finally, you combine all the movements practiced in the previous swimming drills until you actually swim butterfly.

Related Pages

You may also be interested in the following articles that cover the butterfly stroke’s swimming technique:

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly swim stroke is truly magnificent when you see it done well. Unfortunately, those incidences are few and far between. The butterfly stroke is infamous for being hard to learn, and even harder to master. Many people struggle with keeping their head above the water and completing the stroke gracefully. It also requires a great deal of strength and impeccable timing in order to do right.

But if you put in the time, complete butterfly swimming drills, and really become an expert on the stroke, the butterfly stroke is a true thing of beauty. Besides being the most beautiful stroke, it’s also faster than many strokes, including the breaststroke and backstroke. And above all else, the butterfly stroke is fun. Once you’ve nailed the steps, you’ll love moving through the water like a dolphin at sea.

If you’re ready to learn how to do the butterfly swim stroke, check out our guide below.

History of the Butterfly Stroke

The history of this stroke is a bit hazy, but most people credit Australian amateur swimming champion Sydney Cavill as the creator. The son of a swimming professor, Cavill eventually came to America to coach prominent swimmers at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He invented the stroke sometime in his youth, in the early 1900s.

Swimmer Henry Myers brought the stroke to greater public awareness when he swam the stroke in a competition at the Brooklyn Central YMCA in 1933. University of Iowa swimming coach David Armbruster independently created the butterfly stroke in 1934, as a way to reduce the drag of the breaststroke. He coined this stroke as the butterfly stroke. University of Iowa swimmer Jack Sieg developed a kick to go along with the arm movement just one year later. Armbruster and Sieg combined these techniques to create the style we know today as the butterfly stroke.

The International Swimming Federation (FINA) recognized the stroke as its own swimming style in 1952, and the stroke was first used in the Olympics in 1956.

Steps to the Butterfly Swim Stroke

The butterfly stroke is an undulating motion that combines arm movement and a dolphin kick. The arm movement includes a pull, push, and recovery, while the dolphin kick involves a small kick followed by a bigger kick. You’ll take a breath at the end of the recovery phase, every few strokes. Here’s how to do the butterfly stroke:

Arm Movement

  1. Extend your arms above your head. Pull hands toward your body in a semicircle, with palms outward.
  2. Push your palms backward. Pull your arms along your sides and past your hips. Do this move quickly to complete the arm release.
  3. Recover. Finish the pull by dragging thumbs on your thighs as you finish the stroke. Then sweep arms out of the water at the same time and throw them forward to the starting position.

Dolphin Kick

  1. Do the initial small kick. While making the signature keyhole shape with your arms, perform a small kick.
  2. Complete the motion with a big kick. During the recovery phase with your arms, make a big kick.

Butterfly Stroke Drills

As we mentioned before, the butterfly stroke is one of the most difficult to master, but is also one of the most rewarding and beautiful strokes known in swimming today. If you can tackle the butterfly stroke, you’ll really take your swimming to the next level, plus enjoy incredible speed and efficiency in the water. Here are some butterfly swimming drills to help you perfect the technique:

  1. One-Arm Only Drill: Swim the butterfly stroke using one arm, which will build strength and improve your technique evenly on both sides.
  2. 3+1 Drill: Do three dolphin kicks and 1 arm pull, keeping arms parallel to the surface of the water.
  3. Blind Drill: Close your eyes and limit your breathing while you do the butterfly stroke, which will help you see how straight you swim.
  4. Three-Stroke Drill: Extend the left arm straight in front of you, hold it there, and take three strokes with the right arm. Then extend your right arm and take three strokes with the left arm. This will help with balance and strengthen the butterfly stroke, or any of the other common swim strokes .

Master Your Skills

Need help mastering the butterfly stroke or other swim techniques? Hire an experienced swim instructor and start improving your skills today by contacting the experts at Swim Jim .

This article gives you a sequence of swimming drills to easily learn the Butterfly Stroke.

Learning butterfly can be difficult because this swimming stroke has several peculiar features.

The body must execute a wave-like undulation which ends in a dolphin kick, and the arms must recover above water simultaneously with the right timing.

That’s why it is best to learn each part of the butterfly technique separately and then to combine those parts progressively until you can finally swim the full stroke.

That’s the approach we use for the swimming drills listed in this article.

Main Butterfly Stroke Drills

These are the cornerstone drills in our series to learn swimming the butterfly stroke.

Head-Lead Body Dolphin

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Head-Lead Body Dolphin: This is the first of our butterfly stroke drills.

It is a drill that teaches you how to properly do the body undulation and dolphin kick, which are the foundations of this swim stroke.

Because in this drill you are not allowed to use your arms, you have to learn how to use body undulation for propulsion.

Hand-Lead Body Dolphin

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Hand-Lead Body Dolphin: In the next drill to learn butterfly, you’ll continue to practice the body undulation.

This time, however, you’ll keep your arms extended in front of you. While doing this swimming drill you will notice that the wave that travels down your body is slower but carries more energy.

Slide to the Corners

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Slide to the Corners: Slide to the Corners is the next butterfly stroke drill. Actually, it’s just an extension of the previous drill, Hand-Lead Body Dolphin.

Now you’ll practice the right setup of your arms and body at the catch, just before your arms start to push backward against the water for propulsion.


How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Stoneskipper: In Stoneskipper you practice the propulsive underwater phase of your arms and learn the correct timing of breathing in the butterfly stroke.

The drill can be thought of as executing two Hand-Lead Body Dolphins, then executing the underwater arms sweeps, then executing two Head-Lead Body Dolphins and finally sneaking your arms back forward underwater to their initial position.

Hip-Delay Butterfly

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Hip-Delay Butterfly: Hip-delay butterfly is a swimming drill that teaches you the correct technique and timing of the above water arm recovery.

Once you have mastered this drill, you will have pretty much learned all the technical aspects needed to swim butterfly.

Body-Dolphin Butterfly

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Body-Dolphin Butterfly: In this drill you combine the arm movements that you practiced in the two previous drills, Stoneskipper and Hip-Delay Butterfly.

You also add a few body dolphins between each arm stroke to avoid early exhaustion.

Easy Butterfly

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Easy Butterfly: Because swimming butterfly is so exhausting, butterfly can quickly become butterstruggle.

This drill is the last one in our series to learn to swim butterfly. It shows you how you can practice the butterfly stroke without becoming exhausted too quickly.

Additional Butterfly Drills

Body Undulation

How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

Learn the Dolphin Kick and Body Undulation: This article has additional swimming drills that you can practice if you don’t “get” the body undulation and dolphin kick used in butterfly.

The article covers drills with swimming fins, without fins, at the water surface and underwater. Some additional tips for the body undulation and dolphin kick are also provided.

One-Armed Butterfly

An anonymous reader explains one-armed butterfly, a nice swimming drill for the butterfly stroke.

Learning Path for the Butterfly Stroke

Below you will find an overview of our series of articles to learn the butterfly stroke.

Each article includes one or several drills/exercises to be mastered.

The current article, which is part of this series, is highlighted:

By completing the different steps of this learning path, you should soon be able to swim the butterfly stroke.

The basics of learning to swim can be applied to every stroke that you learn. These simple principles focus on:


Each of these stages can’t be performed effectively without first perfecting the previous stage. I’m going to tell you how to get each of these stages right with the butterfly stroke, which is an advanced swim stroke.

Your body should be flat and horizontal in the water with your shoulders and hips all inline. The undulation of the body is at the heart of the butterfly stroke, and can take some practice to get used to.

