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by Scott Bay

October 15, 2021

An effective kick is key to swimming the stroke

There are many things to see and learn from at swim meets. It’s often overwhelming, but if you look for just one or two things, it’s easy to pay attention to the details. Take butterfly, for example. Some people cringe at the thought of swimming the stroke and it conjures up images of dying in the last part of the race. Indeed, you can see this at swim meets, as swimmers limp along the last half-length, barely getting their arms over the water. Is this because of poor fitness or poor technique? Many times, it’s because of poor kicking rhythm.

One Thing at a Time

You might have been taught that butterfly is more about upper body strength and having big shoulders to power through it. But butterfly is a subtle and smooth stroke, requiring not brute strength but a steady rhythm. Kicking and kick timing is critical to fast and efficient butterfly. Kick timing refers to kicking your hands in before the catch and kicking them out for the recovery, whether you’re breathing during the recovery or not. And don’t drop the kick when you breathe or you’ll kill all your momentum. Here are some drills to make swimming butterfly easier, faster, and more fun.

  • Tempo Trainer Drill. Thanks to our friends at FINIS, we have the Tempo Trainer. This little device gets tucked inside your cap and gives you a tempo beep for stroking or kicking. For this butterfly kick drill, kick 5 to 7 times with arms at your sides, then do one recovery and one pull.
    What it does. This gives you a steady kicking rhythm and makes you think about kicking on the exit of your stroke, which is where many swimmers drop their kick.
  • 3-2-1 Drill. For this drill, do 3 x 25 yards. Breathe every 3 strokes on the first 25, every 2 strokes on the second, and every stroke on the third.
    What it does. Paying attention to your kicking rhythm is easy when you keep your face in the water. When you breathe more, you notice some differences in both stroke and kick. 
  • Snorkel Drill. Snorkels aren’t just for long freestyle sets. If you use a snorkel when swimming butterfly, it takes the breathing element away and allows you to focus on your kick rhythm without tiring so soon. Using a snorkel, swim 25s with perfect stroke.
    What it does. You’ll be amazed at what you notice when you leave your face in the water—not just with your kick, but also with your hands and your pull. Again, one thing at a time. You’re working on kick, so just concentrate on that. When you’re comfortable, begin to lift your head as you would when breathing.

Use Fins

As Michael Phelps said to comedian and former swimmer Kevin Hart while analyzing Hart’s butterfly on national television, “Do you have fins on?” By all means, please use fins! Why? Because the focus is on the lower body and what it’s doing for your stroke. (And remember, the hinge for your butterfly kick is at your ribs and not your hips.) Start with fins for these drills and work your way toward doing the drills without the fins.


  • Technique and Training


  • Butterfly
  • Kicking