Butterfly Stroke Swimming Steps

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Work through these basic butterfly stroke swimming steps and master the most difficult of the four basic swimming strokes.

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Step 1: Body Movement

The best starting point for learning butterfly stroke is the undulating body movement. The whole stroke is centred around the up and down dolphin-like movement and in one of the most important butterfly stroke swimming steps.  A push from the side is the best place to start. 

  1. Start by holding the poolside behind you, take a deep breath, submerge your face and spring away from the wall, across the water surface. 
  2. Keep your arms stretched out in front with hands and feet together.
  3. Begin moving your head by dipping your chin towards your chest and then pushing it forward and up.
  4. Repeat this up and down movement of the head and allow it transmit through your shoulders and chest.
  5. Keep the head movement going, allowing the wave-like ripples to flow right through your hips and down to your legs.

how to perform butterfly stroke

Ensure that:

  • face is in the water
  • legs are together
  • hands are together

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how to learn butterfly stroke

Step 2: Butterfly Stroke Kick

The leg kick for butterfly is a powerful, simultaneous movement that comes from the knees. An excellent way to develop this is to add it onto the 'push and glide' exercise above.  

  1. Set yourself up on the side of the pool as you did above, tucked up ready to push away.
  2. Push off and begin the undulating, up and down movement, leading from your head.
  3. Keeping your legs together, bend your knees so that your feet rise up towards the water surface.
  4. Kick both feet downwards in a powerful whip-like action.
  5. Repeat this kicking action, keeping it in sync with the undulating body movement.
butterfly stroke for beginners

Ensure that:

  • legs are together and move simultaneously 
  • knees should not bend excessively
  • legs should whip down like a dolphin tail

For more information about how to kick in butterfly stroke, click here.

Step 3: Arm Movement

The arm action for butterfly stroke is a very large and simultaneous, accelerating movement that has to be coordinated with the undulating body action. This is the next most important of the butterfly stroke swimming steps.

The best way to learn this is to perform it over a short distance.

  1. Begin as before, against the poolside ready to push away.
  2. Push off with arms and hands stretched out in front and begin the undulating body movement.
  3. With both arms at the same time, pull under your body in a 'key hole' shape, pulling around, inwards and then outwards towards the thighs.
  4. Your arms then exit the water and recover over the surface, entering with finger and thumb first, inline with your shoulders.
how to do basic butterfly stroke arm action

Ensure that:

  • elbows remain higher than the hands
  • hands accelerate through the water
  • arms are straight as they recover low over the water surface

To get more about butterfly arm pull technique, click here.

Step 4: Breathing Technique

The breathing for butterfly stroke is explosive and happens the arms pull through and the head raises.  Try walking through the water, performing slow arm pull, so that you can practice timing the breath inwards with the arm pull back.

To practice the explosive breathing technique, try adding it onto the leg kick practice outline above.

  1. Push away from the poolside and begin the undulating body movement.
  2. Add the leg kicks, counting groups of 4 kicks.
  3. Lift your head, exhaling as you do so after each group of 4 kicks. 
  4. Inhale as your chin clears the water surface and dive your head back down again for another 4 kicks.
butterfly stroke for beginners

Ensure that:

  • exhalation takes place as the head begins to rise
  • inhalation is short and sharp

For more details on how to breathe properly, click here. 

Step 5: Timing and Coordination

The timing cycle of butterfly stroke usually includes 2 legs kicks to each arm pull cycle with the first, stronger kick occurring as the arms enter and begin to pull.  The second kick occurs as the arms complete their pull phase and begin to exit and recover. The best way to practice this is using the whole stroke.

  1. push away from the poolside and use your head to initiate the whole movement.
  2. perform a leg kick followed immediately by a simultaneous arm pull. 
  3. perform another leg kick as your arms recover over the water surface.
  4. continue the patter, using a 'kick-pull-kick-recover' sequence.
Kick-pull-kick-recover basic butterfly stroke timing pattern

If you find this part of the butterfly stroke swimming steps tricky, try a push and glide and perform one single stroke cycle.  As you begin to find a rhythm with the sequence, then add on more strokes. 

For more tips on butterfly timing, click here.

Need more butterfly stroke swimming steps?

Look no further. My popular guide book 'How To Swim Butterfly' contains many tried and tested drill and exercises that all beginners and improvers will find easy to access. 

The easy to follow guide to how to swim butterfly stroke
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