How To Improve Your Butterfly Right Now

Here’s a riddle for you…

What burns 800 calories an hour, makes you gasp for air and puts the fear of God into most swimmers?

Yep, you guessed it – it’s the butterfly.

If you’re like 95% of swimmers, then you’ve probably had trouble mastering the ins and outs the butterfly.

Because it’s technical and demanding, most people give it a go for one length, before quickly switching back to the safety of freestyle.

But that’s a shame because when it’s done properly, butterfly can rev up your metabolism, build impressive muscular strength and give you one hell of a workout.

It’s arguably swimming’s most challenging stroke, but you were never one to back down from a challenge in any case, right?

Sure private swimming lessons with us will help. But today,  you’ll get a head start by learning the 4 easiest ways that you can improve your butterfly and crush it next time you get your speedos on.

Sounds good? Then let’s dive in.

1. Imagine You’re a Dolphin

We can learn a lot about swimming by looking at sea creatures. Like for example, that the key to a successful butterfly stroke lies in mastering a flowing dolphin-like body motion.

See, most people think the butterfly is an arm-driven stroke because that’s what you see from the pool bank.

But the truth is that a huge proportion of the power and propulsion comes from the up and down motion of the body. After all, dolphins don’t have arms and they can leap pretty high out of the water!

Our sea-faring mammal friends show us that the butterfly stroke starts with your hips and core, and your arms follow, not the other way around.

So, practice mastering a smooth, even butterfly kick. Start by kicking with your hands by your side and think about pressing your chest and face into the water.

It’ll take a little practice to get the feel of it and using short flippers can help. If you’re lost, do your best dolphin impression (maybe refrain from making the noises though).

If you need some training inspiration, the drills in this video should help you develop a balanced and consistent body motion:

2. Remember the Surface is Your Friend

Remember the Surface is Your Friend

Lots of swimmers make the mistake of undulating too deep under the surface of the water. But this increases drag and makes the stoke a whole lot more difficult.

So, aim to keep yourself as close to the surface as possible. Take a look at videos of the world’s best butterfliers to get an idea of how shallow their swimming is.

However, don’t confuse swimming shallow with swimming flat. An undulating body is the foundation of the stroke – flat swimming will lead to over-dependence on your arms to propel you through the water.

This won’t only make you exhausted very quickly, but it may lead to nasty shoulder injuries further down the line.

So, make sure your undulation is shallow and rhythmic, that way you’ll reduce your drag and slip through the water like an eel.

3. Master Your Head Position

Master Your Head Position

In swimming, wherever your head goes your body follows. Think about your noggin like the rudder of a ship. That’s why it’s important to keep your noodle dead straight when swimming butterfly.

Moreover, when you lift your head to breathe, your body reacts by sinking your hips. And this means increased drag and less efficient swimming.

So we want to aim to lift our head the smallest amount that’ll allow us to breathe. You can do this by keeping your head locked in a solid downward or very slightly forward-looking position (no more than 45°).

Then when it comes time to breathe, your mouth will be able to naturally rise with the undulation of the stroke and take in some much-needed air.

If all you’re getting is a mouthful of water, focus on pushing your chin slightly in front of your forehead. This should help create time for you to catch a quick breath before submerging your head again.

Using your neck muscles to extend your head rather than extending at the shoulders or back will minimize drag and allow you to your butterfly ticking over at a constant rhythm.

To further shoot drag in the foot, you can experiment with taking a breath every two to three arm cycles as opposed to one. Mastering this will optimize your mechanics and help you to conserve energy to power you through the last few meters of a race.

Check out the following drills to help you master the head position:

4. Your Legs Don’t Kick, Your Hips do

Your Legs Dont Kick Your Hips do

One of the most common errors with butterfly is that people try to kick with their legs. By that we mean they’re flexing heavily at the knee joint.

Bending your knees like this is a bad idea because it increases the power of every swimmer’s arch-nemesis – count dragula. Not only will the back of your calves act like a hand-break, but you’ll also start to sink deeper into the water (see point #2 if you just skimmed your way here).

All of that is going to leave you in a boxing match with the water, where at best you’ll get exhausted and at worst you’ll have to get the lifeguards to throw in the towel.

Like all strokes, we have to learn to work with the water, not against it. With that in mind, the key to a successful dolphin kick is to begin the motion from your hips and core, not from your legs.

For maximum propulsion, you want to keep your ankles loose – Just like in horse riding, a little whip will get you there faster, so think about using your feet to giddyup the water!

It’s worth noting too, that each arm cycle calls for two kicks; one to propel your arms over the water and one to drive you forward when your arms enter the water.

So, focus on initiating your kick from the centre of your body and you’ll quickly find your stroke stabilized and fluid through the water.

This video is about underwater butterfly kicking, but the drills work perfectly for developing a hip-driven kick for your butterfly swimming:

Wrapping Up

Developing a killer butterfly stroke is not easy. It’s going to take a good dose of dedication and practice to master the technical elements of it. But by implementing the four tips outlined in this post, you should see improvements pretty quickly.

By doing your best dolphin impression, keeping close to the surface, mastering your head position and kicking from your hips you’ll soon find that butterfly isn’t as daunting as most people think it is.

So what are you waiting for? Get your kitbag prepared and head down to the pool already!

Got any questions? Leave them below in the comments and we’ll get back to. Don’t forget to share this article with a fellow swimmer if you’ve found it helpful.

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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