Your head and chest lead the movement. As your arms enter the water push down and forwards into the water with your head and chest and let your hips and feet follow. As you pull back with your arms your head and chest will rise allowing you to take a breath. This should create a dolphin-like motion.

In butterfly the movements of the legs are rather simple, both legs do a simultaneous whipping motion with the feet pointed. It is however the undulation of the body that is the heart of the butterfly stroke, and it takes practice to integrate the kick with undulation of the body to get propulsion.

The undulation is initiated by your head and chest before travelling down your torso, hips and then into your legs, where it ends in a dolphin-like kick. To start this your body needs to be in a horizontal position in the water, with your head in line with your torso. Arms can either extend forward or be at your sides, and your legs are close together and your feet are pointed.

  • Push your chest a few inches downwards in the water, then release it.
  • As you release your chest, push your hips down in the water, then release them.
  • As your hips drive downward, let your thighs follow behind in the downward movement, your legs bent slightly at the knees.
  • Then, as your hips move upwards, straighten your legs to execute a whipping movement.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    As with all swim strokes most of your propulsion will come from your arms.

    Your hands will enter the water in front of your head, keeping the arms relaxed. From here pull down through the water towards your hips, going slightly outwards and then inwards again.

    Keep your arms nice and wide as they exit the water again and keep up the speed.


    Now that you have got the stroke developed you can move on to the breathing. This tends to be the part of the stroke where most people struggle.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    For butterfly you breathe in as your arms pull backwards in the water. This motion pulls your head and chest out of the water to enable the breath to be taken. Make sure you lift your head to look forward instead of down, but stay as low as you can, trying to get your chin just out of the water. If you go too high your legs will drop increasing your drag and slowing your down. If you stay too low you will not be able to get your breath in. Aim to take a breath every one or two strokes.

    Never attempt a swimming stroke for the first time on your own. Expert instruction is available at all Nuffield Health swimming pools.

    So, where do you start? Everyone knows the freestyle stroke, the backstroke and, to a lesser, extent, the breaststroke. The butterfly stands alone as the most challenging of the four major swim strokes—but we think you’re up for it, so let’s get started.

    Body Position: This will vary greatly throughout your butterfly stroke. Your head should stay low and face down as consistently as possible, even when breathing, as the undulation of your body should raise your head out of water. Hips and shoulders should move in a dolphin like motion, as you flow forward.

    The Pull: Your arms will initially reach out in front of you, taking care to enter the water at shoulder’s width. The palms of your hands should face outward and sweep downward until they pull back towards the sides of your chest. When your hands reach this point, pull them out of the water, and windmill both arms at once back in front of you to re-enter and repeat your stroke.

    The Kick: Two legs become one during the butterfly stroke. It’s a flexible, undulating motion that starts in your hips and flows through your knees. Roll your legs down, and then snap your feet back up. Don’t get carried away, however—think of the motion as a strong wiggle, rather than a lashing whip.

    Breathe! You’ll be able to breathe naturally as the top of your head moves out of the water. Take care not to lift your head too far, but just enough to take a breath. Then re-enter the water face down. Your exhale should take place underwater so that you are not wasting time on a full inhale/exhale above.

    Practice! Don’t expect immediate perfection and don’t be discouraged. The butterfly can take time to perfect, and mastery requires optimal synchronization of arm recovery and leg kick. Much like with any challenge, the more time you invest, the quicker you will develop.

    Private Swim Lessons in Your Home Pool

    The butterfly is a swimming stroke swum on the chest, with both arms moving symmetrically, accompanied by the butterfly kick, also known dolphin kick. While other styles like the breaststroke, front crawl, or backstroke can be swum adequately by beginners, the butterfly stroke in particular is one of the hardest strokes to learn. It requires strength, stamina and a precise technique. The main difficulty for beginners is the synchronous over-water recovery, especially when combined with breathing, since both arms, the head, shoulders and part of the chest have to be lifted out of the water for these tasks. Once efficient technique has been developed, it becomes a smooth, fast stroke. It goes without saying that the key to learning the butterfly is practice, practice, practice! This goes for learning any kind of swimming stroke or skill.

    Dolphin Kick

    The kick used to swim butterfly is the dolphin kick, it’s a bit more difficult in comparison to the flutter kick and the whip kick as the power and thrust comes from the hips and requires a streamlined body position in the water. Coupling the dolphin kick with the butterfly stroke arms makes it that much harder as you need to focus on correct timing and breathing. Don’t worry! Practicing your kick and your stroke individually from one another before you put them together you will find that once you do combine your kick with your stroke to swim butterfly, you’ll do very well.

    A good way to practice the butterfly kick is by holding on the the pool’s edge or by using a flutter board. Have your arms extended out in front of you with your face in the water. Stare at the pool floor. To make the learning experience more comfortable, wear swimming goggles and a centre snorkel. Once you get the motion down, try the kick using the freestyle stroke.

    Keep your legs as close together as possible with your toes pointed. When you do the dolphin kick it should be a smooth synchronous undulating motion. The shoulders are brought above the surface by a strong up and medium down kick, and back below the surface by a strong down and up kick.

    Body Position for Butterfly Stroke

    Keep your head in a neutral face down position, directing your eyes to the bottom of the pool. This will help straighten your body while positioning it high in the water. Flatten your back and keep your body as flat as possible. Maintain a facedown position, keeping your head still unless lifting it to breathe. You can use a centre snorkel to practice keeping your head in the correct position as you learn how to do the butterfly stroke.

    To maintain an efficient body position as you swim this stroke, keep your chin as close to the water line as possible when you go up for a breath.

    Butterfly Stroke

    Practice both outside and inside of the pool. Getting the arm motion correct is the first step. When you’re in the water do the arm motion while standing in one spot.

    The butterfly stroke has three major parts, the pull, the push, and the recovery. At the beginning the hands sink a little bit down with the palms facing outwards and slightly down at shoulder width. Then the hands move out to create a Y. This is called catching the water. The pull movement follows a semicircle with the elbow higher than the hand. The hand pointing towards the centre of the body and downward.

    The push pushes the palm backward through the water underneath the body at the beginning and at the side of the body at the end of the push. The swimmer only pushes the arms 1/3 of the way to the hips, making it easier to enter into the recovery and making the recovery shorter and making the breathing window shorter. Both arms should come out of the water at the same time on every stroke.

    The recovery swings the arms sideways across the water surface to the front, with the elbows straight. The arms should be swung forward from the end of the underwater movement. The arms enter the water with the thumbs first at shoulder width. A wider entry loses movement in the next pull phase, and a smaller entry, where the hands touch, wastes energy.

    Breathing Technique

    Breathing is extremely important in swimming. Having a good breathing technique delivers oxygen to your muscles and helps you swim more comfortably and efficiently. As your arms begin to pull down through the stroke, breathe out through your nose as you begin to lift your head to take a breath. Practice breathing while you practice the stroke standing in place. This will better prepare you for when you combine the dolphin kick with the butterfly stroke.

    Altogether Now!

    After you’ve practiced hard and nailed the dolphin kick and the butterfly stroke individually, it’s time to add them together. Don’t forget your breathing technique!

