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Learn to Swim Butterfly: Head-Lead Body Dolphin Drill

Head-Lead Body Dolphin is a fundamental drill to practice while learning the butterfly stroke. You keep your arms at your sides while you focus on body undulation and the dolphin kick.

Because you’ll keep your arms at your sides during this swimming drill, you’ll need to use your head, torso, and legs to move forward.

Head-Lead Body Dolphin precedes Hand-Lead Body-Dolphin in our series of swimming drills for the butterfly.

A swimmer practicing the Head-Lead Body Dolphin drill for the butterfly stroke.

Some people learn the body undulation and dolphin kick quickly; others take a little longer.

However, once you master this skill, learning other aspects of the butterfly stroke becomes much easier.

Video Demonstration

The video below illustrates this drill:

Drill Instructions

  • Push off from the wall and glide in a prone position, with your face down.
  • Keep your arms at your sides and your legs together.
  • To begin the body undulation, press your chest down in the water, then release it. The head should follow along.
  • When you release the pressure on your chest, the buoyancy of your lungs pushes your chest up toward the water’s surface.
  • Push your hips down as your chest rises.
  • Your knees bend as your hips and upper legs move down.
  • Release your hips and press your chest down again to start a new cycle.
  • As your hips rise, extend your knees and feet to perform a dolphin kick.
  • Focus on moving the chest and hips down and back up in sequence, not kicking with the legs.
  • Try to propel yourself forward using the body undulation and dolphin kick.
  • These movements should look like a wave traveling from the head through the body to the feet.


To start with, practice this swimming drill while holding your breath. Then, perform a few drill cycles, stop, breathe, and start again. Alternatively, you can use a swim snorkel to avoid stopping to breathe.

You can incorporate breathing (without a snorkel) once you are able to propel yourself relatively easily.

Ideally, breathing should fit seamlessly into the body undulation. To breathe, raise your chest and head more than during a non-breathing body undulation, so that your face is above the water’s surface.

Inhale quickly and begin to exhale as your face and chest push back down into the water. Continue to exhale in the water until the next breathing body undulation.

Some additional tips

In the beginning, use swim fins if you have trouble generating propulsion. Then, as your technique improves, try to get rid of the fins.

Learning the body undulation calls for patience. However, once you master this technique, learning the rest of the butterfly stroke becomes much easier.

This article contains additional exercises for learning the body undulation and dolphin kick.

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!


Sunday 3rd of April 2022

Hi Mr Keller

There is no video demonstration?

Is this dependant on the browser or videos are not uploaded?

Best Regards Goran


Sunday 3rd of April 2022

Hi Goran,

Do you use an ad blocker? If this is the case, videos will not load either.



Jasper Ceylon D Cunanan

Tuesday 17th of March 2020

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.


Tuesday 19th of March 2019

I'm doing this for camp


Tuesday 19th of March 2019

I'm doing this for camp

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