How to Do the Butterfly Swim: 8 Steps (with Pictures)

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How to Do the Butterfly Swim: 8 Steps (with Pictures)
How to Do the Butterfly Swim: 8 Steps (with Pictures)

The butterfly swim is one of the most difficult as it requires a lot of technique, precision, strength and a good sense of rhythm. This style of swimming takes a lot of practice, but once you've mastered it, you'll know how to swim one of the most respected modalities currently in official competitions.


Part 1 of 2: Perfecting the Strokes

Step 1. Make the right movement with your arms

The butterfly swim can be divided into three parts: the pull, the push and the recovery.

  • Start with your arms extended above your head (and shoulder-width apart). Pull your hands toward your body in a semicircular motion, palms facing outward. Don't forget to keep your elbows higher than your hands. This movement is called "pulling".
  • At the end of the pull, begin pushing your palms back through the water, past your sides and over your hips. This is the fastest part of the arm movement, where you get the momentum you need to complete the game.
  • An easy way to remember the sequence of movements of the pull and the push is to imagine drawing a keyhole with your hands underwater. The pull is the widest part of the top of the keyhole, while the push is the narrowest part at the bottom.
  • The last part of the butterfly stroke movement is recovery. Once your hands have reached your thighs at the end of the pull, take both of your hands out of the water at the same time. Then throw them to their original position. Your palms should be facing outwards so that your thumbs enter the water first (instead of your pinkies).

Step 2. Master the dolphin kick

Imagine kicking with your legs like a dolphin would with its tail under water.

  • In a dolphin kick, both legs move at the same time and must stay together to prevent loss of water pressure.
  • You must kick twice for each stroke. But the two kicks don't have to be the same – you can take a small kick and a stronger kick.
  • The small kick is given while “drawing” the keyhole with the arms. In this way, the arms help to give momentum, which prevents all movement from depending on the legs.
  • The big kick is given during recovery, when the arms are coming out of the water. Swimmers tend to lose momentum during recovery. So, you need to take a strong, big kick to keep your body going.
  • The most common mistake among beginners is giving equal kicks all the time, not alternating between a small and a big one.

Step 3. Get moving imitating the waves

The butterfly swim requires the whole body to get into the rhythm, not just the arms and legs!

  • Practice the movements with your body imitating the waves. Imagine the way dolphins move in water – their body should form a letter S that ripples as you swim.
  • To be more exact, your chest should go up when your hips are lower down. And when your chest is lower, your hips should go up and your butt should be out of the water.
  • If you can pick up the pace and synchronize your body movements with the strokes and kicks, it will be much easier to master the butterfly stroke. You will be able to swim faster and you will tire less.

Step 4. Know when to take air

This part is not easy as it has to be perfectly synchronized and done in the blink of an eye.

  • The right time to get air is when the arms are starting to come out of the water at the beginning of recovery.
  • As your arms are starting to come out of the water, lift your head until your chin is above the water. So, get some air. Do not turn your head left or right – it should be straight.
  • As your arms recover, dip your head back into the water and bring your chin toward your chest. That way it will be easier to raise your arms much higher.
  • Don't take in air with each stroke, otherwise you'll lose speed and swimming will become more difficult. Try to limit yourself to taking in air every two strokes, or even less if possible.

Step 5. Time to put all the moves together

Combine all the moves described above – the strokes, the dolphin kicks, the body sway and the right technique for taking in the air.

  • As you can see, this style of swimming is difficult and it takes time to master it perfectly. It's not easy to synchronize all these movements.
  • But it's important to keep practicing the moves correctly. Otherwise, if the movements are done wrong, you can end up with problems in muscles and joints, especially in the shoulders and wrists.
  • If you are having a hard time getting the hang of this style of swimming, ask a swimming instructor for help. He'll be able to teach you the moves in more detail and watch you while swimming to find where you're going wrong. This makes it much easier to improve your technique.

Part 2 of 2: Practical Exercises

Step 1. Try the one-arm butterfly stroke

  • Keep your arms shoulder-width apart. Start swimming using the dolphin kick.
  • After every four kicks, complete a single-arm stroke. Keep the other arm straight forward.
  • During this exercise, you can take in air from the side instead of lifting your head out of the water.
  • Once you can get from one end of the pool to the other, switch arms to practice both sides and develop strength and technique evenly.

Step 2. Do repetitive strokes

They are great for improving balance and gaining more control over your strokes.

  • Start swimming with the dolphin kicks, with arms extended forward and shoulder-width apart.
  • Instead of doing the normal stroke, practice doing two strokes with your right arm, followed by two strokes with your left arm, and finishing with two strokes using both arms at the same time.

Step 3. Practice the dolphin kick

That way you can pick up the rhythm better and, at the same time, practice taking air.

  • Keep your arms at your sides and your head under water. Throw the body forward using only the dolphin kick.
  • Try to alternate between big and small kicks as described above. This is essential to get the right pace of movement.
  • Take in air every four or five kicks, synchronizing your body movement with the air intakes in whatever way feels most logical and natural.
  • Once you better understand the rhythm of the movement, you can go back to adding the strokes.


  • When breathing, try to prevent the chin from rising more than 8 cm above the water level. Otherwise, you will end up pushing upward instead of forward.
  • Your kick should come from the core muscles of your body. Try not to bend your knees too much. The thrust should come from the center of the torso and thighs, not the calves.
  • When doing an arm stroke, keep your hands shoulder-width apart. Don't let them touch each other, otherwise you'll lose speed.
  • If swimming makes you tired, avoid the temptation to fill up on carbs to compensate. This only worsens your performance. Eat light snacks like granola bars or a few slices of whole grain bread. But no butter.
  • Lifting your arms as much as possible in recovery doesn't make the stroke any easier. By doing this, you shift your body from horizontal to vertical, losing momentum and speed. If you have your hands approximately 3 cm above the water, you can maximize your stroke efficiency.
  • Dedicate yourself to training! They are the basis for mastering any style of swimming, especially the butterfly. Practice exercises that will strengthen and improve your kicking, strokes, breathing, etc.
  • Try to play your body with your chest, helping to make the wavy movements.
  • Try to float and practice the dolphin kicks without arms, trying to stay on the water.
  • It may even be easier to learn butterfly swimming using toe fins. But try to avoid the board as it changes the right position that the body should take in the water.
  • Check out the other swimming styles. Generally, the butterfly swim is the last swim to be introduced in competitive swim training. It requires strength and endurance skills, something that must have been built up through the other styles before.


  • Don't be discouraged; although this is a difficult swim for most, you are fully capable of achieving a 50m swim in 35 seconds.
  • Running every day is not good for butterfly swimmers as it can injure your knees, which are an important part of swimming even if you don't have to bend them too much. Try cardiovascular exercise in the pool.
  • In a competition, remember to touch the pool wall with both hands when reaching the other side. Otherwise you may be disqualified. Also do an open loop. Touch the wall with both hands and raise one arm above your head and bring the other arm under the water simultaneously. Make the body flow with this movement. Then both of your arms will touch and push the wall into a straight position. This is the fastest way to pick up wall momentum.
  • Don't overeat before swimming, as butterfly stroke is a very tiring style. Try not to eat too much before swimming to avoid cramps.

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