    Find a Coach or Swimming Instructor

    At the end of the day you can practice and practice but you’ll need someone who knows how to execute the butterfly stroke. A coach will help you identify what you’re doing wrong so that it’s easier to correct! Finding a coach or a swimming instructor can also help you learn the stroke quicker so that you can move onto mastering the stroke. Learning the stroke is one thing but mastering the stroke improves efficiency. The benefit of an efficient stroke is that it is less tiring to execute. AquaMobile swimming instructors come to you! Lessons are given in the comfort of your own home and on your schedule. You even get to choose your swimming instructor! Most of our instructors are or have been competitive swimmers on the regional or national scale. Our swimming instructors have been swimming anywhere from 3 – 50 years!

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    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    How to swim butterfly stroke correctly

    1st August 2017

    Nuffield Health Swimming Coordinator Mathew Carter provides expert instruction for learning or improving your butterfly stroke.

    The basics of learning to swim can be applied to every stroke that you learn. These simple principles focus on:


    Each of these stages can’t be performed effectively without first perfecting the previous stage. I’m going to tell you how to get each of these stages right with the butterfly stroke, which is an advanced swim stroke.

    Your body should be flat and horizontal in the water with your shoulders and hips all inline. The undulation of the body is at the heart of the butterfly stroke, and can take some practice to get used to.

    Your head and chest lead the movement. As your arms enter the water push down and forwards into the water with your head and chest and let your hips and feet follow. As you pull back with your arms your head and chest will rise allowing you to take a breath. This should create a dolphin-like motion.

    In butterfly the movements of the legs are rather simple, both legs do a simultaneous whipping motion with the feet pointed. It is however the undulation of the body that is the heart of the butterfly stroke, and it takes practice to integrate the kick with undulation of the body to get propulsion.

    The undulation is initiated by your head and chest before travelling down your torso, hips and then into your legs, where it ends in a dolphin-like kick. To start this your body needs to be in a horizontal position in the water, with your head in line with your torso. Arms can either extend forward or be at your sides, and your legs are close together and your feet are pointed.

    • Push your chest a few inches downwards in the water, then release it.
    • As you release your chest, push your hips down in the water, then release them.
    • As your hips drive downward, let your thighs follow behind in the downward movement, your legs bent slightly at the knees.
    • Then, as your hips move upwards, straighten your legs to execute a whipping movement.

    How to Swim the Butterfly StrokeAs with all swim strokes most of your propulsion will come from your arms.

    Your hands will enter the water in front of your head, keeping the arms relaxed. From here pull down through the water towards your hips, going slightly outwards and then inwards again.

    Keep your arms nice and wide as they exit the water again and keep up the speed.


    Now that you have got the stroke developed you can move on to the breathing. This tends to be the part of the stroke where most people struggle.

    For butterfly you breathe in as your arms pull backwards in the water. This motion pulls your head and chest out of the water to enable the breath to be taken. Make sure you lift your head to look forward instead of down, but stay as low as you can, trying to get your chin just out of the water. If you go too high your legs will drop increasing your drag and slowing your down. If you stay too low you will not be able to get your breath in. Aim to take a breath every one or two strokes.

    Never attempt a swimming stroke for the first time on your own. Expert instruction is available at all Nuffield Health swimming pools.

    Are you training for your next Human Race event? Click here to claim a free 1-day Nuffield Health gym pass and put their facilities to the test to boost your training plan.

    Content supplied by Nuffield Health

    Butterfly is considered the most difficult stroke to master. If it’s swum with improper form, the stroke is extremely tiring and inefficiently slow. If you’re struggling to improve your butterfly, this article is designed for you!

    Check out our tips below, then download the MySwimPro app to start your personal training plan:

    Training Plans for Improving Your Butterfly:

    • Improve Endurance (8 Week Plan)
    • Get Fit – IM (8 Week Plan)
    • IMX Pro Challenge (10 Week Plan)

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    Butterfly was first introduced as a variation of breaststroke in the 1930’s. Originally, the stroke used today’s butterfly arm movement with a breaststroke kick. Today, this isn’t the case, and it’s one of the reasons people can be resistant to working on improving it.

    Butterfly is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Below are the fundamental elements of a proper butterfly stroke:

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    Butterfly Timing

    Timing is the most important part of the stroke. Every other component is an extension of the stroke’s timing:

    1) The Catch:

    • Move the body forward to push water back
    • Fingers should be pointing down, with palms facing back
    • Think about bending the elbows so forearm angles vertically
    • Arms should go wide after the entry and extension

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    2) The Press:

    • Drive body forward with chin and chest
    • Chin should not be tucked or diving down
    • Pressing too deep can compromise the catch
    • 3 actions happen together:
      1. Press body forward
      2. Hands enter/extend forward
      3. Kick
    • Kick your press and entry forward!

    The Kick:

    • Two kicks, equal in power and size
    • 2nd kick (at exit) is the kick most often missed because the knees never bend to set it up
    • Drive knee downward (otherwise feet exit water)
      1. Kick hands forward and press forward
      2. Kick breathe forward


    Breathing too high or at the wrong time will kill a good stroke. The key is to stay low and breathe forward. Having a late breath is key. You need to focus on pulling forward to breathe. If you watch the best swimmers in the world (Michael Phelps below), you can see his chin just barely grazes over the surface of the water to catch air on the breath. The second kick is critical to drive the body forward.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    Hand Entry, Pull Pattern, Recovery

    The hand entry should be at shoulder width or just wider. The palms are downward facing and the thumbs should come in first or at the same time as the rest of the fingers. The most important part of the hand entry is being controlled so that you don’t create a lot of splash upon entering the water.

    Next you need to focus on pushing the water back and initiating an early vertical forearm with your palms, forearm and rest of your arms. The pull pattern is dictated by how deep someone presses their chest and body. The pull’s finish sets the arms up for the recovery. This sweeping recovery should be controlled.

    Breathing Pattern

    Generally I believe in breathing every other stroke. If a swimmer has a strong underwater presence (12-15 meters underwater consistently) then it makes sense to breathe every stroke to prepare to go back underwater. Breathing every stroke should never compromise rhythm and mechanics.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    Underwater Dolphin Kicks

    The underwater dolphin kick has become a major component of swimming butterfly. Even if you do not race in competition, having a good kick technique applies to the overall stroke mechanics in keeping rhythm and tempo. In competition, the world’s best swimmers can spend up to 60% of a race under water (Short Course).

    Even in long course competition like at the Olympics, the best swimmers are spending a considerable amount of time underwater. The best way to do this in a race is to work on it in training every single day.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    Training Butterfly

    It’s critical to learn the proper stroke technique before applying heaving training to your butterfly. This is true for all strokes, but most for the short axis strokes like butterfly and breaststroke. Because you’re already so inefficiently low in the water, it’s even more important to have the right technique and body position.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    It’s important to reinforce proper technique. Butterfly is a rhythmic stroke. It’s not about power, it’s about mastering efficiency. The longer the distance, the more the stroke depends on posture, line, balance and rhythm.

    Butterfly is a stroke that should be trained at speed. You need to focus on maintaining a higher body position with perfect form. Shorter distances of higher repeats are better than doing continuous butterfly. It’s also good to mix freestyle and butterfly within a distance.

    For example, doing 10 x 100s (25 Butterfly, 25 Butterfly Drill, 25 Freestyle, 25 Butterfly), is a good way to break apart the stroke and be aerobically challenging.

    These technique insights were gathered from a presentation given by Russell Mark, USA Swimming’s National Team High Performance Consultant . You can watch the full presentation, plus more interviews with other coaches here.

    Looking for more butterfly workouts and drills?

