Learn Swimming Strokes: Butterfly

Learn Swimming Strokes - Butterfly

The fourth and final stroke of our swimming blog series is known by many as the most difficult to complete. Butterfly is a very physically and mentally demanding stroke, but when done properly, it looks and feels incredibly graceful. Butterfly works nearly every muscle in your body, and also works to greatly increase your lung capacity. It burns the most calories of all four strokes, and if you’ve seen pictures of Michael Phelps or any other butterflier in a swimsuit, you would know how much it can tone your muscles. Read on to learn about the butterfly technique and the muscle groups it impacts.

Butterfly Swimming

As with all of the strokes we’ve gone over thus far, it’s important to stay patient when learning how to swim. Even the best swimmers encounter issues completing butterfly, so don’t feel bad if it doesn’t come naturally. Just remember that persistence and practice is key. While it is not quite as timing-sensitive as breaststroke, moving your arms and legs consistently together is very important when trying to demonstrate an energy-efficient butterfly. Check out the videos below for a break down of the stroke.

Swimming Technique

Throughout the blog series, we’ve been posting videos of Phillip Toriello, a competitive swimmer and instructor. To keep consistent with the previous blog posts, here is a video of him breaking down butterfly. In the video, he talks about a 2-step kick cycle and breaks down the arm movements into 3 main components.

For the arm movements, the PULL is when the arms are fully extended, about shoulder-width apart out in front of you. Pull continues when you’re starting to move your arms through the water towards your waist. PUSH is the finishing part of the arm movement, when you push the water back, extending your arms again, but this time your hands are down by your waist as opposed to in front of your head. Finally, the RECOVERY phase is when you’re bringing your arms back over your body, into the original arm extended position. So again, that’s:

  1. Pull
  2. Push
  3. Recovery

The instructor also talks about a two-beat kick. The first kick is a large kick, which happens during the pulling/pushing motions, so basically the entire time your arms are in the water. The second kick happens during the recovery. This is also when you would take a breath. The key to an efficient breath is to use the momentum from your kick to push yourself out of the water. To be most efficient, try and keep your head as close to the water as possible, even keeping your chin in the water if you can.

  1. During the Pull/Push motion
  2. During the Recovery

Muscles Used

You’ll notice in the video below that nearly every muscle seems to be used throughout butterfly. Some of the more dominant muscles used include your abs, quads, pecs, hamstrings, glutes, deltoids, and lats. In other words, butterfly can help strengthen the muscles used in almost any everyday activity: walking, lifting a box, gardening, walking up stairs, or picking up a child. Like I said before, butterfly is very challenging and you’ll most likely “feel the burn” right away, even if you have been swimming freestyle for awhile. Once you get the hang of the stroke, it’s a great exercise to add to your regimen. If you get too tired, try swimming one lap butterfly, one lap freestyle, or mix in other strokes until you build up your endurance.

Muscles Used in Backstroke


Mckinzie Halkola - Fitness Intern at Elite Sports Clubs

Written by Mckinzie Halkola, Fitness Intern at Elite Sports Club – Brookfield

Mckinzie will be receiving her B.S. in Kinesiology with an emphasis in exercise and fitness in August of 2018. She was captain of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s swim and dive team, was named two-time swimmer of the week by the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC), Athlete of the Week by the UWO athletic department, and made second-team all-conference for her efforts in the 200-yard backstroke. Her certifications include Adult and Child First Aid/CPR/AED from the American Red Cross (ARC) as well as a lifeguarding certification from the ARC.

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