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The 5 Most Common Butterfly Mistakes
The 5 Most Common Butterfly Mistakes
Adam Oxner avatar
Written by Adam Oxner
Updated over a week ago

Swimming pros and newbies can agree: butterfly is the toughest stroke! It engages every muscle in your body, and requires lots of strength and solid technique to swim it well.

While it may be tempting to muscle your way through a butterfly set however you can, you might be making easily-fixable errors that are slowing you down and making your stroke less efficient.

We’re breaking down the most common butterfly technique mistakes and showing you how to fix them and swim faster!

1. Lifting Your Head Too High

We see so many swimmers lift their heads way too high when they breathe, especially when they get tired. Doing so slows you down significantly, and takes a ton of extra energy. Think about it: When your head lifts, your hips drop. The higher your head lifts, the lower your hips will be in the water. This creates extra drag and resistance, which we don’t want!

Instead, lift your head until your chin is right at the surface of the water. Take a quick breath, and drop your head back down so you’re looking straight down at the bottom of the pool. This will minimize the amount of drag your body creates and help you get to your next stroke that much easier!

2. Sweeping Out After Hand Entry

Ideal hand entry in butterfly is slightly wider than shoulder width. Many swimmers have proper hand entry, but when it comes time to start their catch, they sweep their hands out super wide — sometimes almost a full meter! This is especially common in swimmers who aren’t very strong.

The butterfly pull is essentially 2 freestyle strokes performed at the same time. When you think about your pull that way, sweeping outward doesn’t make sense! Focus on a solid early vertical forearm when your hands hit the water, and pull straight back.

3. Bent Elbow Recovery

Some swimmers bend their elbows during the recovery phase of the stroke, when the arms are out of the water. We aren’t a fan of that style of butterfly.

Instead, keep your arms straight from the moment they exit the water down by your hips, until they enter again above your head. Your recovery should be clean and controlled, so you can focus on maximizing power on your pull.

4. Bending Knees Too Much on Dolphin Kick

It’s so common for swimmers to bend their knees too much during butterfly kick (called dolphin kick). When you bend your knees, you’re creating more resistance in the water, instead of keeping your legs within your bodyline.

It’s important to note that we’re talking about bending the knees too much. Your knees will naturally bend slightly during butterfly, but the power of your kick doesn’t come from the knees. There’s a natural undulation to butterfly that encourages the kick to originate from the hip instead — that’s the most powerful!

The FLOW drill is a great way to work on your dolphin kick!

5. Inconsistent Breathing Pattern

Many of us have been there: We start off a butterfly set, and since we’re feeling fresh, we only take 1 or 2 breaths on the first 25. Then, as we get tired, we start to breathe every 3 strokes, every 2, and suddenly we’re breathing every stroke. This is a big no-no!

Just like freestyle, it’s important to establish a breathing rhythm in butterfly. We recommend breathing every 2 strokes. Stick to that pattern during your Workouts and races — it will make a huge difference when you get tired, since your body will be used to it.

Bonus Mistake: Swimming Too Slowly

There’s no such thing as slow butterfly! Unlike long axis strokes like freestyle and backstroke, it’s harder to keep your body position in place when swimming butterfly slowly. Instead, you’ll swim really low in the water, which won’t help you in the long run.

We’re not saying you should sprint every butterfly set in your Workouts, but it’s important to know that you can’t swim “easy” butterfly. Work on maintaining a consistent pace instead. If you have to reduce the total yardage or cut long distances in half, do it! It’s better to maintain the right pace than it is to let yourself get overly fatigued.

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