Common Mistakes When Swimming Butterfly

Butterfly can feel like such a confusing stroke. Trying to pinpoint what’s throwing you off can be even more difficult than the stroke itself!  Fortunately, we at have gathered together some of the most common mistakes to look out for while swimming butterfly, and offer solutions to fixing them.

1. Head Position: Looking Forward Instead of Down

You probably like to see where you’re going while swimming. To swim butterfly correctly, though, you’ll have to push that urge aside. Looking forward limits the body roll, forcing your hips to stay low in the water. You’ll feel rigid and flat in the water if you’re swimming like this.

How to Fix

Look down toward the black line. This will relax your neck. It’ll also allow more mobility in your body and make you feel less rigid in the water.

If you don’t know whether your head position is correct, test it out. Try a lap of body roll, leaving your arms at your sides. For the first half of the lap, look forward toward the other end of the pool. For the second half of the lap, look down toward the black line.

Comparing these two head positions will allow you to immediately feel the difference. On the second half of the lap, your body should feel more fluid than the first. You’ll roll much more easily.

2. Body Position: Swimming Flat

Rolling your body too little can root from improper head position. It can also be from lack of hip or chest movement. The body roll is the foundation to the stroke. Make sure you try to roll as much as you can.

Rolling too little will cause you to rely mostly on your arms and legs to get through the water. This will not only be exhausting, but it can also lead to shoulder problems in the future. The more you rely on the body roll, the easier it will be on your shoulders. Additionally, it’ll be much easier to move through the water.

How to Fix

Exaggerate your body roll. Start by leaving your arms at your sides. Push off the wall, begin the body roll, and look down toward the black line. Then press your chin, chest, hips, and feet. You should feel a ripple flow through your body.

Try not to rely on the kick to get you through the water. Instead, think about what your body is doing: Use your chest and hips to propel you forward. Practice this for a few laps, trying to make it as fluid as possible. For more information about rolling your body, check out the related guide on How to Swim Butterfly.

3. Legs: Kicking Too Big

The kick acts like a motor for freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke. Butterfly, on the other hand, relies on your body to propel you through the water. Relying only on the kick will force your body to stay relatively flat, and will exhaust you quickly. You will have to exert a tremendous amount of effort to progress forward, your shoulders will be too low in the water and it will be difficult to get your arms out on the recovery. In other words, you’re making the stroke much harder than it has to be!

How to Fix

Hot Tip: Practice on Your Back
In order to see your kicks, roll onto your back. This allows you to can glance down at your feet to see what they’re doing. See how much your knees come out of the water. This indicates how much they’re bending.

Kick as small as you can, but continue to exaggerate the body roll. Leave your arms at your sides and try to feel the propulsion generated from the body roll. You should feel a small downward movement with your feet in a quick flicking motion. Lift your feet back up toward the surface and repeat. Limit the splash as you do so. You don’t want to have a large splash behind you as you kick. This means you’re over-kicking.

4. Arms: Aiming Your Thumbs Forward

Aiming your thumbs forward exposes the pit of your elbows. As you bring your arms over the surface, the water can pelt the inside of your elbows. This causes your elbows to bend. It also makes it difficult to get your arms over the surface, forcing them to drag through the water. Pushing your arms through the water like this is difficult and tiring!

How to Fix

Point your thumbs down. This helps you lock your elbows. When the water is not pelting your inner elbows, it’s much easier to recover over the top of the water. In order to get the hang of this, practice swimming one-arm butterfly. Leave your left arm at your side as you perform butterfly with your right arm.

Practicing with one arm will allow you to tilt your right shoulder up toward the surface a little more, getting it out of the water more easily. It’s also easier to maintain the timing and clear your arm over the surface. As you feel more comfortable with the arm position, try out regular butterfly.

5. Timing: Breathing Late

Once your timing is off during a lap of butterfly, it’s almost impossible to recover. You might start off the lap really well: your timing feels good, your arms clear the water, and your stroke feels smooth. That is, until you take a breath. Then everything falls apart!

Your timing often gets thrown off because of a late breath. If you breathe after your arms exit the water, it’s difficult to lift your chin up for a breath. By the time your arms recover in front of you, your head will still be up for the breath. If your head is up, you cannot press your chin down to begin the body roll. This will affect the entire stroke and rhythm.

How to Fix

In the 1930s, butterfly was invented as an attempt to make breaststroke faster. It was accepted as an alternate form of breaststroke until the 1950s.

Breathe early. As your arms begin the pull, lift your chin. This will feel odd at first, but stick with it. You’ll feel your body rise up since the pull lifts you higher in the water. When your arms exit the water, tuck your head back in the water. With this tempo, you have plenty of time to begin the body roll as your arms reach in front of you.

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