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Swimming Drills to Learn the Butterfly Stroke

This article gives you a series of swimming drills to easily learn the Butterfly Stroke.

Learning butterfly can be difficult because this swimming stroke has several peculiar features.

The body must execute a wave-like undulation which ends in a dolphin kick, and the arms must recover above water simultaneously with the right timing.

A butterfly swimmer swimming in an outdoor pool.
The butterfly stroke is both challenging and fun to learn.

That’s why it is best to learn each part of the butterfly technique separately and then to combine those parts progressively until you can finally swim the full stroke.

That’s the approach we use for the swimming drills listed in this article.

Main Butterfly Stroke Drills

These are the cornerstone drills in our series to learn swimming the butterfly stroke.

Head-Lead Body Dolphin

A novice swimmer who practices the head-lead body dolphin drill for the butterfly stroke

Head-Lead Body Dolphin: This is the first of our butterfly stroke drills.

It is a drill that teaches you how to properly do the body undulation and dolphin kick, which are the foundations of this swim stroke.

Because in this drill you are not allowed to use your arms, you have to learn how to use body undulation for propulsion.

Hand-Lead Body Dolphin

A novice swimmer who practices the hand-lead body dolphin drill for the butterfly stroke

Hand-Lead Body Dolphin: In the next drill to learn butterfly, you’ll continue to practice the body undulation.

This time, however, you’ll keep your arms extended in front of you. While doing this swimming drill you will notice that the wave that travels down your body is slower but carries more energy.

Slide to the Corners

A novice swimmer who practices the slide to the corners drill for the butterfly stroke

Slide to the Corners: Slide to the Corners is the next butterfly stroke drill. Actually, it’s just an extension of the previous drill, Hand-Lead Body Dolphin.

Now you’ll practice the right setup of your arms and body at the catch, just before your arms start to push backward against the water for propulsion.


A novice swimmer who practices the stoneskipper drill for the butterfly stroke

Stoneskipper: In Stoneskipper you practice the propulsive underwater phase of your arms and learn the correct timing of breathing in the butterfly stroke.

The drill can be thought of as executing two Hand-Lead Body Dolphins, then executing the underwater arms sweeps, then executing two Head-Lead Body Dolphins and finally sneaking your arms back forward underwater to their initial position.

Hip-Delay Butterfly

A novice swimmer who practices the hip-delay butterfly drill

Hip-Delay Butterfly: Hip-delay butterfly is a swimming drill that teaches you the correct technique and timing of the above water arm recovery.

Once you have mastered this drill, you will have pretty much learned all the technical aspects needed to swim butterfly.

Body-Dolphin Butterfly

A novice swimmer who practices the body-dolphin butterfly stroke drill

Body-Dolphin Butterfly: In this drill you combine the arm movements that you practiced in the two previous drills, Stoneskipper and Hip-Delay Butterfly.

You also add a few body dolphins between each arm stroke to avoid early exhaustion.

Easy Butterfly

A novice swimmer who practices the easy butterfly drill for the butterfly stroke.

Easy Butterfly: Because swimming butterfly is so exhausting, butterfly can quickly become butterstruggle.

This drill is the last one in our series to learn to swim butterfly. It shows you how you can practice the butterfly stroke without becoming exhausted too quickly.

Additional Butterfly Drills

Body Undulation

A novice swimmer who practices the body undulations of the butterfly stroke underwater

Learn the Dolphin Kick and Body Undulation: This article has additional swimming drills that you can practice if you don’t “get” the body undulation and dolphin kick used in butterfly.

The article covers drills with swimming fins, without fins, at the water surface and underwater. Some additional tips for the body undulation and dolphin kick are also provided.

One-Armed Butterfly

An anonymous reader explains one-armed butterfly, a nice swimming drill for the butterfly stroke.

Learning Path for the Butterfly Stroke

Below is an overview of our series of articles on learning the butterfly stroke. Each article in this series contains one or more drills that have to be mastered. The current article is highlighted:

Once you have gone through all the steps of this learning path, you should be able to swim butterfly without any problems.

Good luck!


Wednesday 14th of September 2016

Thank you!


Friday 8th of July 2016

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have been learning Butterfly swimming for a long time following the way you are teaching, but whatever I tried I was not able to breathe.

Would you please give me some suggestions about what I should practice for breathing?

Thank you very much!



Tuesday 12th of July 2016

Hi John,

Could you give more details about what goes wrong? It is difficult to pinpoint the issue with your description.


Friday 12th of February 2016

Instructions are only perfect when accurately followed, thanks nice one.


Tuesday 2nd of February 2016

Great set/progression of drills! Like the instructions and the video. Thanks so much.