    Start your 7-day free trial of MySwimPro Elite. You’ll unlock a full library of drill videos, workouts and training plans right on your phone or smartwatch:

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    Download the MySwimPro app today in the App Store for iPhone and Google Play Store for Android!

    by Kerry O Brien

    July 27, 2020

    Butterfly is a beautiful stroke—when done properly

    Butterfly is to swimming what the Fosbury Flop is to track and field and the triple axel is to figure skating: the quintessential weaving of both power and style, with its difficulty overshadowed by its grace when viewed in its purest form.

    Butterfly shares many of the same challenges as its short-axis cousin, breaststroke. The most important is being able to keep your body in forward motion by eliminating excessive up and down movements that create inefficiencies and speed-killing drag. With the physical demands required, you must have a workable balanced ratio of energy output to energy effectively transferred to forward propulsion. In other words, efficiency begets speed. This is never truer than in butterfly.

    Here is a look at butterfly in its purest form.

    Go With the Flow

    Because of how difficult it can be to swim butterfly, you should isolate certain aspects of the stroke to get a better understanding of their purpose and then integrate them with the next piece. This gives you a working knowledge of how the mechanics interact and complement each other toward the goal of a more efficient and fluid technique.

    Flow and rhythm are all-important for proper butterfly. Body dolphining helps set up your flow and rhythm. Your legs shouldn’t be the only things involved in this motion; your torso is important in setting into motion the necessary movements to create this rhythmic flow that builds power and quickness and delivers it to your legs and down to the snap of your feet at the end of your kick. Just as in any land-based sport, you generate power in your core, and it goes to your limbs.

    As your arms complete the recovery phase, press your chest (the most buoyant part of your body because of the air in your lungs) into the water to help lift your pelvis. Throughout this movement, your hips should never venture far from the surface. This is the key to the idea of “directional momentum.” Keep things moving in the direction you want to travel: forward, not up and down.

    Timing is Everything

    Your hands should enter directly in front of your shoulders and stay at or near the surface of the water. Think of your entry as lunging forward, not plunging down.

    If you drive your hands below your head and chest down into the water, you’ll have issues syncing your pull to the timing of your two kicks. Your kicks should be timed so that the first happens when your hands enter the water and the second should be when your hands come out of the water.

    If you’re driving your hands too deep, you experience a momentary pause that will often lead to an early second kick. If this happens, you won’t have any force to drive your shoulders forward to clear the surface of the water at the beginning of the recovery phase of your stroke. Your default will be to press down on the water with your hands and to arch your back to lift your head, shoulders, and chest, all of which is inefficient.

    There’s Always a Catch

    Setting up a proper catch in swimming, regardless of what stroke you’re doing, is as important as the construction of a proper foundation for a building. The success of everything that follows rests upon it. Because of the symmetrical nature of the arm stroke in butterfly, the execution of your catch is twice as important.

    Keep your elbows at the surface of the water at the start of your stroke, bringing your hands and forearms underneath them with your fingers pointed toward the bottom of the pool. Being able to delay your stroke until you’ve hinged at the elbow, (early vertical forearm), takes concentration and focus, but it’s important. This is why many butterflyers take the time to isolate this portion of their stroke in drill sets. Doing so allows them to give this effort the attention it deserves.

    The Key to a Proper Pull

    Once you’ve performed a proper catch, you’re now in position to recruit the larger muscle groups in your chest, shoulders, and back to do the heavy lifting of propelling your body over your hands. Based upon your strength and preferences, the pattern of your hands through the pull may vary from pressing in toward your navel, historically referred to as the keyhole pattern, to more of a straight line from catch to hips.

    As your elbows begin exiting the water to initiate the recovery phase, your hands should keep accelerating through the finish of your pull, keeping propulsive pressure on your palms until you pass your hips. Once you get there, your pull and second kick finish in unison, with your body in an alignment that creates the least amount of drag.

    The Recovery

    Your arm recovery is a low, swinging, circular motion in which your hands stay close to the water’s surface. Don’t let your elbows hinge and cause your hands to get ahead of your elbows. Keep everything in a straight line.

    An important key to butterfly recovery is having the ability to transfer momentum from a circular orbit to one that has your hands, upon entry, landing in front of your shoulders and moving in the direction you want to travel: forward, not down or crashing toward the centerline. Proper hand entry sets up the next stroke cycle.


    Because of the strength and energy demands that butterfly requires, oxygen is always a hot commodity. And as world records continue to drop, more and more 100 and 200 butterflyers are breathing every stroke to meet these demands.

    But without proper mechanics, every breath is potentially slowing you down. It’s the last piece of the puzzle in terms of syncing everything to the rhythmic flow of the stroke.

    When top butterflyers set up a breathing stroke, as soon as they feel any pressure on their palms, they begin to exhale through their nose. You should move your chin forward slightly, as your upper body rides the wave back toward the surface to get a breath of air.

    Keeping in mind that your body will always follow your head, from above the water, you can see the importance of keeping your chin skimming closely over the surface. Doing this keeps your momentum moving forward, not up and down.

    The completion of your inhale should be in sync with both the finish of your pull and your second kick. From there, it’s a race between your eyes and your hands to get back into the water first, but your eyes should get back into the water right before your hands.


    • Technique and Training

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    Get a Faster and Smoother ‘Fly with SwimMirror

    Secret: knowing how to improve your butterfly stroke with a pool mirror is a lot easier than actually making the improvement. That’s because butterfly doesn’t just focus on technique, but also on building strong muscles.

    Still, knowledge is power, and the first step of getting better at your butterfly stroke is knowing where to start. Here’s 5 ways you can do that.

    1. Lead with Your Head

    Have you ever watched Michael Phelps practice his butterfly stroke? One of the first things you’ll notice is the way his body follows the lead of his head as it crests the water.

    That’s what you need to do when swimming butterfly. As you move, keep your shoulders and hips horizontal and focus on staying near the surface of the water. This helps create a smooth, consistent and streamlined motion for your butterfly.

    2. Stop Breathing Late

    Breathing can make or break your timing in butterfly.

    Even with a good, clean start in the water, if you breathe too late it can throw your swim strokes out of sync. This wrecks your timing by preventing your chin from facing downward during your body roll.

    So, when you should breathe? Lift your chin out of the water when your arms begin to pull, while facing downward. To keep your momentum, take a quick breath then duck your head underwater as your arms rise out of the water.

    Doing this keeps your rhythm and gives you the time you need to start your body roll. In other words, you should be able to see yourself in your pool mirror as your arms break through the surface of the pool.

    3. Practice Your Dolphin Kick

    Lots of swimmers practice their butterfly with mono-fins to get the hang of the dolphin kick. Whether or not you use swim gear to keep your legs in form, though, your goal is the same: to propel yourself forward with a fluid, simultaneous kick that presses your legs together like a dolphin’s tail. The strength of that kick will come from your hips.

    When you kick, don’t move “up and down” like a see-saw. Like we said before, you need to keep your body horizontal. The whole motion of your dolphin kick should “ripple” through your body like a wave. This gets easier with a strong abdominal core.

    Keeping your kick small and compact also makes the movement leaner and highly efficient!

    4. Build Your Endurance

    Remember what we said improving your butterfly stroke is as much about your physical abilities as it is about swim technique? Using both arms in butterfly means you don’t get a sideways rotation like you would in freestyle or backstroke, so it’s easy to get fatigued.

    In other words, you have to build your upper body strength to succeed.

    There’s a lot of butterfly drills out there that are designed to not only help perfect your swimming technique, but also to help build your endurance. Ask your coach or fellow swimmers about which ones they suggest, or look into the favorite drills of your butterfly heroes (everyone has their own favorite—even Michael Phelps!).

