3 Dry land exercises to improve butterfly

3 Dry land exercises to improve butterfly


There’s no two ways about it: swimming the butterfly is hard work.

Like breaststroke, the arms as well as the legs are in simultaneous motion in butterfly. While the arms support the breath in breaststroke, however, the butterfly relies on sheer power for breathing. The arm pull is followed by a massive kick with the feet together. This basically vaults the swimmer over the water where they can catch a breath.

The rhythm is crucial for efficiency and breathing. Neither the legs nor the arms can ever pause without losing the stroke form entirely. The butterfly is, in a word, relentless.

Butterfly rhythm can be learned with help from a coach. But to really master this stroke, you’ll need to power up your whole body:

  • Core – The most powerful kick in swimming requires core fitness all the way around.
  • Legs – Quadriceps and glutes drive the body clear of the water to get a breath and reach for the pull.
  • Upper body – Equalising the strength across both arms from the mid-back to the fingertips will ensure a strong pull.

These three dry land exercises to improve the butterfly will help you gain the strength and retain the flexibility needed to keep going all the way to the finish.

  • Roman chair back extension
  • Jump squat
  • Active hang

Roman chair back extension

Back Extensions

To create a whip-like movement through the body for the butterfly kick the lower back acts together with the abs. You want to hit up the intrinsic muscles of the back that control spinal movement to improve this motion.

For that, the roman chair back extension is a good option. The roman chair is a simple piece of equipment used for several exercises. Here’s how to perform a good back extension:

  1. Adjust the height of the bench so that when you lean on it, the hips rest against the pad.
  2. Put your feet on the support plate or floor with your legs under the stabiliser pads.
  3. Position your arms as if you are about to do a sit-up.
  4. Lean over the pad, face down, until your front is against the front of the pad.
  5. Lift your body up using the back muscles to the point that your spine is straight.
  6. Slowly lower yourself back down, and then repeat the movement.

Try three sets of 15 reps. If this is easy, increase reps to gain strength without bulking up.

This is a good one to try with a mirror to watch yourself. The mirror will help you:

  • Make sure the pad is correctly positioned. If it is too low, you will target hamstrings and glutes.
  • Ensure that you don’t overextend the back when you lift up.

Jump squat

jump squat

Of course the kick needs strong legs, too. Powerful quads do the job of pushing the extended feet down through the water and drive your upper body out of the water.

The jump squat is a standard squat with an added jump in between each rep. The jump contributes a plyometric element to this workout to build explosive power to benefit your butterfly. Bonus: you can do this exercise just about anywhere.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Use the balls of your feet to jump straight up, extending your legs as you leave the ground.
  3. Land back on the balls of your feet before letting your heels come down.
  4. Immediately lower yourself into a squat, pausing with your back straight, then repeat.

Try 3 sets of 8 reps to start. The jump squat is high impact, so make sure you are on a mat, carpet or grass.

Ready for a challenge? You can add a medicine ball slam into the mix to create a full body workout. Hold the ball over your head, then jump. As you land into the squat, slam the ball down onto the floor.

Active hang

Active Hang

The active hang is an isometric exercise. This means you hold one position with your muscles tensed instead of moving around. These exercises create stability around the joints. This is especially beneficial for a stroke like butterfly, where the shoulders are under stress. Equal flexibility and strength across both arms drives efficiency.

To perform the active hang, you will need somewhere to hang from. A pull-up bar is perfect. You can even give it a try at a playground or parkour frame.

  1. Grip the bar with hands shoulder width apart, then lift your feet off the ground.
  2. Tense the muscles of the shoulders and arms as if you are about to do a pull-up.
  3. Hold the tensed position for 20-30 seconds, then release the hold.

You can build up the amount of time you hold, do multiple reps and play with the grip position to add variety to this exercise.

If you are experiencing joint pain, consult a doctor or physio before trying this exercise.

Improving your technique

Private Swimming Lessons

These three dry land exercises to improve your butterfly add strength, flexibility and explosive power to your stroke. But if you’re after improved technique, we really recommend having some one-on-one sessions with a coach.

A professional will watch your style and pinpoint areas to:

  • Get the rhythm right
  • Improve efficiency
  • Tweak movement to reduce potential injury, and much more.

If you’re interested in getting the most from the intense workout of the butterfly, get in touch with Swim Now! Our coaches are ready to help you reach your potential.


by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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