Many swimmers will argue that the butterfly is the toughest swimming stroke to master due to the huge levels of strength and endurance it requires.
The butterfly stroke requires an incredible amount of power, so it is of paramount importance to get your body position and stroke technique as efficient as possible.
Even an ounce of energy wasted on overcompensating for a weak technique will cost you valuable seconds in the water.
When it's performed perfectly, the butterfly is a joy to watch. It produces powerful and exciting racing – at its peak speed, albeit briefly, it's even faster than freestyle due to the ability to pull with both arms.
Michael Phelps blazed a trail of success in this discipline, winning a total of 18 gold medals over 100m and 200m. He still holds the long course world records in both.
This article will cover the fundamentals of the butterfly – positioning, breathing, kicks and strokes. You can also watch our Speedo training video to visualise these tips for a fuller understanding.
What is the perfect body position for butterfly swimming?
Keeping your head and body in the correct position at all times will make you more streamlined in the water, saving more energy to generate your power.
To achieve optimum efficiency, your head must be kept in a neutral face-down position. Lead with the top of your head, aiming your eyes 90 degrees below towards the bottom of the pool.
This will help you to keep your body straight, and position yourself as close as possible to the top of the water.
To make yourself more streamlined, your body needs to be as flat as possible too. Straighten your back and keep that aforementioned neutral head position at all times, except when lifting it to breathe.
Which breathing technique will improve my butterfly stroke?
Getting your breathing technique right is vital to a successful butterfly swim. Not only will it help oxygenate your muscles, but it will also assist with maintaining a streamlined body position.
Breathing to the front is most common in butterfly. While some competitive swimmers do breathe to the side, many find the neck twist an uncomfortable and unnatural action.
As your arms begin to pull down through the stroke, your upper body will rise naturally. Leading with the shoulders, lift your head out of the water to breathe.
Keeping your chin as close as possible to the surface of the water is good practice, as it will help to maintain your efficient body position.
Once your hands have finished the pull phase of the stroke, drop your head back down as your hands begin to leave the water. Return to the neutral face-down position, and breathe out through your nose or mouth.
Returning your head to that neutral position as quickly as possible will help your arms to recover above the water's surface.
How can I improve my butterfly stroke swimming kicks?
Your kicking action is driven from your hips. The stronger your kick technique, the faster you'll swim. Remember to keep your legs together, but try to keep your ankles relaxed.
When you start your downkick, kick down through the water until your legs are at full extension towards the bottom of the pool, and flick your ankles at the end.
As you begin your kick upwards, bring your heels towards the surface of the water which should create a slight bend at the knee.
What is the perfect butterfly stroke technique?
To start your butterfly stroke, you need your arms in the water and your elbows maintaining a high position. Then press down with your forearms to catch and pull back the water.
During the pull phase of the stroke, hold the water with that high elbow placement and accelerate your arms through the water. Your fingers should be pointed towards the bottom of the pool, and your hands should be kept inside your body line.
Then, push backwards with your hands and accelerate them up and out of the water for the recovery phase.
Try to maintain a relaxed motion, and bring your arms over the surface of the water. Keep them straight and close to the water's surface until they re-enter the pool thumb-first.
Can you recommend some butterfly drills for me?
Watch this video from Bob Bowman, swimming coach of butterfly legend Michael Phelps, where he discusses some of the butterfly drills he likes to use during training.
Phelps and Bowman have also combined to create the MP Michael Phelps swimwear brand. The MP range also features a range of fantastic training aids that will help you develop your butterfly technique.
What training aids are there to help develop my butterfly technique?
Training fins are a versatile piece of equipment recommended for butterfly training. They can be used to help support your body's position and allow you to concentrate on your breathing technique, or to help develop leg strength and a faster kick.
If you want to work on the positioning of your hands during the butterfly stroke, it's also worth considering finger paddles as a training aid.
You can browse all our finger paddles, or try the Speedo Finger Paddles in grey and green to match the fins. Paddles will help you to focus on hand positioning while improving catch position and arm pull.
A centre snorkel can be a really useful training aid for improving your body positioning, helping you get comfortable in the neutral face-down position.
Because you don't have to worry about your breathing technique, you'll have more time to focus all your concentration on positioning.
We have full range of swimming snorkels from all the leading brands. Among our most popular products is the FINIS Swimmer's Snorkel (pictured) which is available in both junior and adult sizes. You could also try the Arena Swim Snorkel, which is available in a choice of colours, or the MP Michael Phelps Focus Snorkel.