    5. Improve Your Butterfly Stroke with SwimMirror

    Want to see your butterfly strokes improve in real-time? There’s a lot of benefits to using a pool mirror, but the best one by far is being able to assess your technique as you practice.

    Any swimmer benefits from seeing their strokes as they swim, whether they’re a beginner or an Olympic competitor. Fixing your most common swimming mistakes makes you faster and more efficient in the water, and less likely to continue with bad swimming habits in the future!

    Ready to improve your butterfly stroke with SwimMirror?

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    Home / Swimming Techniques / Butterfly stroke: Technique Masterclass

    Master the most majestic of swimming strokes with our butterfly masterclass.

    If you want to turn heads at the pool, the butterfly, as beautiful as it is powerful, is one sure way to do so. Few people dare to attempt this impressive stroke, but if you stay committed and take heed of some great advice, it’s perfectly within reach.

    We spoke with Bram Montgomery, head coach at Chelsea and Westminster Swim Club, on how to master this magnificent stroke.

    What’s the movement of the butterfly stroke in a nutshell?

    Your body should flow in a continuous up-and-down wave through your chest, hips and feet, like a dolphin. The power comes from the whole body. Most people think it’s the arms that drive the movement, but you should be driving energy from the hips and core, and the arms follow.

    What should I aim for with body position?

    With all four swimming strokes, the higher your body is in the water, the less drag you create. The best fly swimmers maintain an undulating motion but the depth of their movement is shallow. The key is to create a wave with a small frequency, staying close to the surface of the water.

    How can I master the butterfly kick?

    Like freestyle [front crawl], the legs should be high in the water with the heels just breaking the surface on the upkick. The feet should stay together, and the ankles loose and flexible.

    The kick should be generated from the hips, not the knees. It’s often referred to as the dolphin kick because of the up-and-down movement. That’s what you want to aim for, but make sure you make glutes and hips the centre of the wave motion.

    What about the breathing rhythm?

    This is the hardest part because timing is so important with butterfly stroke. You should aim to lift your head and take a breath when the hands have just completed the stroke and in the beginning of the recovery phase (lifting over your head).

    Your head should be back in the water as the arms end the recovery phase and begin the pull, so it’s a very quick inhalation. Beginners should aim to breathe every two strokes because it’s easy to drop the hips when the head is up, so minimising the times you have to raise your head will stop bad habits forming.

    Experienced fly swimmers may breathe every stroke because they’ve learned to keep their head low to the water.

    What are the common mistakes?

    Most people know butterfly from the defining arm movements, so they focus on that and let their body follow. It should be the other way around.
    Focus on the undulating body action and allow the arms to follow naturally.

    Secondly, people kick using their feet or knees instead of the hips but this will cause your legs to sink and the upper body to rise so you won’t be streamlined. Finally, the timing of the breath is a common stumbling block because people leave their head up longer than they should, which also affects streamlining.

    What drills can I do to get started?

    Drill 1: Butterfly kick. First master the kick. Place a pullbuoy between your legs for buoyancy, so you can focus solely on the motion. Have your head in the water and your arms outstretched in front and concentrate on creating an up-and-down wave between your chest, hips and feet.

    Drill 2: Single arm butterfly. Performing with one arm will force you to concentrate on body motion instead of arms. Use a pullbuoy to start, and try the full stroke with one arm either by your side or out in front. The second benefit of this drill – see our ladder drill video for more on this – is that when one arm is not in use, it’s hard to bring your head up too high, so it will knock any bad habits on the head early.

    Don’t expect miracles when you start a new stroke. If you’re only used to freestyle for instance you might find the kick difficult. But persevere and soon you’ll be creating huge waves at your local pool.

    Disclaimer: Always consult with a professional healthcare provider before starting any diet or exercise programme, if you are pregnant or if you are potentially suffering from a medical condition.

    Fly Facts

    • The butterfly stroke is the newest of the four recognised competitive strokes and is thought to have originated in 1934.
    • It was started by a group of breaststroke swimmers who were attempting out-of-the-water arm recoveries and was first performed with breaststroke kick.
    • A swimmer named Jack Seig developed the dolphin kick style and it soon caught on.
    • The peak speed that butterfliers reach is faster than any other stroke because the pull phase uses both arms and exerts more power. However, it’s offset by the recovery phase, which is slower than freestyle
    • Michael Phelps is the most celebrated butterflier of all time, with six Olympic gold medals in individual fly events.

    While a reopening date for pools is still pending, Swim England has released proposed guidelines for when they do

    • Rosie Fitzmaurice
    • Tuesday 16 June 2020 18:09
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    The latest lifestyle, fashion and travel trends

    Swim England has shed new light on what swimming at indoor pools and lidos will be like when they finally reopen in England.

    In order to ensure swimmers can social distance properly, pool users may be asked not to overtake one another, to avoid the butterfly stroke when lanes are busy and may be required to arrive wearing their bathing suits under their clothes, according to new guidelines published by the industry body this week.

    In its ‘Returning to the Pool’ guidelines Jane Nickerson, the chief executive of Swim England, said: “We have all been missing the water during the Covid-19 enforced closure of swimming pools.

    “When pools reopen, it will not be a case of ‘business as usual and we know that things will have to be different. However, if we are to play our part in protecting the NHS from another wave of Covid-19 admissions, it is important we follow the latest guidance and adjust to the new ‘normal’.”

    The government is yet to issue a reopening date, but is not expected to be before July 4, along with gyms and leisure centres.

    How to have your perfect swim when the pools reopen

    Here are some of the changes you may expect to see when you’re finally allowed to take that first ‘new normal’ dip.

    Prebooked sessions

    There is likely to be a maximum capacity of 6 square metres per swimmer, and Swim England has suggested that one way of ensuring social distancing can be adhered to at facilities is “to run using bookable sessions only,” which it adds could be implemented using a combination of “coloured band systems, locker tokens/keys, access kiosks, prebooked admissions and turnstiles.”

    ‘Beach style turn up and swim’

    In order to minimise time spent in changing rooms the guidelines suggest the introduction of a “beach style turn up and swim,” which would see pool users come ready to swim in their bathing suits under their clothes.

    “Arrive ready to swim. Once you have finished your swim, leave the venue as soon as you can. Shower at home, pre and post swimming (showers may be available at the facility but by arriving wearing your swimwear under your clothing and showering at home pre and post swimming you will help minimise time spent in the changing rooms and help maintain the water quality),” it reads.

    No overtaking, avoid butterfly (when busy)

    Swimmers will be required to pay careful attention to their chosen lane (fast, medium and slow) as overtaking would not be permitted while swimming.

    “Before pushing off at each turn, check to see if anyone faster is approaching,” the advice reads. It also encourages swimmers to maintain enough space between each another while in the pool and discourages “wide strokes such as butterfly” when lanes are busy.

    “If you change to a slower stroke as part of your session, think about moving lanes,” it says.

    Expect plenty of signage to remind people to socially distance inside and outside the pool and, potentially, a one-way system to enter and exit the facility.

    Bring your own

    Swimmers may also be required to take personal equipment such as floats and kickboards with them, ensuring that they are clean and easily identifiable as your own property, as well as bringing your own pre-filled water to stay hydrated during your swim.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

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    • How to Push Yourself off the Wall in Swimming
    • How to Improve Leg Strength When Swimming

    Whether you are swimming competitively or for exercise, many strokes and styles take you from one end of the pool to the other. When reaping swimming’s benefits, one of the best calorie-burners is the butterfly stroke. This powerful swimming stroke requires you to move your arms up and over to propel your body through the water. Always consult your physician before beginning a swimming program to ensure you are in good enough health to perform this exercise.

