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How to Swim Butterfly

posted Jul 24, 2012, 3:31 PM by Pat Windschitl   [ updated Jul 24, 2012, 3:32 PM ]

So you want to get better at Butterfly?


Well the answer is to swim lots and lots of drills, drills, and drills! Develop a rhythm for the stroke, work on your form and really focus on improving your kick off the walls. Butterfly is just an evolution of the breaststroke and if you can get the timing down for breast, fly should be second nature with some work.


Because Butterfly can be an incredibly strenuous stroke almost all my favorite drills are designed to avoid shoulder stress with extended practice. Instead straining the shoulders and back I like to place emphasis on the kick. The focus of all your drills should center around breathing and head placement, hip position, and arm recovery. Most of these can be done at a decent pace with the exception of the kicking drills below.


Kicking Drills

  • Iron-Man Butterfly: Swimmers keep their arms at their sides (much like how Iron-Man flies) and butterfly kick across the surface of the water. Their head is positioned so they look directly at the bottom of the pool. With this drill they emphasize properly undulating through the water letting their hips break the surface, then their upper back with each kick. When swimmers breath they push their chin forward and let it rest on the surface without coming higher. This drill is not done fast or sloppily. Advanced swimmers should be able to breath without interrupting the motion of the stroke.

  • Superman Butterfly: An advanced form of Iron-Man Butterfly. Swimmers keep their arms extended in front of them, higher than head (like how Superman flies) as they butterfly kick across the surface. Goal is to alternate upper back and hips to break the water. When you breath you don't let your arms drop or move and you just focus on pushing your chin forward to get a low breath, rather than lift your head. Again, this drill is not done fast or sloppily. Put effort into doing it right.

Breathing Drills

  • Under Water Recovery Butterfly: Swimmers start in Superman form. When they need a breath they perform one strong butterfly stroke where their arms stop at their hips. This stroke forces a swimmer up across the surface and emphasizes a quick breath and lowering your head before your arms make it across the surface. Arms recover slowly underwater like in a pulldown.

  • Monster Butterfly: A fun, fin drill where swimmers launch themselves as high as they can across the top of the water and then drop as far as they can below the surface. This is usually with fins. This teaches an over-exaggerated form where athletes work to get their arms to clear the surface without resistance.

Stroke Drills

  • 1-Arm Butterfly: This drill is like normal butterfly stroke with one arm held always in front of you. Breathing is forward, just like with the normal stroke, and swimmers emphasize a strait arm recovery rather than the bent elbow they have with freestyle. Swimmers do 3 strokes on one side before switching the other, and only breath on their 3rd/last stroke. This is one of our favorite alternatives to butterfly in most practice sets as it incorporates every aspect of the stroke but greatly reduces shoulder stress.

  • 1/1/1 or 2/2/2 (etc): Swimmers do one left arm pull, one right arm pull, then a stroke with both arms. This can be repeated with 2 left, 2 right, 2 both, or more. Breathing is only done with both arms recovering. It teaches form a little better than 1-arm but I find it can't be done at the same speed or distances.

  • 7/3 or 5/2: Swimmers perform either 7 or 5 streamline kicks off the wall, come up for 3 or 2 full strokes then dive down to do 7 or 5 more kicks. This is a great drill for improving the kick and breath control.

Breathing Goals

  • 50 yards or meters: 2 strokes down, 1 breath up with a goal of 3 solid, fast kicks off each wall.

  • 100 yards or meters: 1 stroke down, 1 breath up with a goal of 3-6 fast strong kicks off each wall.

  • 200 yards or meters: 1 stroke down, 2 breaths up with a goal of 5 kicks off each wall. MINIMUM.

Target Tempo Rate

  • 50 yards or meters: .90-1.1 seconds per cycle.

  • 100 yards or meters: .90-1.19 seconds per cycle.

  • 200 yards or meters: 1.0-1.19 seconds per cycle.


    -- Coach Pat