Butterfly Stroke for Beginners: Tips and Drills

Training & Technique
Written by: arena coaches at 23 May '22 0
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There’s nothing quite like watching a swimmer use the butterfly swimming style to propel themselves across the surface of the water gracefully. The butterfly stroke technique requires power and coordination. When you bring these elements together and create a mechanically sound stroke, you’ll feel like you’re flying through the water while harnessing all of your body’s strength and agility.

The butterfly can be challenging to learn for amateur swimmers, so today, we’d like to give you some tips and drills for how to start swimming the butterfly stroke for beginners. We’ll start by breaking down each element of the butterfly stroke for you to understand how your body should move. Then, we’ll provide you with a set of butterfly drills that you can use during your next training session.

Butterfly Technique Tips

With any swim stroke, practicing good technique is crucial to your performance. So, for the butterfly stroke, you must practice the correct method for each part of the stroke. With consistent training, you’ll be able to master the butterfly stroke.

Let’s go over the technique required to swim the butterfly stroke for beginners. We’ll look into the correct body position, arm pull, kicking, and breathing pattern.

Good Body Position

Like with all other swim strokes, you should aim to keep your body near the surface of the water. Keeping your hips high in the water is the most important aspect to focus on. If you allow your hips to drop, your legs will also sink and end up dragging through the water, which slows you down. The closer you are to the surface of the water, the less drag you’ll experience throughout your stroke.

The next part of your body you should pay attention to is your head. The position of your head should remain in a neutral posture. Avoid looking up while swimming butterfly because it will create resistance and slow you down. Your hips will likely drop if your head comes too high out of the water, slowing you down.

When you swim butterfly, your body moves in an undulating motion. You will move through the water in an alternating up and down motion. However, it is essential to focus on moving forward as well. A common error in butterfly stroke for beginners is that amateur swimmers try to move up and down too much. Instead, think of your undulation motion as a means to propel you forward through the water.

A Perfect Arm Pull

Butterfly stroke for beginners: swimmer practicing his stroke

The butterfly arm pull involves a catch phase, pull phase, and recovery phase. The catch phase is when your hands enter the water, and you prepare your body for a strong pulling motion. The pull phase is when you harness power and generate speed to propel yourself forward. The recovery phase begins when your hands exit the water and ends as you start your next stroke. Let’s look at some tips for each of these phases.

First, we have the catch phase. Your hands should enter the water slightly wider than the width of your shoulder. The palms of your hand should face the bottom of the pool. Once your hands have entered the water, you should bend your elbows to put your arms in a strong position for the pull phase.

From this point, you’ll begin your pull phase. You want to pull back toward your hips to execute an efficient pull. Avoid pulling away from your body or straight down toward the bottom of the pool. Pulling away from your body and then back toward your hips in an “S” arm movement is an old technique that is no longer recommended due to its inefficiency. Pulling straight down can lift your body too high out of the water and results in little forward motion.

Focus on a consistent and powerful pull through to your hips to provide the most speed. A study found that, during the butterfly stroke, swimmers exert different forces between the dominant hand and non-dominant hand. This imbalance during the pull can lead to a lack of efficiency in the stroke, so try to do your best to focus on pulling evenly with both arms.

The final phase is the recovery phase. Your pinky finger should be the first part of your hand to exit the water. Keep your arms relatively straight and near the surface of the water as they come through the recovery phase. Ensure you supply enough momentum for your arms to make it through the entire recovery phase back to the catch phase. Keep your shoulders and back muscles as relaxed as possible during the recovery to avoid muscle fatigue.

An Excellent Butterfly Kick

The kick used in butterfly is the dolphin kick. It is the same style of kick that is used during the underwater phase of freestyle. The body position for this kick involves keeping both your legs and feet side by side throughout the motion. Your toes should point straight back.

During the butterfly stroke, you will perform two kicks per arm stroke. The first kick is how you generate enough forward momentum to initiate your recovery phase. The second kick adds additional momentum during your catch phase before you begin the pull.

The butterfly kick consists of a strong downward motion in which you displace water using your legs and feet. Then, you kick upward as well to create even more forward drive.

A Great Breathing Technique

Swimmer coming up for air

Butterfly breathing is an essential part of the stroke. You have an option of how often you want to breathe during the butterfly stroke. When swimming the butterfly stroke for beginners, you might want to breathe every stroke you take. You can work toward breathing once every two or three strokes as you increase your lung capacity.

