Learn to Swim Butterfly: Head-Lead Body Dolphin Drill

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

Head-Lead Body Dolphin is a fundamental drill to learn the butterfly stroke. It lets you practice the body undulation and dolphin kick while keeping your arms at your sides.

As you keep your arms still at your sides during this swimming drill, you need to figure out how to use the movements of your trunk and legs to move forward.

Some learn this swimming technique very quickly, others take a little longer.

However, once you have mastered this skill, learning the other parts of the butterfly stroke becomes much easier.

Video Demonstration

The video below illustrates this drill:

Drill Instructions

  • Push off the wall.
  • Get in a horizontal position, with your face down.
  • Keep your arms at your sides.
  • Keep your legs close together.
  • To begin the body undulation, press your head and chest downward, then release.
  • The buoyancy of your lungs will push your head and chest upward when you release the pressure.
  • Press your hips down while you release the pressure on your chest.
  • Let the pressure of the water bend your knees as your hips move downward.
  • Release the pressure on your hips and press your chest downward again to start a new cycle.
  • Extend your legs as your hips move upward.
  • The focus should be on moving your chest and hips upward and downward, not on kicking. It should feel as if a ripple runs from your head down to your feet.
  • Propel yourself forward using this technique.


Practice the drill without breathing at first. Stop to breathe after a few cycles, then start again. Another option is to use a swimmer’s snorkel. It allows you to practice the drill without stopping to breathe.

Add breathing (without snorkel) once you can effectively move forward. To add breathing, raise your head some more when your chest moves upward and take a quick breath.

Try to keep the rhythm of the undulation while breathing. Start to exhale when your face is underwater again.

Some additional tips

Learning Path for the Butterfly Stroke

Below you will find an overview of our series of articles to learn the butterfly stroke.

Each article includes one or several drills/exercises to be mastered.

The current article, which is part of this series, is highlighted:

By completing the different steps of this learning path, you should soon be able to swim the butterfly stroke.

Good luck!

3 thoughts on “Learn to Swim Butterfly: Head-Lead Body Dolphin Drill”

  1. Avatar
    Jasper Ceylon D Cunanan

    I think this is hard for the people that don’t have a flexible body, and for those who have a flexible body it is easy for them.

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