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How To Swim Butterfly Stroke

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

The butterfly stroke is certainly the most difficult stroke, but it can also be the most fun and it's a great way to get exercise. In this guide, we'll show you all the elements of butterfly stroke technique and how to swim it the right way. We'll also provide some tips on how to improve your technique, touch on the biggest mistakes made performing the butterfly stroke and how to correct them. So let's get started!

male swimmer swimming butterfly stroke

Get into the correct body position

The butterfly stroke is one of the most difficult swimming strokes to master. Not only do you have to coordinate your arms and legs, but you also have to move them in unison while keeping your head above water. However, with a little practice, anyone can learn how to swim butterfly. The key is to get into the correct position.

To start, lie on your stomach in the water with your arms extended in front of you. Your palms should be facing down and your fingers should be pointed forward. Next, bend your knees and bring your heels up toward your buttocks. Then, tuck your chin and look down at the pool bottom. This will help you keep your head above water when you start swimming.

butterfly swim

Arm Stroke

Arm action during the butterfly stroke

The arm movement during butterfly stroke is a continuous circular motion that starts at the shoulder and goes all the way down to the fingertips. The hands move in a figure-eight pattern, and the arms recover above the water between each stroke.

The timing of the arm stroke is important, as it should be coordinated with the kick to generate maximum power. The key to a successful butterfly stroke is to keep the arms moving in a smooth, even rhythm and maintain forward momentum at all times.

Palm Positioning

Palms Facing Outward

When performing butterfly stroke with arms, it is important to keep your hands and palms in the correct position. The ideal starting position for your hands is cupped, with your thumbs and index fingers coming together to form a “C” shape.

This will help to create a small pocket of air that will reduce resistance as you move through the water. Your palms should be facing downward, and your elbows should be close to your body. As you extend your arms forward, be sure to keep your hands parallel to each other. This will help to create a more streamlined motion and increase your speed through the water.

Swimming butterfly stroke

Undulating Body Movement

The arms are the primary source of undulating body movement during butterfly stroke. The hands enter the water simultaneously and according to FINA rule number 703.3, “remain in constant contact with each other throughout the entire stroke”.

After the initial catch phase (pull phase), both hands perform a single arm pull which propels the swimmer through the water.

During the recovery phases of the stroke, the swimmer’s hands move independently of each other in a sweeping motion. This body wave is outwardly visible on top of the water and is what gives butterfly its distinctive look.

Lower Body Swimming Technique

Butterfly Kick

While undulating body movement is mostly generated by the arms, Butterfly also uses a kick known as a dolphin kick. This dolphin like movement is a two-beat kick that starts at the hips and then extends all the way down to the toes, providing power and balance to the stroke.

When executed correctly, the dolphin kick moves the swimmer in a wave like fashion and can help a swimmer maintain a high level of speed and efficiency through the entire race.

To do a dolphin kick, start by lying on your stomach in the water. Then, bring your legs together and tuck your chin to your chest.

From this position, push off the wall and kick your legs up and down in a swift motion. As you kick, keep your back arched and your chin tucked in to ensure that you move through the water smoothly.

Remember to exhale as you kick so that you can take a breath when you reach the surface. With practice, you will be able to master the dolphin kick.

Female swimmer butterfly stroke

Butterfly Technique - How To Keep Your Body Up In The Water

The mechanics of butterfly stroke are demanding and require a great deal of coordination and body control. One of the most difficult aspects of the stroke is maintaining good body position in the water.

Because butterfly incorporates a dolphin kick, swimmers must generate enough propulsion to keep their upper bodies afloat while also keeping their heads above water to take breaths.

To achieve proper body position, swimmers should imagine themselves as a wishbone, with their arms extended out to the sides and their legs together in the middle.

This will help keep the hips and shoulders at the surface of the water while the rest of the body stays submerged. Remember to tuck your chin to ensure that your head remains above water, and practice keeping your gaze forward rather than down at your feet.

With practice, you will be able to maintain good body position throughout the entire butterfly stroke.

butterfly racing event

How to breathe while swimming butterfly stroke

Breathing Pattern

Not only does learning butterfly stroke require a high level of coordination, but it also places a great deal of strain on the lungs. As a result, many beginners find themselves struggling to catch their breath while swimming butterfly.

The key to breathing properly while swimming butterfly is to timing your breaths with your strokes. Inhale as you bring your arms up out of the water, and then exhale as you drive them back down.

It may also help to exhale slightly before your arms enter the water, as this will help to prevent water from entering your lungs.

Breathing Technique

When swimming the butterfly stroke, many beginners favor breathing straight ahead. After all, it seems logical that you would want to take in as much oxygen as possible while exerting yourself.

However, experienced swimmers know that breathing to the side is actually more effective. Not only does it help to keep the body more balanced in the water, but it also allows you to take in more air with each breath.

In addition, breathing to the side helps to prevent water from getting into your nose and mouth. As a result, it is generally considered to be the superior method for breathing during the butterfly stroke.

butterfly swim technique

Swim The Butterfly Stroke With Confidence

write 5 Tips to Improve Your Butterfly Stroke

1. Practice the butterfly kick. Many swimmers find it difficult to perform the dolphin kick correctly, but it is a crucial part of the stroke. The main reason why the dolphin kick is so important is that it provides the power needed to move through the water.

