Butterfly Swimming Technique – Body Movements

Learning proper butterfly swimming technique requires that you first master the wave-like body movements. Once this body undulation has been mastered, the dolphin kick and arm stroke often fall into place quite naturally. This article explains how to execute this body undulation properly.

butterfly swimmer seen from above
The undulating movements of the body drive the butterfly stroke

Body Movements

To explain how to generate the wave-like body movements, we will keep the arm stroke out of the picture for now. The arm stroke is explained in a separate article. So let’s consider that you are in this initial position:

  • You are floating horizontally in the water on your chest.
  • Your head is in a neutral position, and your face is in the water.
  • Your arms are extended forward.
  • Your legs are extended and held together, and the feet are pointed.

Now to start the wave-like body movements, do the following:

  • Press your chest a few inches downwards into the water, then release it.
  • As you release your chest, start to press your hips downwards into the water.
  • Then release your hips and press your chest downwards again.
  • And so on…

This rhythmical application and release of pressure on your chest and hips is what drives the body undulation. Please note that the amount of undulation at the chest usually is higher than at the hips.

Dolphin Kick

When the body undulation that started in your upper body has traveled down through your torso and hips arrives at your legs, you should execute a whipping movement simultaneously with both legs, a little bit like kicking into a ball but with the feet pointed. For more details, please consult the dolphin kick article.

Head Movements

Your head assists the body undulation with the following movements:

  • When your chest moves downwards, you should tilt your head a little bit forward, just like you would do while nodding.
  • Then when your chest moves upwards, you should tile your head a little bit backward, just as if you were looking up.

To visualize this, imagine that when pushing your chest downwards you are trying to capture a bundle of water behind your neck. Then when your chest rises you try to make this bundle of water slide down your back.

Adding these head movements helps drive the body undulation and transform the vertical up and down movements into propulsive movements. However, these head movements should not be overdone to avoid straining the neck.

Another thing to take into account is that while swimming butterfly, there are breathing and non-breathing stroke cycles. During breathing cycles, you will tilt your head back more to clear the water and be able to breathe than during non-breathing stroke cycles.

Butterfly Swimming Tips

  • Butterfly swimming is exhausting, and especially so with poor technique. So taking your time to learn or improve the dolphin kick and body undulation with specific drills is worth it.

  • It is commonly believed that you need to have good flexibility in the back and shoulders to swim the butterfly stroke. However, in my opinion, this isn’t as important as having mastered the body undulation and having found the proper timing to do the arm stroke and dolphin kick.

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