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Most swimmers agree: Butterfly is the toughest stroke. It uses every muscle in the body, and requires a high level of strength, technique and timing to get it right. It may feel impossible at times — but it doesn’t have to be!
If you’re learning to swim butterfly or if you want to refine your technique, you’ve come to the right place. Perfect your form at each of 4 checkpoints (head and body position, pull, kick and breathing) to swim faster and more efficiently.
1. Head & Body Position
At its core, butterfly body position is similar to the other 3 strokes: Your hips should be close to the surface and your eyes should be looking down when you’re not breathing.
Related: The 5 Most Common Butterfly Mistakes
Your head has a huge impact on the rest of your stroke, so focus on keeping it in a neutral position throughout your workouts. Your body (most importantly, your hips) follow your head, meaning that if your eyes look forward rather than down, your hips will sink. This creates a ton of extra drag
2. The Pull
Now let’s talk about the pull. Your hands should enter the water slightly wider than your shoulders — think 11 and 1 on a clock!
Underwater, you’re essentially doing 2 freestyle strokes at the same time. Keep your elbows high to maintain early vertical forearm throughout the pull. Try to keep your hands shoulder width apart and pull straight back. No S-pull here!
Your arms should be fully extended as they exit the water to begin the recovery phase. Keep them straight and sweep them out and around, entering the water again in front of your shoulders.
Try This Training Tool to Improve Your Pull
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Related: The Science of Swimming with Open Fingers
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3. The Kick
Butterfly kick is also known as dolphin kick. This undulating motion drives the stroke forward. You’ll do 2 kicks for every arm stroke: 1 kick helps propel your arms out of the water, and the second kick helps you drive forward as your hands re-enter the water.
Related: Analyzing Michael Phelps’s Butterfly Technique
Keep your legs squeezed together and your toes pointed, with a slight bend in the knee. Similar to freestyle kick, butterfly kick should be initiated at the hips rather than at the knee.
It’s common for swimmers to only focus on the “down” portion of the dolphin kick. They’re doing themselves a disservice! Work on the “up” phase as well to get the most power out of your kick.
When you breathe in butterfly, you only need to lift your head high enough to take a quick breath. Your chin should be right at the surface of the water — no need to lift any higher!
Related: How to Swim Butterfly with Perfect Technique
Lifting your head too high or holding your head out of the water for too long will cause your hips to sink and slow you down.
As your arms recover and re-enter the water, lower your chin and face back under the surface and press your chest forward to raise your hips back up. Your head should return to the neutral position, with eyes looking down.
Try These Butterfly Drills
Add one (or all) of these butterfly swim drills to your next workout!
The FLOW drill will help you perfect the dolphin motion in butterfly. We recommend wearing fins for this drill if you have them!
Single Arm Butterfly
Add this drill to your workouts to improve your hand entry and work on pressing your chest forward with each stroke.
Butterfly Pull with Freestyle Kick
This drill reinforces the underwater power phase of the stroke. Freestyle kick helps to flatten the stroke and promotes a higher tempo. Try it with fins for added propulsion!
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