Article image

by Cokie Lepinski

October 27, 2020

Proper rhythm can help you master this difficult but beautiful stroke

Butterfly looks like a challenging stroke—and it is—but once you master the proper rhythm, you’ll be able to do it for long stretches without having to muscle through it.

Here are five ways to improve your butterfly.

Tip 1: Catch Your Breath in the Right Spot

Breathe when your arms pull under your torso. Breathing late causes your hips to drop and results in a stroke that looks like you’re swimming uphill while wearing a piano.

The setup for your breath begins as your hands catch up front. As you establish a hold on the water with your catch, your hips begin to slide forward and your body lifts with your pull, allowing a breath as your arms pull past your torso.

Get your head back down before your hands reach your shoulders on the sweep forward. This helps return you to a horizontal line.

The Biondi drill is very helpful in teaching the timing of your breath in butterfly. To do this drill, do a couple of dolphin kicks in a streamlined position underwater to build up momentum; perform a butterfly stroke underwater, bringing your head up to breath when your hands pass your midsection; and then recover your arms underwater. You can take a quick break once you finish each stroke.

Tip 2: Use Your Hips!

Dolphin kick requires body undulation, a wave-like motion that starts around the bottom of your rib cage, goes down your hips and knees, and then to your feet. Dolphin kick isn’t knee-driven.

As your hands enter the water in front of you, your hips should pop to the surface, and as you pull under the water past your body, your hips should slide forward. Drive your hips up and down while you’re doing dolphin kick. Good butterflyers’ hips travel only a slight amount just above the surface and just below.

Do dolphin kick on your side, back, or stomach with your arms by your sides or in a streamlined position, and try to feel the undulation coming from higher up on your torso. Your ribs or sternum are good focus points. If you’re struggling to move forward while dolphin kicking, you can always use long-bladed fins to provide propulsion while you’re getting the feel of the movement.

Tip 3: Minimize Your Up-and-Down Motion

When your arms enter the water, don’t throw them down. Instead, try laying them softly on the surface to direct your energy forward, not down.

A low recovery right over the top of the water keeps you flatter and helps you land softly. You’ll save a lot of energy flattening out your stroke.

Try one-arm butterfly, skimming the thumb of your stroking arm on the surface of the water, locking your elbow and doing this with a straight-arm recovery.

Tip 4: Press Your Chest

Don’t throw your hands into the water when you enter the water or bury your head at the end of each stroke. Instead, keep your arms high, just under the surface of the water, while pressing your chest down. This is another way to raise your hips and help return you to a horizontal line, which is essential to saving energy in butterfly.

Chest press drill is a good drill for this. Stretch your arms out in a slight “Y” position, and gently press your chest down and then pull it back up. There really isn’t a kick here, but you should feel a ripple, or undulation, travel from your upper torso all the way to your feet. This should be done very slowly. You aren’t trying to get to the other end of the pool quickly. You can also use a snorkel to keep you from having to lift your head to breathe.

Tip 5: Time Your Kicks

There are two kicks in butterfly, one on entry, one on exit. The first occurs when your arms are out front (entry), and the second when your arms need to exit the water from your pull under your body.

The second kick is tricky. Time your second kick with the pull under your body, and it’ll make it easier to get your arms out of the water and pop your hips up at the end of your stroke.

A good drill is to float on your stomach in the water (use a snorkel), position your hands together in a diamond shape at or just below your belly button, and push back and out to the sides of your hips. Do a single dolphin kick right after you start that press motion. Start slowly to really feel the rhythm. As you get more in tune with it, build up speed in your press-kick action.


  • Technique and Training


  • Butterfly