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Butterfly Notes & Videos from October 7th Practice

posted Oct 7, 2013, 1:16 PM by Pat Windschitl   [ updated Oct 7, 2013, 1:16 PM ]


Dana Vollmer swims the fly at the 2010 Long Beach Grand Prix.BY RUSSELL MARK // HIGH PERFORMANCE CONSULTANT

Below is an easily understood and detailed analysis of how butterfly is swum properly and effectively. Using video and pictures for demonstration, the foundation for the best stroke for most swimmers is established. 

Technique should certainly be catered to the individual, and many variations exist that experience success, but the thoughts in this presentation were formulated based on what is most common among the best swimmers in the world. 

There are three priorities for the butterfly stroke: 

1. The Catch 
2. Pressing Forward 
3. The Kicks 

All other aspects of the stroke should be shaped around those priorities. Please read below to learn more about this technique perspective and how the best swimmers are racing butterfly. 


Dana Vollmer set an American record in the 100m fly at 2011 WorldsBY RUSSELL MARK // HIGH PERFORMANCE CONSULTANT

Teaching and coaching a specific butterfly pull pattern has been popular for a long time, maybe for as long as the stroke has existed. Film study of the USA National Team and many of the world’s best has proven one thing though: there are different pull patterns among the best butterfliers in the world.


So what does that mean?




Like so many swimmers and coaches, I have always believed that the ideal fly pull looked like a keyhole – the hands go wide then narrow (making the shape of a circle), and then pushes straight back to finish off the keyhole shape.


Upon working at USA Swimming, I noticed there are many variations of this. Some pulls have a very distinct keyhole shape while others are more straight back. Some pulls are very wide in the beginning, while others aren’t. Some pulls are so narrow at the finish that the hands nearly touch, while others never pull underneath the body at all.


With so much exposure to the best swimmers in the world, I decided to put that theory to the test with extensive video analysis. Here is what I found:

  • The pull pattern has nothing to do with gender, strength, or sprint/distance fly.
    • I always thought that male athletes and stronger flyers would have a certain type of stroke…but nope! Believe me, I looked.
  • The pull pattern is related to how deep a swimmer presses with their chest.
    • (For more information about the chest press: www.usaswimming.org/ViewNewsArticle.aspx?TabId=2175&itemid=4263&mid=11657). 
    • If a swimmer pressed deep (with the chest and head deeper than the arms), the pull pattern was keyhole-shaped.
    • If a swimmer didn’t press deep (and pressed forward and flatter), the pull pattern was straighter (not as wide at the beginning, and not as narrow at the end).
  • No matter what the pull pattern, the palms of the hands were always facing back towards the feet.
    • Moving the hands wide or narrow still meant the palms were facing back – never facing to the outside or inside.

This is what I would generally advise swimmers and coaches to focus on:

  1. Push water towards the feet
  2. Press the body forward
  3. Get a good catch

Don’t focus on a specific pull pattern. If you do the three things above, the pull pattern you have is the best one for you.


For more tips from the National Team High Performance staff, visit the National Team High Performance Tips archive.



Want to know the key to swimming fast butterfly? You have to maintain forward momentum throughout the stroke.


Sounds easy, right?


While this may seem simple enough, it requires swimmers to combine two key elements. As previously discussed, having two equally powerful kicks in butterfly is very important. This is the first key to a balanced stroke and maintaining forward momentum during the arm recovery.


The other key element of fast butterfly is a body-driven stroke.


Many swimmers throw the head and/or arms down to initiate the press and drive the hips up. This action stops forward momentum and often results in pressing too deep.


Instead, swimmers should focus on pressing the chin and chest forward with the eyes looking slightly forward. This will result in the chin being the lowest point during the press while the arms extend and reach forward. The video below shows a few examples of what this press should look like:



There are supposed to be two kicks in fly – one as the arms enter the water (1st kick) and one as the arms exit the water (2nd kick) – however, many swimmers usually miss the 2nd kick or have a very faint 2nd kick. Both of the kicks should be equally big and powerful – not one big kick and one little kick. Here are some tips that can help your 2nd kick.


The 2nd kick is extremely important because it helps keep your body moving forward when your arms are recovering over the water.


Here’s what you can do to improve your second kick:


1. Bend your knees. If your knees aren’t bent to set up the kick, then the kick will never happen. Swimmers that don’t have a 2nd kick never even get it started. 

Dolphin Kick Bodyline, A

Dolphin Kick Bodyline, B

2. Bring your knees forward. Your knees need to go downward so you can keep your feet in the water the whole time. Your legs need to bend a little at the hip in order for this to happen. This is the hardest part of the 2nd kick. 


3. Slam your feet down. The 2nd kick is something you have to force because it doesn’t fit naturally into the stroke like the 1st kick does. After you set the kick up, slam your feet down as hard as you can until it’s fully extended.


Focusing on these points are most important when you take a breath. Many swimmers will have a second kick when they don’t breathe, but lose it when they breathe.


Michael Phelps swimming in the semifinals of the 100m fly. (Small)BY RUSSELL MARK//HIGH PERFORMANCE CONSULTANT

It’s easy to get fixated on breathing patterns in fly, but with certainty the most important part of breathing in fly is the technique. 

  1. Breathe forward, not up. Keep your head low to the water during the breath.
  2. Don’t lift your head up. The arm pull alone will lift your body enough so you can take the breath without picking your head up.
  3. Breathe in the middle of the arm pull. Don’t lift your head up as soon as you start the pull. Be patient and you’ll catch the breath just fine. 

Whether you breathe every stroke or maintain a breathing pattern, working on the technique is a highest priority. 

With that said, breathing patterns are one of the most frequent things I get asked about. Looking at each of the finals at the 2012 Olympics, here is what I observe: 

  • Men are breathing more frequently than women
  • Men’s 100 fly: Half of the Olympic final are breathing every stroke. The other half hold some degree of 1-up 1-down or 2-up 1-down pattern.
  • Women’s 100 fly: 1-up 1-down for the most part.
  • Men’s 200 fly: Breathing every stroke for the most part.
  • Women’s 200 fly: Every Olympic finalist breathed 1-up 1-down or some degree of 2-up 1-down for the entire race.
  • Most people breathe on the 3rd stroke off the start in the 100 fly.
  • Breathing into and out of turns is becoming more common, maybe because of the use of extended underwater dolphin kicks.
  • Most swimmers don’t breathe into the finish.

Mens 100 Fly Breathing Pattern

Womens 100 Fly Breathing Pattern


Mens 200 Fly Breathing Pattern


Womens 200 Fly Breathing Pattern