The butterfly stroke is iconic in the swimming world. It is challenging to learn, and difficult to master, but the physical and mental rewards of improving in this stroke are very much worth it. You’ll feel your body become stronger and more in sync with each day you practice the butterfly stroke.
Whether you’re a beginner recreational swimmer just learning how to swim butterfly or a competitive swimmer this race season looking for extra tips and pointers, this article will provide a few ideas to help you further achieve the excellent butterfly form.
Tips for improved butterfly form
Of all the swimming strokes, butterfly is one of the most challenging. It burns more calories during one hour of swimming than any other stroke. A butterfly swimmer who weighs 155 pounds (70kg) will burn 774 calories in an hour. That is 70 more than the same person would burn when swimming freestyle or breaststroke.
Not only does the stroke expend a lot of energy, but the form itself can be hard to master. Taking the time to train with the proper butterfly technique will help you improve the efficiency in your stroke, allowing you to maximise the energy you use while swimming. The following tips will help to improve critical areas of your stroke technique.
How you position your body in the water plays significant roles in efficiency and speed. With butterflies, you want to make sure your body is aligned. When you do this properly, each part of your body will be participating in the movement.
Butterfly will mean that you will be undulating when you move through the water. Undulation allows you to move through the water efficiently. This type of body motion is to propel yourself forwards in the water, similarly to the motion used during an underwater dolphin kick. It allows your upper body and legs to alternate to help in propelling yourself across the pool with more efficiency and faster speed.
As you take butterfly strokes, focus on the correct arm movement and how your hands enter the water. Extend your arms with your elbows slightly bent, and keep your hands somewhat further apart than the width of your shoulders when they enter the water.
Once your hands enter the water, pull, as if performing a freestyle stroke but using both hands simultaneously. Focus on pulling equally with both arms, using your forearms and hands to catch as much water as possible. Pull straight down at first and allow your hands to come slightly closer together as you continue to pull towards your hips.
In the arm recovery phase of the stroke, your hands should leave the water by your hips and stay close to the surface. Do not lift your arms too high out of the pool, this wastes energy.
Kicking provides a large amount of propulsion. Both legs perform a large, powerful kicking motion at the same time. Your legs must remain together, and keep your feet pointed directly out behind you.
For every stroke cycle, you will kick twice. The first kick you take provides enough forward motion so you can lift your arms out of the water during the recovery phase of your stroke cycle. The second kick happens before you begin your pull and adds additional drive to keep the forward momentum going.
When focusing on breathing technique, you want to avoid lifting your head too high out of the water. Lifting your head too far out of the water can tilt your body and cause drag, slowing you down. Your head should come out of the water just enough for you to take a breath before returning to a neutral position.
Butterfly is a tiring technique, so you might need to breathe with every stroke if you are new to it. As your form improves, you might find you can take breaths less frequently than every stroke cycle. Breathing every other or every third stroke allows you to keep your head down longer and cut out drag, allowing your momentum to be significantly stronger as you move through the water.
Twelve butterfly drills to practice your skills
Now that you have the basic understanding of how to swim this challenging stroke with proper form, you can practice some of the swimming drills below to improve your skills. Remember to stay positive throughout your training, and as you continue to train you’ll see improvement.
Mimicking and practising the butterfly movement at the side of the pool, outside of the water, can help you to improve your technique. Lay on your stomach and bend your knees slightly to imitate the leg kick as your hands come forwards to enter the imaginary water. Kick again when your hands reach your sides. This drill can help visualise the mechanics of the stroke before you enter the water, assisting when applying it in the water.
Training fins make an excellent option for butterfly drills. Swim this stroke with short swim fins, taking one arm stroke for every 4 kicks. Focus on the form of your leg. The added resistance provided by the fins will allow more sensory response to the movement of your legs through the stroke, providing more focus on the movement.
For this drill, you will need a kickboard. Grab the kickboard firming and practice your kicking technique. Allow the kickboard to dive under the water in front of you and then come back to the surface as you complete your kicking cycle. This will help you master the movement of the stroke.
Place a pull buoy between your legs and swim butterfly using only your arms. This drill will help improve your arm strength and help you focus on the upper body mechanics of the butterfly technique. Try to pull equally with both your left and right arm during each stroke.
Swimming the butterfly with just one arm can help improve technique. Keep the arm that you are not using extended out in front of you or along your side. It is extremely important to remember to breathe forwards and not sideways when doing this drill.
- Breaststroke legs with lateral breathing
Swim the butterfly whilst using a breaststroke kick for every arm stroke. Breath once to the right and once to the left. Attempt to keep your head underwater as much as possible. This should help you get more comfortable with your breathing technique.
Swim the butterfly using a freestyle leg kick, try to keep your shoulders above the water when performing this drill. Focus on your arm mechanics and practice a powerful pull-through and efficient recovery phase.
Your first stroke of your arms in the water should have a wide entry. In your second stroke, your hand should enter the water at half the width of the previous stroke. For the third, your hands should enter next to one another in front of your head. Repeat this variable entry cycle throughout to get used to the movement.
Swim the butterfly without the recovery part of the arm stroke. Make sure your arms are below the chest and try to go as deep as possible with your shoulders by thrusting your back powerfully downward.
Swim the butterfly with clenched fists to keep your arms and legs as coordinated as possible.
Swim this stroke by just making one leg kick for every complete arm cycle, inserting it at the end of the pull phase right before beginning the recovery phase around the water.
Once you feel more comfortable swimming the complete stroke with proper form, try timing yourself swimming 50 metres, 100 metres and 200 metres and a time. Keeping a log of your times is a great way to track improvement throughout practising the drills!
Essentially, the key to improving any swimming technique is to keep up with consistent practice, and to take your time to think about proper mechanics before you enter the water while you are swimming. Remember, practice makes perfect, and our swimming aids at Proswimwear also contribute towards that.
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