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By Duncan Laing

Reproduced from WaterWays

June 2002 – Vol.4-3

I think too often that we work on the Butterfly stroke last, which perhaps suggests that it is the most difficult stroke to learn. I feel it is important to swim Butterfly in practice, but limit the distances to be sure the swimmers are still swimming with proper technique. I would also like to stress, do not use Butterfly as a punishment.

Good Butterfly swimmers have a sense of rhythm, coordination and dedication. They are proud at their ability to swim Butterfly well.

In discussing the stroke, I would like to break the stroke into six areas…

  1. Entry
  2. Pull
  3. Recovery
  4. Breathing
  5. Kick
  6. Timing


  • Arms enter shoulder-width apart – thumb and forefinger first
  • Elbows and shoulders follow through the holes sliced in the water by the hands
  • There is a slight pause in hand movement as the body drives forward and downward – this allows for the hips to rise to the surface, which creates the desired body position
  • Next, the high elbow position is established as the pull begins


  • Hands press outwards and downwards and then are sculled inward almost to the point of touching and then pushed all the way back to the thigh – this has been termed the hourglass or keyhole pull pattern
  • Throughout the arm pull, hand speed is accelerated
  • At the conclusion of the pull, the hands are exploded past the hips


  • Butterfly Recovery is made with the arms relatively straight
  • The entire arm just barely clears the water surface and is relaxed
  • The swing through the air is a direct result of exploding the hands into the air at the end of the pull
  • Elbows are bent slightly – just before the entry


  • Chin is tilted forward to breathe – not lifted out of the water
  • This is done before the hands leave the water
  • Chin is tucked underwater before the hands enter, making it easier to recover the arms
  • Swimmers can think "the head comes out before the arms come out, then the head goes in before the arms go in"
  • Common breathing pattern for the Butterfly is every other stroke
  • It is important to maintain a breathing pattern for the rhythm of the stroke


  • The same as the Freestyle flutter kick only both legs do the same thing at the same time
  • Knees are bent on the whip-like downbeat and kept straight on the upbeat
  • Toes are pointed inwards in a pigeon-toed fashion
  • Swimmer wants to keep the kick in the water


  • Feet and legs follow the hip action
  • When learning the stroke, begin with the arm stroke, then adjust the kick to the timing of the hands and hips
  • It is crucial to body position to kick twice per arm stroke in the Butterfly
  • Kick when the hands enter the water and again when the hands explode out of the water
  • We tell our swimmers … "to kick their arms in the water and kick their arms out of the water"
  • With practice and stroke drills, such as one-arm Butterfly, this can become a natural part of the stroke and make their Butterfly easier and more efficient
  • With young novice swimmers, take advantage of opportunities to swim widths or use a diving well
  • I even use some drills for half laps – I feel it is important for swimmers to be able to maintain the proper technique
  • When teaching Butterfly, I teach the kick by itself then the pull by itself and then work with the timing of the two

The following progression of drills is used with our novice swimmers…


I have the youngsters kick deep underwater with arms at their sides and then kick with arms in streamline position. I tell them sharks are loose in the pool and they need to kick really hard so the sharks won’t nibble at their toes. Upbeat as well as the downbeat should be emphasised. Swimmers should be asked to go only short distances.


I have them kick on both sides. The bottom arm is underwater and stretched over the head with the other arm resting on the side with shoulder out of the water. They should try to kick towards the wall in front of them and then in back of them. Here they are only kicking water and no air.


This drill must be done in shallow water. I preface this one by telling them that this is the only time that they are allowed to bounce off the bottom of the pool. The swimmers go down and touch the bottom, then leap up, out and over the water. The hands should explode out and around as they would in a normal Butterfly pull. The swimmer should then tuck his chin and dive back down.


Take one exaggerated Butterfly stroke and then three to five kicks underwater. The swimmer should breathe on every stroke.

When I first talk about the arms, I have the swimmers practice their pull on land. I have them stand up. They start by sculling their hands outwards and then inwards until the hands are almost touching at their belly. Their hands are forming a triangle. At this point, I tell them to explode their hands past their swimsuit.


I think one-arm variations are the best basic drills for Butterfly. I start out asking swimmers to go one lap with the right arm and one lap with the left arm. Then I proceed to certain variations of this drill. At this level, I let them breathe to the side. However, as they get older I have them breathe only to the front. They should breathe every other stroke on this drill.


Go 25s with two pulls with the right arm … two pulls with the left arm … four pulls regular … then kick the rest of the lap.


In this progression is to have the swimmers start swimming a 25 with six kicks to one pull, then 25 with five kicks to one pull and so on until they are doing the normal stroke. Make sure they rest between each 25.

As the swimmers become a little stronger and older, I add the following drills…


Make the swimmers stay in streamline position for this and tell them to try to kick the water off their toes at the surface.


At this older level, the drills are done with the swimmer breathing to the front. They should again breathe every other stroke. The usual variation’s use is three strokes with the right arm, three strokes with the both arms, three strokes with the left arm and three strokes with both arms.


Have the swimmers kick five strong dolphin kicks then do regular Butterfly strokes.

With out strongest Age Groupers, I add the following drills…


Swimmers to scull four or five times in front before they begin their pull. This helps them think of riding out their stroke in front.


With this drill it is important to make sure they keep their timing. They kick three times for each pull; the first two kicks while their arms are in front and one kick as the hands come out of the water. The swimmer may breathe on every stroke.

In my program, the strongest Age Group swimmers are in the transition from Age Group to Senior level swimming. Some are at the Regional and Junior National level. When I ask them to train Butterfly, I keep the sets so that they can hold their stroke. Unless we are doing drills, every stroke is to be legal and every turn must be legal. I also spend a great deal of time concentrating on their breathing patterns both during the lap and also around the walls. This is important to keep their timing and stroke together. We do a lot of sets mixing Butterfly and Freestyle and also mixing one-arm drills and regular Butterfly.

Here are a couple of ideas for correcting common stroke faults…

  1. If the swimmer is not getting his hands under his body on the pull, tell him to look for the triangle that I have spoken of earlier, or to touch his thumbs together under his belly.
  2. If the swimmers are not pushing past their hips to finish their stroke, put adhesive tape on the legs below their swimsuits and tell them to pull through and touch the tape. I also do this in Freestyle.


Stroke Technique – Key Points

  1. Two kicks for every pull – kick the hands in the water – kick the hands out of the water
  2. Deeper kick – down to the bottom of the pool
  3. Breathing pattern – usually every other stroke
  4. When breathing – lift head forward
  5. Hands enter directly in front of shoulders
  6. Arms streamlined on entry – ride out the stroke
  7. Keyhole pull – look for the triangle
  8. Accelerate through the end of the stroke
  9. Straight arm recovery
  10. Head comes out before arms come out and head goes in before arms go in

Stroke Drills

  1. Kicking with board
  2. Kicking on front, underwater
  3. Kicking on side – both sides
  4. Kicking on back – streamline
  5. Leap Frog (Dolphin Drill)
  6. Exaggerated Butterfly
  7. One-arm
  8. One-arm variations
  9. Two pulls right, two left, four regular – then kick rest of 25
  10. Six kicks, one pull – five kicks, one pull – four kicks, one pull, etc.
  11. Double Dog – works on sculling and press through
  12. Five kicks, three strokes
  13. Triple kick
  14. Thumb touch


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