    Swimming’s Benefits

    Thanks to water’s natural buoyancy, swimming is a low-impact workout, which means even those with knee troubles can swim. Swimming offers many benefits to your body’s appearance, from toning your muscles to improving your posture. The butterfly stroke in particular requires very strong shoulders and arms, helping you to achieve more defined muscles. Swimming is also good for your heart, improving cardiovascular capacity and endurance.

    Butterfly Arms

    The butterfly stroke requires the coordinated movement of your arms and legs to propel you forward through the water. The stroke requires strong and flexible shoulders because you bring your arms up and around at the same time, dipping your hands in the water and rotating through the stroke repeatedly. Think of this as moving your arms in windmill fashion around and around as you move your arms through the water. This is where the term “butterfly” comes from — you flap your arms or “wings” just like a butterfly. Your head remains in the water at all times, except when you need to lift your head up and take a breath.

    Leg Movements

    The butterfly stroke requires excellent coordination and timing to make the arms and legs match each other in the ideal rhythm. Your legs stay together as if joined at the ankles, and you kick your legs when your hands enter the water and again as your hands stay in the water. The legs kick as one unit, much like the tail of a fish, bending your legs to lift the feet out of the water and then straightening to submerge them.

    Calories Burned

    Swimming one hour of the butterfly stroke burns 649 calories in a 130-pound person, according to ShapeFit, a health and wellness resource. The breaststroke and swimming laps at a vigorous pace burn 590 calories per hour in the same size person while swimming at a leisurely pace burns 354 calories per hour for a 130-pound person.

    • BBC Sport: Learn How to Swim Butterfly
    • USA Swimming: Butterfly: Pull Water Back; Don’t Worry About Pull Pattern
    • CNN: The Benefits of: Swimming
    • ShapeFit: Exercises and Calories Burned

    Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and “Jezebel,” “Charleston,” “Chatter” and “Reach” magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.

    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

    The butterfly stroke is an impressive swimming technique, both visually as well as physically. The main difficulty of learning the technique comes from its “athletic” aspect. Indeed, the butterfly stroke requires muscle strength, synchronisation of movements and flexibility.


    The butterfly stroke originated from the separation of traditional breaststroke with the butterfly breaststroke where the arms return through the air. It is known as the fastest swimming stroke after the crawl.

    This technique is usually taught last during swimming training because of its demanding nature. Indeed, it requires excellent fitness, relaxation and perfect coordination.
    Breathing is also very important, whether from the front or side. In any case, it has to be stable.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke


    As odd as it may seem, the butterfly stroke is similar to the swimming of dolphins because the legs perform undulating movements, as opposed to the scissor movements of the crawl, for example.

    For beginners, the most common difficulty is in returning the arms forward through the air. This requires coordination between the return of the arms and the second undulation of the legs.

    And the legs themselves must be held together during the entire stroke. They must undulate, extending the movement of the upper body.

    The upper body is also very much in demand, starting with the arms. Indeed, it is essential since it is the arms that exert the traction and thrust which propels the body forward.

    Finally, breathing is the most important point. It can be done with each arm movement for distance or with every two or three strokes of the arms for speed, which requires even more relaxation and coordination. The hardest part for the beginner is to perform correct undulations in order to balance arm movements with breathing.

    Daily Doses of Surreal Humour & Culture

    Back when we were younger, our school took us primary kids swimming. Our esteemed editor, Mr. Wapojif, was a front crawl expert! But then there came this monstrosity…

    What is the butterfly stroke?

    Okay, so it’s a swimming style that was designed by a sadist. The goal is to try and dislocate your shoulder blades by heaving your shoulders around like a lunatic.

    Invented in 1933, it’s the newest of all swimming strokes. Probably because it’s so useless.

    The world’s best swimmers can, admittedly, make this swimming stroke look quite dramatic and glamorous.

    For everyone else, you’ll make a hell of a noise and an incredible amount of mess—sploshing and splishing about like a lunatic.

    To watch an amateur take on butterfly stroke is like watching someone repeatedly bellyflop into a pool over and over.

    Creating this massive excess of froth and foam (kind of like a mini Spume Island). Why? As it’s such a bizarre choice of motion to swim.

    Regardless, it was part of our youth. We remember the trips to the local swimming pool in Chorley in the early to mid-1990s.

    The chlorine building up under our nails from the pool. Accidentally swallowing some water every now and then and wanting to heave.

    Doing a pyjamas day and swimming with your clothes on, even though the chances of that even happening were, like, 100 million to 1.

    We did them all. Front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke. The second most stupid is backstroke, as you can never bloody tell where you’re going.

    How many unnecessary bloody swimming collisions has that stupidity cost of the years?

    But nothing tops butterfly. It makes no sense. Unless you’re a trained athlete, you look like a total idiot.

    If you were out swimming in the ocean, Jaws would be on you in seconds due to the staggering amount of commotion.

    It’s exhausting, unglamorous, slow, and will ruin your shoulders. Why? Why!?

    Glamorous it is not. Stick to front crawl. It’s much more fun and user-friendly.

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    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    The butterfly stroke is named after the graceful motion of a butterfly’s wings. It is one of the fastest swim strokes, and is also considered to be one of the most difficult. However, with practice and perseverance, you can perform the butterfly stroke with confidence and efficiency.

    Before beginning, it is preferable to consult your physician and be in good physical condition. It is also a good idea to have some familiarity with the other basic swimming strokes. The best option is to have a qualified swim coach to instruct you, but if this is not possible you can certainly teach yourself the butterfly stroke.

    Learn To Swim : Butterfly Stroke

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    Learn To Swim : Butterfly Stroke

    After mastering these two components, the next step is to put them together. This is best done with an understanding of the two-kick cycle. The two-kick cycle is performed by first pushing off of the wall of the pool with the dolphin kick. When you are ready to breathe, execute a pull and push, lifting your head out of the water and taking a deep breath. As you are pulling and pushing, do a giant kick to lift up out of the water and breathe. As you perform the recovery, kick back down into the water to glide for approximately 1-2 seconds. This completes the butterfly stroke.

    Lastly, it is always recommended to learn butterfly stroke only after you are proficient in other basic strokes such as freestyle or breast stroke.

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    Of the four competition strokes, the butterfly stroke may be the most difficult to master. This swimming style has three important components: arms, which move synchronously; legs, which employ a “dolphin” kick; and body, which should conduct a wave-like movement throughout the stroke. Division I swim coach Marc Christian shares his butterfly stroke tips to help you get moving in the water.


    The wave-like motion of your body throughout the butterfly is called body undulation. Once you master this technique, it can also help your butterfly arm stroke, as well as your kick. Begin by floating on your chest with your body straight and arms extended forward. Your head should face down, looking toward the bottom of the pool.

    The wave should begin at your shoulders and move down to your hips, ultimately ending at your feet. At the point where your chest naturally rises, you will take a breath.

    “Butterfly requires timing and strength, but also relaxation,” Christian says. “It is important to remain relaxed when swimming butterfly. It is essential to have a flow through your body undulations.”


    Begin with your arms extended and shoulder width apart. Your chest should be pushing down into the water. Next, move into the “catch” position, which creates your propulsion.

