Float like a butterfly

Improving your swimming stroke – Butterfly

Learn how to fly…

Butterfly is arguably the most intelligent and most demanding of all swimming strokes. It requires the swimmer to develop a real sense of flow, rhythm and timing in the body. It requires the swimmer to work in harmony with the water.

Read on to discover CoachPerHour’s advice about how to master the stroke.


The wave or undulation is at the heart of the butterfly. Follow these CoachPerHour gliding exercises to develop a flowing action through your body, engaging your head, neck, torso, hips and legs.

1. Body Balance

With your arms trailing and head leading, gently glide and tuck up to regain your feet and stand tall in the water. Breathe out gently through the mouth or a combination of the mouth and nose.

2. Wave – arms trailing single leg beat

It’s best to feel your way into the stroke first by practising a single beat. Let your head lead and collapse your chest. Actively press down as you release your lower back. As your legs extend, the hips are driven up. Your arms, wrists and hands should be free and relaxed.

Let the upthrust of the water raise your upper body and head. Your hips should move forwards and your knees should release. Make sure you press down through the torso.

CoachPerHour Coaching Tip: Avoid unduly arching your back

3. Wave – arms trailing double leg beat

If you go a little deeper on the first undulation, it will allow space for a second smaller wave. Don’t put too much force into the kick – just enjoy the sense of the wave flowing through the body.

4. Wave – arms extended

If you extend your arms, the undulation becomes a more propulsive. Actively press down and follow it with a gentle release as you float up.

5. Wave – on the back

Practicing the wave on your back is fun and it allows you to focus completely on your technique without the distraction of breathing. Try undulating with your arms trailing by your side or extended behind your head. Just relax and let the water cushion your head and upper body.

CoachPerHour Coaching Tip: The emphasis and effort with the dolphin leg action should be on the upbeat.


Next, our CoachPerHour coaches will show you how to synchronise your arms with the wave. It’s important to minimise the tension and effort of the stroke. Try out these exercises:

1. Upright Soaring
Practising upright soaring on dry land really helps you to focus on your rhythm and timing without the distraction of the water. Move your arms back first before moving the body forward.

2. Stepping and Sliding
This can be practised upright out of the pool and in the water. It’s a great exercise as it helps you appreciate how the arms and hips combine to produce forward momentum in butterfly.
Flex the wrist and gently bend the elbows (almost as if as you’re taking hold of the water). Simultaneously slide your arms back and push your hips forward and take a couple of steps.

3. Soaring
Soaring combines a glide, an undulation and a drawing of the arms back – which drives the body forward.
CoachPerHour Coaching Tip: Take a pause after undulating and release your arms back as you soar to the surface

4. Breastafly
This exercise enables you to establish the flow, rhythm and timing of the stroke without the pressure of having to recover your arms over the top of the water. Let the arms slide loosely back through to an extended arm position ready to soar again.

5. Standing Butterfly
This full stroke practice out of the pool will enable you to develop an easy flying style. Drive your knees forward, release the arms back, swing the hips through and let the chest open.

6. Butterfly Stepping
The arms release back and your hips naturally swing through as you step forward. This enables your body to develop soft, light and flowing movements.

7. Fly Glide
Back in the pool, draw two semi circles with the thumbs on the water. This helps to create a long and loose arm recovery .

8. Single Stroke
Practising just a single stroke action gives you the opportunity to focus on getting your timing and technique spot on without the pressure of having to keep going.

9. Full stroke face in
Now string a few strokes together. The arms don’t have to do all the work. Let your arms combine with the flow of the body.

CoachPerHour Coaching Tip: Generate momentum from the torso, combined with your direction forward and down with your head

If you time the undulation well, the momentum from your pull and the natural upthrust of the water will help you surge forward.


Now you need to synchronise the breathing with the wave and the arms to give you a sense of space. This creates a flowing and powerful stroke and minimises tension. Here are some exercises to try:

1. Fly Breath Standing
Breathe in and breathe out. More space is created for the in breath by moving the eyes and head first before the arms release back.

2. Breathing – alternate strokes
Breathing on every other stroke enables you to establish a good sustainable rhythm. Beware of putting too much effort into the pull on the breathing stroke as this can upset your rhythm and timing.
Try putting less effort in when releasing the arms back on the breathing stroke.

CoachPerHour Coaching Tip: Roll the head gently to allow space to breathe in. Avoid the head being out of the water for too long as your hips will sink too low and you will lose momentum.

Release your arms as they pass your hips. This enables the recovery to be light and loose. Don’t change the rhythm of the stroke to incorporate the breath. Let the movement of your head lead the action. Listen to the water to find your rhythm.

CoachPerHour Coaches

Taking your time to master this challenging and enjoyable stroke will improve the flexibility and mobility of your spine, strengthen and broaden the muscles in your back and help develop your core stability.

The exercises in this post will help you but the best way to improve is to get professional coaching. Click on the link here to find out more about how our coaches can help CoachPerHour Athletes.

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