The benefit of breathing less often is that it allows you to keep your head down and reduces your drag through the stroke. The distance you are swimming can also help you decide how often you breathe: 

  • If you are swimming 50 to 100 meters, you might find it advantageous to breathe less often so you can focus on hydrodynamics and power while keeping your head down. 
  • If you are swimming 200 meters, you might find that it is beneficial to breathe more frequently so you can supply your body with enough oxygen to get you through the long distance.

The major thing to avoid when taking a breath is lifting your head too high out of the water. Remember what we talked about in body positioning, if your head comes too high out of the water, your hips will drop, and you’ll lose speed.

Instead, think about slightly tilting your head just enough so you can take a good breath. Try to look at the bottom of the pool even while breathing. You’ll take your breath in when your body is the highest out of the water during the end of your pull phase.

How to Turn and Streamline During Butterfly

Each stroke has different rules for how you can turn at the wall and streamline after pushing off. Butterfly uses a turn that is similar to the breaststroke turn, in which the swimmer must touch the edge of the pool with both hands at the same time before turning. You will use a butterfly kick, also known as a dolphin kick, during your underwater phase.

Let’s go over the turn and streamline in more detail so you can achieve efficiency at the walls.

Ace Your Turns

Working toward faster turns is a great way to improve your swim time. As you approach the wall, you’ll want to try and reach the wall with your arms extended in front of you at the end of your recovery phase. Place both hands on the wall at once. Then, tuck in your legs as if bringing your knees up toward your chest. Begin to rotate and place both feet firmly against the wall. Push off the wall to start the underwater section of your swim.

Glide Through Your Streamlines

The underwater phase of swimming is the fastest part of your whole lap. The reason you can carry so much speed underwater is that you start with a strong push off the wall, plus your body is in the most hydrodynamic position possible. You can achieve this position by extending your arms out in front of your head with one hand on top of the other. Your head should remain in a neutral position, and your biceps should cover your ears. After pushing off the wall and achieving this position, use the dolphin kick to propel yourself underwater.

Butterfly Stroke for Beginners Swim Set

Butterfly stroke for beginners: swimmer doing the butterfly stroke

Butterfly stroke for beginners can be somewhat challenging, so we’ve provided a few drills below that can help you get a feel for the stroke. You should complete the drills listed below in order as part of a complete swim set. Before we list out the set, let’s take a quick look into how this exercise is structured.

First, you’ll start with a good warm-up to get your body loose before swimming. Stretch out before hopping into the pool, and perform a good swimming warm-up set before you begin. Swim at least 300 meters of freestyle to get warm.

The next section of this workout consists of butterfly drill work in which you’ll swim 2×25 meters at a time of four different drills. The total amount of drill work will be 200 meters. Watch the included videos to get an idea of the form you should use. Some of the drills might feel strange at first, but when you put them all together, you’ll see what a difference they make for your stroke.

After the drills are over you’ll move into the main section of the set. Here you’ll swim 12×50 meters of one butterfly lap followed by a freestyle lap. During this main part of the set, focus on bringing all the drill elements together into a complete butterfly stroke. 

Then, you’ll have an easy 100-meter cool down to finish up. 

Let’s take a look at the swim set:

  • 2×25 butterfly legs only, on your back with your arms along your sides.
  • 2×25 breaststroke arms and butterfly legs, making sure your arm stroke is steady and incorporated into your breathing pattern
  • 2×25 with one arm extended in front of your body and the other arm performing the butterfly arm stroke with front breathing.
  • 2×25 with one arm along your side and the other extended alongside your head. Use the butterfly leg kick while breathing in sync with your arm stroke. (This is a tricky drill in terms of coordination but allows you to shift your body weight forwards to facilitate an undulating body movement).
  • 12×50 (first 25 butterfly plus second 25 front crawl)
  • 100 easy freestyle swim to cool down

Time to Go Master the Butterfly

The butterfly stroke for beginners can seem challenging to master, but with attention to proper technique and routine practice, you can learn how to swim butterfly. Remember, the keys to learning butterfly are to maintain good body position and focus on a strong pull and kick. Train your turns and streamlines, and practice the drills above. You’ll be flying across the water in no time.

Ready to train hard at butterfly? Head to arena’s online store for all your swimming equipment needs.

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