The butterfly: power and harmony

Training & Technique
Written by: arena coaches at 8 February '17 0
You are reading: The butterfly: power and harmony

Level: beginners

The stroke gets its name from its sweeping arm action reminiscent of a butterfly’s wings. It is the most spectacular to watch and also the hardest to swim: this striking but also intimidating stroke seems to be beyond the capabilities of  “beginners”, but with enough practice and the right amount of power and coordination you will soon be swimming the butterfly.

Historical Overview

The butterfly is the most recently developed of all competitive strokes and was swum for the first time in a race in 1933, when Henry Mayers used an arms-out-of-the-water recovery stroke during a breaststroke race.


Keep your body in line with the surface of the water in a facedown position. This stroke involves a more vertical movement than other swim strokes due to the undulation resulting from the arms pressing downwards, the action of the legs as they push your hips upwards, and the inertia deriving from the arm recovery as it pushes the head and shoulders downwards again.


At the beginning of the stroke your hands are extended forwards with your thumbs pointing downwards due to a slight rotation of the wrists. At the same time you push downwards and outwards with both arms until your hands are much wider apart than your shoulders at a depth of approximately 60 cm in the water by bending your elbows. Once you have a good catch with your hands, pull along the sagittal plane towards the centre of your body until your hands almost meet before completing the recovery phase. This happens out of the water in a sweeping motion until your hands are once again extended beyond your head.

Breathing – Head

Lift your head to breathe as you complete the push phase and then let it drop beneath the surface again as your hands re-enter the water at the end of the recovery phase. Look straight ahead while breathing (your chin must not be raised above the surface of the water) and look down again as you drop your head underwater.


Make two leg kicks for every complete arm stroke, moving them simultaneously up-and-down along the vertical plane. Make the first kick as soon as your arms enter the water (this counteracts the braking effect of entering the water) and then the second at the end of the catch-pull phase  of the arm stroke (as your hips are pushed upwards).


Keep your body in line with the surface of the water as you make your turn, touch the wall with both hands at the same time (as you do at the finish) and then tuck your legs up under  your chest by bending your knees until your feet touch the wall ready to push off again.

 “No matter what activity or practice we are pursuing, there isn’t anything that isn’t made easier through constant familiarity and training. Through training, we can change; we can transform ourselves.” [Dalai Lama]


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arena coaches

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