Butterfly Stroke Swimming Strokes

Last Updated on August 1st, 2023

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The butterfly stroke on the base level isn’t much different from other swimming strokes. However, it involves timing your kick, breathing, and arm movements all together to reduce the amount of effort and drag required. 

Even the phases of the butterfly stroke are very similar, consisting of three main phases, as you would find in most other techniques.

However, there are some stark differences between the butterfly stroke. Namely, the way the stroke works and the important parts of each phase. Keep reading to learn more about the butterfly stroke and how to identify your weak areas in the swimming stroke. 


What are the Butterfly Stroke Phases?

Like most other swimming strokes, the butterfly stroke can be broken down into three phases, primarily based on the movements of the arms. These phases are the pull, the push, and the recovery. 

These are broken down into individual steps to help understand the individual parts of the stroke. When the final recovery phase is completed, the stroke begins again from the pull phase and repeats. 



This is the phase where you start to prepare yourself and start to provide the momentum that will give you the full force of propulsion you need. 

It involves three quick movements to get the body in the right shape for the dolphin kick and gets your hands ready for the next phase. 


  1. Hands should sink down with palms outward
  2. Hands move to create a Y (catching the water)
  3. Elbows move higher than the hand, creating a semicircle movement often referred to as a keyhole



The push phase, timed with your dolphin kick, provides you with peak speed in your stroke. This gives you the momentum for the recovery phase and propels you forward. 


  1. Swimmer pushes arms ⅓ of the way to hips
  2. Has a peak speed at the end, known as the release



The recovery phase is where you get your breath. After that, your body gets a moment to recover as well, as gravity does a majority of the work. 


  1. Arms are swung sideways until they reach the front, and elbows are straight.
  2. Gravity does most of the work here, but the timing must be perfect 
  3. Hands should be in a narrow v shape with thumbs entering the water first


During these phases, you must also ensure you perform two kick cycles. Making sure your timing is correct can be hard. However, breaking everything down into steps and practicing drills for each movement can help you to master the swim and conquer the waters. 


What is the Most Important Phase in Butterfly Stroke?

One of the reasons the butterfly stroke is so demanding is that all phases of the stroke need to be perfect for the swim to be done well. 

The recovery must be almost timed right, or you build up too much resistance and lose all of the propulsion you created. This is also where you come up for breath. 

The push phase is most of your propulsion and provides the speed and energy you need to be able to come up for a breath during the recovery phase. 

The pull phase may seem the weakest, as its purpose is to set up the arms and body so that you will be able to perform the push phase correctly. However, if not done well, you lose the time to get the propulsion you need to shoot forward and move out of the water to breathe. 

Even the legs, which provide the propulsion, have to be done well and at the right time, or they lose the proper timing. A lot of the kick is based on the body’s momentum, so you lose the force to make a good, powerful kick without the right timing and body placement. 

Unlike some swimming strokes, which rely heavily on one or two of the phases the most, every one of the butterfly strokes has to be done well, or you risk not being able to perform the stroke correctly at all. 


How Can You Diagnose the Phase that You’re Lacking in?

The best way to diagnose the phase you are lacking in is to have someone watching you. If it is someone who is experienced in swimming, and specifically the butterfly stroke, they should be able to tell you where you are lacking.

Even if the person with you doesn’t know much about swimming strokes, they should be able to tell you where you seem to slow down or struggle the most, which is where you will be lacking the most. 

However, it is much more likely that you are teaching yourself to do the butterfly stroke if you are trying to research articles on how to best perform the stroke. When you are by yourself, the best way to get a feel for where you are lacking is to record it. 

Using your phone to record the surface of the water is a good start, but if you can record yourself under the water, that would be even better. That way, you can go back and identify where something is going wrong. 

If you are not able to identify where you are lacking just from watching the video, compare it to examples of other swimmers doing the same stroke. Then, you can see where yours differs from someone else’s and what you need to do to fix it. 

It takes a lot of work to figure out how to fix your stroke and a lot of trial and error, but with enough time and dedication, you can master the butterfly stroke, even on your own. 


Final Thoughts on Butterfly Stroke Swimming Strokes

The butterfly stroke is the most difficult stroke to learn, but the challenge can be worth it. As we have seen from Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, the butterfly stroke can be a powerful tool when put in the right hands. 

By breaking down the stroke into individual parts, you can practice what you need and identify where your weak spots are. Of course, it will take a lot of time and practice, but being able to finally master the butterfly stroke can be so rewarding.