    • Bend your arms at the elbow, this is the catch position.
    • Pull your arms back and up through to your hips. At this point, your chest should press forward and raise your arms.
    • Throw your arms outward, perpendicular to your body.
    • Bring your arms up and over your head, ultimately ending in their initial starting position.

    Remember to breathe as your arms are pushed behind you.


    “For every good butterflyer, you have a great butterfly kick,” Christian says. “We call that kick the dolphin kick. The dolphin kick is an extension of your body undulations that you start when you’re using your pull.”


    The butterfly kick originates from your hips. This should also be the largest portion of the kick. Make sure you’re keeping your feet and legs together throughout the motion. Drive your hips down into the water and let your legs bend slightly at the knee. Your thighs should follow your hips downward while the lower portion of your legs rise. As your hips come up, straighten out your legs to execute a whipping motion.

    You need to generate power from your hips and core muscles to extend the kick through to your legs and toes.


    When performing the butterfly stroke, you only get one pull to every two kicks. Therefore, it is important to understand when to take these kicks. The first kick should be taken as you begin your pull. Meanwhile, the second kick should be taken as your hands are coming through the catch position and about to exit near your hips.

    The second kick should be a strong, small kick to help your arms recover forward.


    A helpful drill for learning how to swim butterfly is the “dolphin dive drill”. This training technique can help you work on your body undulation, as well as your kick.

    The dolphin dive drill is completed by using a lane with two lane lines. You should push off the wall and try to kick from lane line to lane line. The goal is to find a strong flow that allows you to kick evenly to both sides.

    With these tips, your butterfly stroke technique can be as smooth as butter. For more swim tips, check out our Pro Tips guides on the freestyle stroke, breaststroke and backstroke.

    As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

    Always wanted to know how to do butterfly stroke? Maybe you can already but you find butterfly swimming technique exhausting ?

    Either way, you have come to the right place!

    I have taken butterfly swimming technique and broken it down into its separate parts . That way, you will have a clear picture of what each part of your body should be doing at each point during the stroke.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    Butterfly Stroke Swimming Technique Video

    The butterfly technique video below explains each part of the stroke and what your body should be doing as you swim.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    FREE EBOOK: all of the technique tips here can be found in my ‘Butterfly Stroke Technique‘ book, along with a couple of bonus drills to help you perfect some essential parts of the stroke.

    How To Do Butterfly Stroke – 12 Essential Parts

    1. As the body undulates, the swimmer maintains a stretched and streamlined position, lead by the head.

    2. The shoulders remain horizontal as the movement flows smoothly.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    3. The kick is simultaneous, rhythmical and powerful, remaining within the body width.

    4. The knees bend and provide a powerful downbeat whip like action, with toes pointed and ankles relaxed.

    5. The simultaneous arm action begins with the hands entering the water, thumb and index finger first.

    6. The hands press outwards and downwards in a powerful S shape pathway towards the hips where they exit the water.

    7. The arms are then thrown over the water ready to enter again, gaining maximum reach per stroke as they do so.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    8. Breathing should take place every stroke or every other stroke depending on the ability of the swimmer.

    9. The swimmer exhales explosively as the head rises and then inhales quickly as the arms exit and the chin is clear of the water.

    10. The timing and coordination follows a sequence of ‘kick, pull, kick, recover’.

    11. One kick supports the upward movement as the swimmers arms pull and the head rises to breathe.

    12. The second kick assists the undulation and propulsion as the arms recover.

    How to Swim the Butterfly Stroke

    Get more from your butterfly stroke.

    Are you needing more butterfly technique tips and drills? Everything you need is right here in my popular book ‘How To Swim Butterfly’.


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    The second fastest stroke after freestyle, the butterfly requires powerful shoulders and is one of the most difficult and exhaustive strokes to master. Because it utilizes an undulating body movement — as opposed to the body roll of freestyle — swimmers need to execute back arches and abdominal contractions which require a particularly strong core musculature. Add a double kick to the torso undulation and the challenge of the butterfly becomes one of rhythm and timing.

    Upper Body and Propulsion

    The primary movers of the butterfly stroke are the pectoralis major in your chest and the latissimus dorsi in your back, which power upper arm adduction — drawing your arms in toward your body — during the push phase. The muscles at the top of your upper arms — the biceps brachii and brachialis — activate as your elbows move from full extension at the beginning of the catch to about 40 degrees of flexion midway through the pull. During the final stage of the pull phase, you use your triceps to explosively extend your arms. While your shoulders — deltoids and rotator cuffs – position and move your arms during the recovery phase, your wrist flexors serve to keep your wrists in a slightly flexed position throughout the stroke.

    Sweep and Speed of the Hands

    Your hands enter the water at shoulder-width apart or slightly narrower and then trace a pattern through the water that resembles an hour glass. Once underwater, your hands sweep inward, moving under your body. To push against the water’s resistance, you use the muscles in your hands, or thenars, as well as your forearm flexors — the brachioradialis — and extensors — the extensor digitorum muscles. The degree to which you bend your elbows depends on how deep your hands are underwater. In turn, the depth of your hands is determined by the strength of your upper back and shoulders. During the final stage of propulsion, your hands move around and past your hips and then toward the water’s surface for the recovery phase.

    The Undulating Core

    In contrast to the freestyle, the butterfly uses the undulating torso movement. The paraspinal muscles — the muscles that run along your spine from your neck to your lower back — contract to begin this undulation. First, the muscles in your back arch while your arms move into the recovery phase of the stroke. Then, the abdominal muscles — or your rectus abdominis and obliques — immediately contract. This contraction enables your upper body to follow your hands into the water and start the propulsive phase of your stroke.

    The Dolphin Kick

    The motion of the butterfly’s dolphin kick — a double kick — also follows an undulating pattern of movement. Although you use the same leg muscles as you would in the freestyle stroke, your legs move together. The downbeat of the kick, which provides propulsive force, starts with a contraction of your hip flexors, or the rectus femoris and iliopsoas. You then extend your knees, which activates your quads. During the recovery phase of the kick, your glutes and hamstrings contract to extend your hips. Throughout the stroke, the plantarflexed position of your feet — ankles extended and toes pointed — involves the activation of your calf muscles, or gastrocnemius and soleus.

    Being a competitive swimmer since the age of six, you’d think there’d be little I haven’t done when it comes to practicing technique. I ran across the bottom of a 14-foot-deep pool while holding weighted bricks, did SEAL training protocols to develop better breath control, and used pretty much every training tool on the market just to see which are worth the hype.

    Sounds pretty all encompassing, right? Little did I know that the type of pool I was practicing in played a huge role in what I was able to accomplish. Enter my Performance Endless Pool complete with its swim current generator. This pool continues to surprise me by what it allows us to work on in terms of stroke technique. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you why…

    At SwimBox swim studio in Fairfax, Virginia, the coaches have a front-row view of every swimmer’s every movement. Thanks to their Performance Endless Pool, which makes in-place swimming possible, bad technique has nowhere to hide. That means more fine-tuning for faster progress.

    Nowhere to Hide

    In the Endless Pool, you’re basically a sitting duck, and I mean that in the best way possible – bad technique has nowhere to hide. You’re not moving forward or backward or away from your coach while you’re swimming, so you can work on pieces of your stroke you otherwise wouldn’t be able to in your standard pool.

    One thing that’s particularly difficult to see properly at a standard pool: The butterfly kick.

