What’s the Best Technique to Master the Butterfly Stroke for Competitive Swimmers?

April 17, 2024

In the world of competitive swimming, mastering the butterfly stroke is a feat worth pursuing. Known for its distinct style, the butterfly stroke is arguably the most physically and technically demanding swim stroke in the pool. However, it can also be the most rewarding when executed correctly. In this article, we will explore the best techniques to perfect the butterfly stroke, focusing on aspects like the dolphin kick, the arm pull, and the body movement. We will also provide helpful tips to improve your technique.

Understanding the Butterfly Stroke

Before diving into the technical aspects, it’s critical to understand the butterfly stroke’s fundamental mechanics. Unlike other swim strokes, the butterfly stroke involves simultaneous movements of the arms and legs, making it more challenging to coordinate. The stroke consists mainly of two parts: the dolphin kick and the arm pull.

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The dolphin kick is a unique swimming technique where both of your legs and hips move in a wave-like motion, similar to how a dolphin or mermaid would swim. This kick is what propels your body forward in the water.

The arm pull, on the other hand, involves pulling your body forward using your arms and hands. Your arms make a large, sweeping motion from front to back, helping you gain speed and maintain your momentum in the water.

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Perfecting the Dolphin Kick

The dolphin kick is the foundation of the butterfly stroke. It generates the powerful thrust needed to propel yourself forward in the water. To perfect the dolphin kick, you must first pay attention to your body’s undulating movements.

Start by laying flat on the water with your body in a straight line. From this position, you want your body to make a wave-like motion, starting from your chest and going all the way down to your feet. Your chest will lift first, followed by your hips, and then your legs and feet.

Your legs should stay close together as you perform the kick. The power of the dolphin kick comes from your hips, not your knees. Therefore, avoid any knee-bending movements and focus on driving the power from your hips.

Another crucial aspect to remember while doing the dolphin kick is to maintain a consistent rhythm. The kick consists of an upward and downward phase. The upward phase should be quick and powerful, while the downward phase should be slower and more controlled.

Mastering the Arm Pull

The arm pull is the second main component of the butterfly stroke. It involves a large, sweeping motion of your arms that helps pull your body forward in the water. Mastering the arm pull technique will significantly improve your butterfly stroke.

Start with your arms extended out in front of you, palms down. Pull your arms down and outwards, then quickly bring them back in towards your chest. This circular motion should resemble the shape of a keyhole.

Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart during the initial pull. As you pull your hands in towards your chest, your palms should be facing back, and your fingertips should be pointing down.

As you bring your arms back out in front of you, make sure to keep them straight and close to the water’s surface. Your hands should re-enter the water in the same position they started, ready for the next pull.

Body Movement and Head Position

Coordinating your body movements and head position is essential in the butterfly stroke. Your body should move in a fluid, wave-like motion, driven by the dolphin kick and the arm pull.

Your head should remain in a neutral position, looking down and slightly forward. When you need to breathe, lift your head up as your arms come out of the water. Then put your face back in the water as your arms go forward. Avoid excessive head movements as they can disrupt your stroke rhythm and slow you down.

Tips to Improve Your Butterfly Stroke

Aside from mastering the dolphin kick and the arm pull, there are other tips that can help you improve your butterfly stroke.

First, focus on maintaining a consistent rhythm throughout the stroke. The rhythm is what connects the kick and the pull and makes them work together effectively.

Next, focus on your strength and conditioning. The butterfly stroke is physically demanding, and it requires strong muscles and good endurance.

Lastly, don’t forget to practice. The more you swim using the butterfly stroke, the more comfortable you will become with the technique. Over time, your body will naturally adapt to the movements, and your butterfly stroke will improve.

Mastering the butterfly stroke is no easy feat. However, with the right technique and consistent practice, you can become an expert in this challenging yet rewarding swim stroke. With these tips and techniques, you’re well on your way to mastering the butterfly stroke. Good luck with your training!

Butterfly Stroke Drills

Drills are an essential part of mastering any swimming stroke, and the butterfly is no exception. There are several drills that can help you improve your butterfly technique, including single-arm drills, body-dolphin drills, and kick-and-pull drills.

Single-arm drills can help you focus on the arm pull part of the butterfly stroke. To do this drill, you’ll swim with one arm only, leaving the other by your side. This allows you to concentrate on the pulling and recovery of one arm at a time, making it easier to perfect this part of the stroke.

Body-dolphin drills, on the other hand, help to enhance the dolphin kick. For this drill, you’ll keep your arms extended in front of you while you practice the undulating motion of the dolphin kick. This drill can help you focus on the wave-like movement of your body and the power you generate from your hips.

Kick-and-pull drills are used to combine and coordinate the movements of the dolphin kick and the arm pull. You’ll perform a dolphin kick, followed by an arm pull. This allows you to practice the rhythm and timing of the butterfly stroke.

Remember, the goal of drills is not to swim fast, but to improve your technique. Take your time and focus on perfecting each movement. With consistent practice of these drills, you’ll be able to greatly improve your butterfly stroke.

The Role of Endurance and Strength in Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly stroke is known for being one of the most physically demanding swimming strokes. Therefore, swimmers must have both endurance and strength to perform this stroke effectively.

Endurance is key in maintaining your rhythm and coordination throughout the swim. The more endurance you have, the longer you can keep your butterfly stroke consistent and efficient. You can improve your endurance through regular swimming sessions and aerobic exercises.

Strength, particularly in your core, shoulders, and hips, is crucial for the butterfly stroke. Your core strength is essential for the wave-like body movement, while your shoulders and hips are involved in the powerful dolphin kick and arm pull. Strength training exercises, like weightlifting and resistance training, can help you build the necessary muscle power.


Mastering the butterfly stroke is a task that demands diligence, strength, and a clear understanding of technique. The dolphin kick and arm pull are two crucial components of the stroke, and understanding how they work together is key to swimming butterfly efficiently.

Regular practice of specific drills can help refine these movements, while strength and endurance training will ensure you have the physical capability to maintain the stroke. Remember to keep a consistent rhythm throughout the stroke, and to avoid excessive head movements that could disrupt your stroke rhythm.

While it is indeed a challenging swimming stroke to master, the butterfly stroke is also a beautiful and rewarding one when executed well. With these tips and techniques, and under the guidance of great swim teachers such as Olivier Poirier and Poirier Leroy, you are well on your way to swimming butterfly like Michael Phelps. As with all things, practice makes perfect, so keep swimming, keep learning, and continue to improve your butterfly.