When done correctly, the dolphin kick can help you swim faster and with more efficiency.

In addition, the dolphin kick can also help to improve your body position and make it easier to keep your head above water. As a result, practicing the dolphin kick can be a great way to improve your butterfly stroke.

2. Keep your body in a wishbone shape. The arms are swept back and forth in a synchronous motion, and the hands enter the water simultaneously. To perform the butterfly stroke correctly, it is important to maintain a shoulder-width grip.

This ensures that the arms are able to generate enough power to move the body through the water. Additionally, a shoulder-width grip helps to keep the body balanced and prevents excessive body roll.

3. Practice the Undulating S shape. When swimming the butterfly stroke, it is important to maintain an undulating motion in the body. This helps to create a more efficient motion through the water and results in a faster swim. The main reason for this is that it allows the swimmer to keep their hands close to their hips, which reduces drag and resistance.

In addition, an 'S' shape provides a greater surface area for the arms and legs to push against, resulting in more power being generated.

While it may take some practice to perfect, swimming with an undulating 'S' shape will help you swim faster and with less effort.

4. Train consistently. The butterfly stroke is a challenging swimming technique that requires a high degree of coordination and strength. Because of this, it is important for swimmers to train consistently if they want to swim butterfly efficiently.

When butterfly is performed correctly, it is a very smooth and powerful stroke. However, if any part of the stroke is executed poorly, it can quickly become inefficient and fatiguing.

For this reason, it is important to practice regularly so that the muscle memory can become efficient at executing the stroke correctly.

In addition, consistent training helps to improve endurance so that swimmers can swim butterfly for longer periods of time without tiring. Ultimately, regular training is essential for swimming butterfly effectively.

5. Breath to the side instead of straight ahead. When swimming butterfly stroke, it is important to breathe to the side instead of directly ahead. There are a few reasons for this.

First, it helps to keep the body aligned in the water. If you breathe straight ahead, it can cause the body to twist and introduce drag into the stroke.

Second, breathing to the side helps to increase stroke efficiency. When your head is turned to the side, your arms are able to move through a longer arc. This gives you more power and momentum, which can help you swim faster.

Finally, breathing to the side helps you stay relaxed in the water. If you are constantly turning your head to take a breath, it can add unnecessary tension to your body and make it harder to swim smoothly.

swimmer preparing to dive in the water


Other Swim Strokes may be easier to master, but no other stroke is as rewarding to master as the butterfly. It may not be the fastest stroke, but the arm stroke and butterfly kick combination is considered the strongest swim stroke and most rewarding for competitive swimmers and casual pool goers alike.

This whole body movement incorporates upper body muscles as well as leg strength. Your left arm and right arm will literally fly simultaneously, arms extended and palms facing outwards. While you have your toes pointed for less drag, you will kick once, the first kick is a small kick. Two kicks can be used in hard/loss pattern.

The second kick would then be a big kick, strong enough to pull your body out of the water and give you enough time to complete side breathing or forward breathing. Whichever breathing technique you choose, there is more detail that must be put into moving forward and staying on the top of the water surface than any other stroke you can learn.

The butterfly technique is truly one of the most rewarding strokes you can learn. If you are ready to take on this challenge, don't hesitate to contact one of our instructors today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Swimming Butterfly

1. Why is the butterfly stroke considered the most difficult?

The butterfly stroke requires a high level of coordination between the arms, legs, and torso. It also demands strength, timing, and proper breathing techniques, making it challenging for many swimmers.

2. How do I maintain the correct body position for the butterfly stroke?

Start by lying on your stomach in the water with arms extended. Keep your palms facing down, fingers pointed forward, and bend your knees slightly. Tuck your chin and look down at the pool bottom to keep your head above water.

3. What is the importance of the dolphin kick in butterfly?

The dolphin kick provides power and balance to the butterfly stroke. It helps swimmers maintain speed and efficiency throughout the race. Mastering the dolphin kick is crucial for an effective butterfly stroke.

4. How often should I breathe while swimming butterfly?

Breathing patterns can vary, but a common approach is to breathe every second or third stroke. It's essential to time your breaths with your strokes, inhaling as your arms rise and exhaling as they drive down.

5. Why is it recommended to breathe to the side instead of straight ahead?

Breathing to the side helps maintain body alignment, reduces drag, increases stroke efficiency, and helps swimmers stay relaxed in the water.

6. What are some common mistakes made while swimming butterfly?

Common mistakes include not keeping arms parallel to the body, looking up too often, kicking too hard, and not maintaining an undulating body movement.

7. How can I improve my butterfly technique?

Regular practice, focusing on the dolphin kick, maintaining a wishbone-shaped body, practicing the undulating 'S' shape, consistent training, and breathing to the side are some ways to enhance your butterfly stroke.

8. Are there specific drills to help improve the butterfly stroke?

Yes, drills like the single-arm butterfly, catch-up butterfly, two-beat kick, and sculling butterfly can help refine your technique and make you a more efficient swimmer.

9. Is the butterfly stroke a good workout?

Absolutely! The butterfly stroke offers a full-body workout, engaging the arms, legs, core, and back muscles. It's also a great cardiovascular exercise.

10. Can beginners learn the butterfly stroke?

While challenging, beginners can certainly learn the butterfly stroke with consistent practice, proper guidance, and patience.


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