    Simply put, giving instruction on butterfly kick can be quite difficult. But one of my favorite things about my Performance Endless Pool is that you get to work on things while you stay put, which means your coach has a steady, front-row view of your movements while you do them. The coach doesn’t need to chase you up and down, back and forth, as at your standard pool, just to get a glimpse of your leg movement.

    An effective butterfly kick requires a propulsive forward movement that’s in sync with the arms. It’s a challenging stroke that’s easier to improve in an Endless Pool. Here, coach Dominic Latella can see every detail of the swimmer’s butterfly for more effective coaching and the best swim gains.

    Mastering the Butterfly Kick

    So, what do you want to look for when working on your fly kick? You want the tops of your feet and shins to be pushing backward against the water in order to help propel you forward. Thinking of it like this will help you understand that butterfly is a forwardly progressive motion, as opposed to an up-and-down motion.

    Focusing on the pushing-back motion encourages your legs to propel you forward as you swim, and it prevents you from looking like a pyramid, moving up and down from the surface to the bottom of the pool.

    Even though you want your kick to move you forward, you have to keep in mind that your arms are the major propulsive force when it comes to butterfly. It’s easy to focus too much on your kick, and then all of a sudden, your kick is trying to be the major propulsive force – not good.

    The movement of your legs should react to the movement of your arms. In fact, let’s think of your legs as counterbalances to your arms. When your arms are forward, your legs are up. As your arms exit the water, your legs are down. Both of these movements are needed to help the other and to create an efficient, technically proficient butterfly.

    In between rounds of butterfly against the Endless Pools swim current, try this Butterfly-Kick Drill. It uses the Endless Pools grab bar for support as you develop your upward kick and your leg position. The result should be a faster, more efficient swim.

    A Butterfly-Kick Drill

    Since your kick is the supportive piece in this stroke, perfecting its technique is key to your other movements working properly and efficiently. A great way to work on this is by holding onto the grab bar in an Endless Pool and kicking without the current on. This will allow you to feel the resistance against the tops of your feet and shins as you kick downward and push back against the water.

    Alternately, when you kick upward, you want the backs of your knees to try to lift up to the surface, and as they’re doing so, they will begin to straighten out in preparation for your next down-kick.

    Swimming butterfly is no joke. Unlike other strokes, you can’t get away with putting in minimal effort in butterfly, even when you’re doing an easy set.

    This sometimes makes it challenging to train for speed because fatigue is quick to set in. But, with proper technique and consistent practice , working to improve your butterfly will be less daunting.

    Here are a few components to focus on to swim butterfly faster:

    Underwater Kicks

    A fast butterfly starts underwater – tight streamline combined with powerful dolphin kicks allows you to sustain more speed from the push-off or dive and set up for a strong breakout. Putting in the effort to optimize time underwater guarantees a faster swim.

    Body position

    Undulation is a term often associated with butterfly. If done properly, it helps increase the propulsion of each stroke by setting up the arms for a stronger catch and enabling better utilization of the core and hips for more powerful kicks.

    The key is to use this motion to drive forward, instead of simply going up and down. Lead with the chest in the forward motion, not the head, and use the core to power the kicks.

    Time your breath right, stay low and make sure you’re not tilting your head up or lifting too high out of the water. Otherwise, body alignment will be compromised – legs and hips will drop and your arms will not be in a good position for the recovery.

    The pull

    Start the catch early. Once the hands enter the water (palms facing down, around shoulder width), keep your elbows high and pull the water back, all the way past the hips before bringing them out.

    Aim for controlled, but relaxed recovery. This is more efficient than muscling through the recovery, which expends unnecessary energy and adds strain to the shoulders.

    During the pull, avoid the temptation of pushing down to get your head up for a breath, as this will only increase drag.

    And, always finish your pull to really maximize each stroke. You will lose out on a good amount of propulsion if your arms exit the water too early.

    The second dolphin kick

    The second dolphin kick is a critical component of a fast butterfly. It provides the propulsive force that completes your pull with a strong finish and sets up your arms for a relaxed recovery.

    Not only does it generate increased swimming speed , it also reduces drag, helping maintain proper body position by preventing the legs and hips from sinking or the upper body from going too high out of the water.

    However, the second kick is often an easily missed step because the legs aren’t properly set up for the down-kick. Remember to actively bend the knees back for the up-kick so you’re in a position to execute a solid second kick.


    In butterfly, the rhythm of your strokes is mainly set by the kicks, the arms moving in time with the legs – faster kicks mean faster stroke rate .

    The first kick happens after the recovery, as the hands (and face) enter the water. This is immediately followed by the second kick, at which point the arms should be finishing the pull, using the kick to bring your arms (and face) out of the water and your body forward.

    Swimming fast means swimming efficiently, and mastering timing is key, especially in butterfly. Without it, body position will be off, and the power of your pulls and kicks will not be properly utilized to gain speed.

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 66,927
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    • Transcript



    Dan Kutler: Hi! My name is Dan Kutler and I am going to show you how to swim basic butterfly. We will start with the kicks and some the dolphin kick is such a signature part of the butterfly stroke. It’s two feet together, and the kick you will want to start at the hips. Keep your knees and ankles loose and just kick downwards and upwards as just like the dolphin. I want you to practice the kick repeatedly before you start doing the drills I am going to show you. I really want you to get used to that dolphin like undulating motion so it’s such in a central part of the butterfly stroke.

    So I want you feel comfortable doing the kick. Let’s now start you off with a drill, straight going right into the arms. We know what the butterfly looks like. I want to just have you begin the single arm butterfly drill and what this is designed to help you do is to begin to work arm movement into that undulating rhythm. There are basically two butterfly kicks per arm stroke, and so what you can focus on here is both of those kicks as they would fit into the cycle of an arm stroke. So you basically kick when your arm enters the water and you kick when you arm leaves the water. Kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick. I want you to see how in this shot that drill leads us right into a regular butterfly stroke kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick double stroke boom.

    So I know that may make it look like a lot easier than it actually is but really that’s what it comes down to rhythm kicking and just whipping those arms around. You just got to get in and do it, and that drill is probably the easiest way I have learned in my years of teaching. How to teach people to do it? So let’s break down the butterfly into the three basic components. Here we have the catch; we are catching on to the water, followed by the pull and the recovery.

    Now, I want to play this sequence for you a few times because it’s really the key to the butterfly stroke, which is that really snappy fast pull right past your hips. That’s what’s going to help your arms pop out of the water and whip around. It’s really all about that part right here. That’s what whips your arms around, that power. Now watch my feet, boom. That kick right there was happening on the same part of the stroke.

    So let’s just focus on my feet. Kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick. Now at this time you are going to watch my arms while you hear me say kick, kick, so you can see when they come in. Kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick. So as you can see two kicks per stroke. So the breathing happens just like any other stroke. Basically, we are going to take air in through the mouth, hold it for your few strokes. Then we are going to exhale through our mouth and nose before we take another breath. Hold it for a few strokes. Then we take another breath into the mouth, hold it and then we are going to exhale through the nose and mouth before we take another breathe, and then hold it and continue pattern.

    Alright, so let’s think about how to pull all this together. We are going to start off with the kick, learn the dolphin kick. Get yourself comfortable with that kick. We are going to move right into the drill, single arm butterfly pull, go through your right through your left and then boom. Just go right into that double arm butterfly. You just got to go for it some point and then practice makes perfect. Just keep practicing, start with the kick, get into the rhythm and just move right into it. Remember to whip those hands underneath you and you will be good to get.

    So there you have it. That’s how to swim the butterfly and all four strokes. I wanted to thank you for watching and happy swimming.