Butterfly Breathing Technique

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How does butterfly breathing technique fit into one of the most physically demanding swimming strokes?  Learn how and when to breathe so that a smooth efficient swimming stroke is maintained. 

butterfly breathing technique for smooth swimming

Butterfly breathing technique is a rapid and explosive action that can take place every stroke or every second stroke depending on the ability of the swimmer and the distance and pace of the swim.

Inhalation and exhalation take place within a very short time during the stroke cycle and therefore powerful respiratory muscles and good breathing control are required.


Butterfly Breathing Video Demonstration

When To Inhale and When To Exhale?

Inhalation takes place as the arms complete their upsweep and begin to recover, as the body begins to rise.  

The head is lifted enough for the mouth to clear the water and the chin should be pushed forward, but remain at the water surface. Some exhalation underwater takes place during this phase.

The head is lowered quickly into the water again as the arms recover inline with the shoulders, to resume an overall streamlined position and maintain minimal frontal resistance.

Master butterfly breathing technique

Explosive breathing is normally preferred but a combination of trickle and explosive breathing can be used. 

Explosive breathing involves a rapid exhalation followed immediately by inhalation, requiring powerful use of the respiratory muscles.

How Often To Breathe?

Breathing can take place every stroke or every other stroke.  A breath every stroke requires the head to be lifted with each arm pull cycle.

A breath every other stroke means the head is lifted once during an arm cycle and then it remains face down for the next arm pull cycle.

Breathing every other stroke can in some cases allow the swimmer to exhale underwater, therefore making inhalation when the face is up, much easier.

Common Butterfly Breathing Technique Mistakes

Failure to actually breathe is the most common mistake made by beginners learning the technique for butterfly breathing.  

Because the inhalation and exhalation have to take place very quickly in the short second the face is being raised, it is very common to either inhale only or not breathe at all.  The result: a pair of extremely inflated lungs and a severe lack of oxygen.

Performing the full stroke slowly and taking a breath every other stroke cycle is a good way of ensuring that exhalation is taking place and that the lungs are sufficiently emptied before inhalation takes place.  

Click here for some example butterfly drills. 

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