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The Butterfly Stroke – Overview

The butterfly stroke has a special place among the competitive swimming strokes.

It has a reputation for being hard to learn. It is quickly exhausting.

Yet when you have mastered this stroke, swimming a few lengths of butterfly can be a lot of fun because of its unusual and spectacular movements.

A butterfly stroke swimmer
Butterfly is a spectacular swim stroke!

Butterfly Stroke Video

Here is a video that shows above water and underwater action of the butterfly stroke:

Swim Phases

Initial Position

Let’s analyze the different phases of the butterfly stroke. We imagine that the swimmer is in the following initial position:

1) He floats horizontally on his chest.

2) The head is in line with the torso, the face is turned downwards.

3) The arms are extended forward and shoulder-width apart. The palms are facing downwards.

4) The legs are extended and together, the knees are slightly bent.

5) The feet are pointed.

Stroke Cycle

Now the swimmer begins the stroke cycle:

1) The chest is pressed downwards, then released.

2) The arms move a little bit outwards, then bend at the elbows and the forearms and palms are brought into a backward-facing position.

3) The chest starts to rise.

4) The hands move backward and inwards towards the chest.

5) Simultaneously, the hips drive down and the knees bend.

6) The hands arrive below the chest and change directions to move towards the hips.

7) As the hands move from below the chest towards the hips, a first dolphin kick occurs.

8) Shortly after the chest and shoulders are at their highest point and clear the water.

9) The hands exit the water close to the hips with the palms facing inwards and the recovery of the arms start.

10) The arms hover above the water surface and return to their initial position. Simultaneously the palms rotate so that at the end of the recovery they are turned downwards again.

11) When the arms are fully extended forward and shoulder-width apart, they enter the water.

12) A second dolphin kick occurs.

13) The next stroke cycle begins.

Swimming Technique

The following articles cover the butterfly stroke technique in more detail:

Body Movements

Body Movements: The wave-like body movements are at the heart of the butterfly stroke. This article explains how to generate this body undulation.

Arm Stroke

Arm Stroke: This article discusses the different phases of the arm stroke and how to properly execute each phase.

Dolphin Kick

The Dolphin Kick: Explains and demonstrates the dolphin kick. Covers technique, number of kicks per stroke cycle, propulsive phases plus some additional tips.

Breathing Technique

Breathing Technique: Explains when and how to breathe while swimming butterfly. Also covers breathing to the side and breathing frequency.

Learn How To Swim

Learn How To Swim Butterfly: This article gives an overview of our swimming lessons to learn the butterfly stroke.

1) At first, you learn the body undulation and dolphin kick which are the foundations of the stroke.

2) The next step is to practice the underwater arm sweep.

3) Afterward, you learn the recovery of the arms above the water.

4) Finally, you combine all the movements practiced in the previous swimming drills until you actually swim butterfly.

Related Pages

You may also be interested in the following articles that cover the butterfly stroke’s swimming technique:

israel shikler

Monday 7th of September 2020

Hi Christophe,

To say I love your website would be an understatement! As for the butterfly I think it would be great if you can add to the pictures the water line mark and also what to do with legs after each kick so to be ready for the next one.

Many Thanks in advance.


Mary O Hara

Saturday 13th of July 2019

I am a female in my sixties. I never learned butterfly but I have been endeavouring to teach myself this stroke over the last few months since I went back to swimming a few times a week to try to get an exercise routine in the pool.

I have the gist of the undulating movement and two kicks in the stroke but I can't recover over the water and I don't expect I will be able to master it as I doubt I have the upper body strength or the correct body position/kick.

What I would like to know is how I could do a modified version with an underwater recovery primarily for the exercise. I am presently pulling to the hips and then just recovering as best I can underwater to start stroke again.

Any suggestions?


Saturday 13th of July 2019

Hi Mary,

I'd recommend the Stoneskipper drill.




Tuesday 20th of October 2015

I love your website !!!