Challenge Yourself with Butterfly 1


One of the ways to get stronger and healthier is to challenge yourself.  There are a myriad of ways to challenge yourself physically and mentally.  You can train longer and/or harder, but nothing will compare to learning a new skill.  It will challenge your brain, your coordination, different muscles and make you healthier all around.

In this article, we will talk about the basics of the butterfly stroke.  It is one of the strokes that many fitness swimmers do not even want to talk about.  However, it can be a very fun stroke which can slowly be integrated in your workout and challenge your brain, coordination and certainly your abs muscles!

As with any other stroke, the position on top of the water is crucial.  This is a short axis stroke, and you will be bending at the level of your waist.  So it is impossible to stay completely on top of the water, but it is critical to avoid as much resistance of the water as possible.  Therefore, the undulation should not be too deep.  The most common mistake is trying to dive down too much (up and down motion) instead of thinking extension forward.

With that in mind, the first thing to learn is how to kick and how to initiate the kick from your core muscles.  With your fins on, start from a prone position on top of the water: arms extended with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders and your fingers slightly pointing down.  Drop your chest, then initiate a powerful downwards contraction of your abs which should propel you forward.  Your legs will automatically follow up and down thru the motion.  At this time do not think too much about your kick, let it just be the continuation of your undulation.  Remember that real dolphins do not have arms or knees but just powerful abs and awesome undulations!!!  This is your first drill; it is easy to incorporate into your workout.  Do it until you master it.  Breathe every four undulations without stopping your kick, and keep your arms extended in front close to the level of the water.  When you go for a quick breath, you can scull a little so that your chest can easily drop down, but your hands must remain close to the surface of the water.  This drill is not done in a streamline position.  We are getting a feel for the undulation while swimming butterfly on top of the water, and we are not practicing the underwater streamline kick.  So stay on top of the water.

Once you know how to undulate, your position on the water and the timing of your breath are the two crucial elements for an efficient arm stroke and a smooth butterfly.  Once your two hands land in the water, it is very important to stop the downwards movement of your arms and hands by sculling to the outside corner while your head and chest keep going down.  You need to start your pulling being on top of the water, forming a Y with your arms and hands, your chest and head slightly below your hands, your eyes looking down towards the bottom of the pool, and your hips on top of the water.  You are then in prime strength position to pull the water backwards.  Now three things need to happen AT THE SAME TIME:

  • position your fingers toward the bottom of the pool, while keeping your elbows up (90degree catch position). Start pulling with your full forearms toward the back, and your hands will automatically go toward the middle of your body
  • drop your hips to initiate the undulation and
  • quickly breathe as the powerful dropping of the hips helps you lift your head up

Those need to happen simultaneously as they are correlated and help each other.

Once you have reached the middle of your body, your hands almost touching each other, you accelerate your pull and let your hands go towards the outside.  Your head must start its downwards motion and you should start looking towards the bottom of the pool, as this will help bring your arms over the water with less effort.  The recovery of the arms over the water should be wide, close to the water, arms straight and thumbs down.  The kick at the end of your undulation should also help bring back your hips at the surface.

Easier said than done!  If this does not make you think and use your brain, I don’t know what will.  I know there are a few drills in butterfly, but sometimes those are as hard to do correctly.  For me, I would strongly recommend using fins, and only try a few strokes to start with.  The key elements are

  • starting position (Y- hips up, head down)
  • breathing early at the start of the pull and initiation of the core undulation
  • your head should land before your hands on the recovery. In other words, timing is everything

Have fun with it; it is definitively a challenge and a physical feat.  It will make you work every muscle you have for a total body and mind workout.  It will make you fit!!!


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One thought on “Challenge Yourself with Butterfly

  • Craig Limoges

    Awesome, Colette! Thanks! A few years ago a coach of mine (from way back) told me to think of fly as a rhythm stroke rather than a power stroke. I haven’t swum fly in a while, but that helped me relax more while swimming fly.