Tips to Improve Your Butterfly Stroke

September 11, 2014

If you have trouble mastering butterfly, you’re not alone. Many struggle with it because of butterfly's challenging timing and rigid series of motions. If you cannot get the timing down, you can feel awkward in the water. Here are a few helpful tips to help you improve and get the most of your stroke!

Start with the Body Roll

While on your stomach, lie flat in the water with your legs together and your arms against your sides. Imagine how a dolphin moves through the water.

Roll Your Body

Begin your body roll by pressing your chin and your chest downward. As you do this, your hips should pop up. Let that downward-press ripple through your body from your chest to your hips. Feel a nice flow through your body, making it as smooth as possible.

People often tend to be rigid during this drill, looking more like a teeter-totter than a dolphin. Try to allow your back to bend and curve with the flow of the roll.

Small, Quick Kicks

Many people also over-kick. They bend their knees too much, and create a big splash behind them. This motion limits the mobility in your hips. You want to feel most of your forward movement come from the body roll — not the kick.


Hot Tip: Use Fins
If you’re having trouble feeling fluid during this drill, put some fins on. This will help your body glide more smoothly and quickly through the water. However, you should still try to keep your kicks small and quick.
To kick properly, bend your knees slightly with your feet touching each other. Press your feet downward in a quick flicking motion. It’s important to keep your feet together because it allows for a more powerful movement.

The body roll is the foundation of butterfly. If you’re having trouble with this step, keep at it. The more comfortable you become with the body roll, the easier butterfly will be when you get there.

Add in the Arms

Put your arms straight out in front of you. In this position, perform three body rolls. When you complete the third body roll, pull both of your arms underneath the surface of the water and past your hips. After they pass your hips, lift your arms over the surface of the water, and lay them out in front of you once again.


Hot Tip: Low, Quick Breaths
Breathing at the wrong time can throw off your entire body rhythm. You should breathe with your hips dropped down in the water, and your shoulders up toward the surface. As you breathe, tilt your head forward with your chin over the surface of the water. To maintain your rhythm, keep your breath quick.

Arm Recovery

As your arms recover over the water, keep your thumbs facing down. This thumb position will help lock your elbows, and prevent the water from hitting the pit of your elbow as your arms move over the surface.

Keep your thumbs close to the surface of the water to take the pressure off of your shoulders. Flying your arms high out of the water can strain your shoulders, and possibly lead to injury.

Keep it Separate

At this stage, try to separate your arm pulls from your body roll. This will help your timing in butterfly. Also, it should make it easier to you get your arms out of the water.

If you are having trouble with this drill, try performing it with just one arm. As you take an arm stroke, leave the other arm straight out in front of you. Using just one arm can simplify the drill, and make it easier to maintain the body roll.

Tie It All Together

This next step should feel much closer to traditional butterfly. With your arms outstretched in front of you, perform one body roll, followed by one arm stroke. When you first practice this drill, separate your arm pull from the body roll. This will help you achieve proper timing.

Combine the Steps

As you get more comfortable with the drill, you can start combining the arm stroke with the body roll. This is often the trickiest part of butterfly. When you pull through the water on your arm stroke, move your hips down. As your arms exit the water and recover towards the front, pop your hips up.

Once again: If you’re having trouble with the rhythm, you can use one arm during this drill instead of two.

How to Know Your Timing is Off

If your shoulders are underneath the water as you try to lift your arms out, then you need to tweak your timing. If your shoulders are down, you’ll have to push your arms through the water instead of lifting them through the air.

Forcing your arms through the water is much more difficult and exhausting than recovering them through the air. Instead, your shoulders should be toward the surface as you lift your arms out of the water.

Take it Slow

As you practice these steps, remember to take it slow. The body roll is the foundation to butterfly. Repeat the early steps as much as necessary until you feel like you’ve fully mastered the body roll. Then add in the rest of the stroke. If you're still struggling, look at our companion guide, Common Mistakes When Swimming Butterfly, for additional tips. 

With a little bit of practice and patience, you’ll be swimming butterfly with ease!

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