How To Improve Butterfly Stroke

Last Updated on August 1st, 2023

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Unfortunately, while the butterfly stroke is one of the fastest ones to know, it is also the hardest. There are many reasons for this, but it boils down to the technicalities and the muscle strength it takes to perform. 

To improve the butterfly stroke, you need to make sure your muscles are up to the task and that you have muscle memory of the movements so you can concentrate while swimming.

Unfortunately, there are also very common mistakes that all swimmers can make, which may slow down your stroke. Keep reading to learn more about how to improve your butterfly strokes and the mistakes to look out for when practicing. 


Why is Butterfly Stroke so Hard?

All swimming strokes use a lot of your muscles at once. So while it looks smooth and graceful, it is a very demanding exercise and sport. 

Butterfly strokes use the most muscles at once out of all swimming strokes. Also, where some strokes have a small recovery period where you get a sort of break, some part of you is always pushing against the water in the butterfly stroke. 

On top of the physical strength necessary to perform this stroke, it is also very challenging technically. 

There are a lot of movements that have to be done all at once. It is also a very unforgiving swim and needs to be timed almost perfectly, or you risk losing the momentum you need to keep the pace going. 

All of this combined makes the butterfly stroke the hardest of all strokes to learn. 


How Can You Get Better at Butterfly Strokes?

Getting better at the butterfly stroke boils down to one thing; practice. Repeating drills over and over again is key to getting better at the butterfly stroke.

If you are at the beginning of learning how to do the butterfly stroke, you also need to have the muscles to perform it correctly. 

If some of your muscle groups are weaker, then exercising to build these muscles can help you to get the stroke movements right in the first place. 

However, beyond that, it is important to never slack on your practice. Even if you feel you have mastered a stroke or a drill, that doesn’t mean you can stop working on it. Keeping on top of your drills and working on the movements you are the weakest can help. 

If it is the timing you are struggling with, then first try breaking down the individual moves and practicing that. 

For example, only work on your kick. Then, practice your arm movements. If you need to, you can do a singular arm at a time when practicing a butterfly stroke. 

After that, you can work on combining the movements. That way, you can make sure you get a feel for each movement and have it as muscle memory, so when you combine it all, your body knows what to do. 

This means you don’t have to focus on each part at once but can have some of the movements happen naturally. 


What’s Preventing You From Improving with the Butterfly Stroke?

People make some common mistakes when trying to learn butterfly strokes. These can make it hard to get the proper momentum, increase drag, and tire you out faster. However, you can improve your swim by knowing what to be aware of. 


Looking forward

It makes sense to want to look at where you are going when you are swimming. In the case of the butterfly stroke, looking forward can slow you down. So instead, you want to keep your face down in the water so you are looking down into the pool. 


Too large kicks

It sounds intuitive. If you want to go faster, you kick harder. However, timing is important, as is the amount of kicks you do per cycle. Kicking harder will tire you out more and can severely mess up your swim. 

This is because it can cause your body to be in the wrong position, such as making you sink or rise too much. It can also cause your timing to be a little off, making it hard to recover and get your swim back in sync. 

For this reason, kicking normally is best. With the butterfly kick especially, your momentum should lead most of the movement. 


Trying to breathe too much

Breathing can be very hard for people to learn while swimming. It is instinctive to catch a breath with every stroke cycle. This may be additionally confusing, as that is exactly what the famous swimmer Michael Phelps does when swimming the butterfly stroke. 

However, for most swimmers, it isn’t a good idea. Breathing is always the slowest part of a swim. As a result, you increase your drag and have to take a little extra time to catch your breath. 

That’s why going as long as you can without catching a breath while also staying consistent is best. Usually, swimmers get a breath every second or third stroke. 


Lifting head too high

Another mistake many rookie swimmers make is overextending themselves while getting a breath because they don’t want to risk breathing in water. 

This will cause them to move further out of the water than they need to, slowing down their time and increasing drag. 

Learning where you can safely and consistently get a breath close to the water’s surface can help you improve your butterfly stroke. 


Breathing at the wrong time

Some people try to take their breath too early or too late. The best time to get a breath is during the end of the pull cycle. This is the most effective way to do it and gives you enough air to continue the stroke. 


Final Thoughts on How To Improve Butterfly Stroke

Even excellent swimmers and professionals struggle with the butterfly stroke. It takes a lot of practice. Even when you get the basics, you may find your time isn’t nearly as good as it should be. 

This is because there are common mistakes that every swimmer will make if they aren’t careful. Awareness of these common problems can help you keep improving your stroke and make a profound change to your time.