What Is The Butterfly Stroke In Swimming?

What is the Butterfly stroke, and how does it differ among other strokes? How does one compete in a speed competition? Get ready to learn the rules and the common features of the Butterfly stroke.

The Butterfly

The Butterfly is a type of stroke found in competitive and non-competitive swimming, along with the freestyle, backstroke, and the breaststroke.

Defining Features

The two primary features of the Butterfly are the double over-the-arm recovery and the dolphin kick.

  1. The dolphin kick, rather than the feet alternating its kick, involves the feet kicking in a synchronized order.
  2. The over-the-arm recovery is about making circular strokes with both arms above the water. When a swimmer is making these circular strokes, they can raise their head to breathe.

Competing for the Butterfly

When competitors are swimming this stroke, they often must prioritize speed and accuracy of the stroke. The races begin with a forward-facing dive.

To finish a lap, swimmers must touch the wall of the other side of the pool. If there are multiple laps, they must use the wall of the other side of the pool to tumble and kick off to begin the next lap. For example, if there are four laps, that means a swimmer will dive once and then kick off the wall three times.

Once the swimmer dives and begins kicking, they must not let their head raise beyond the surface of the water until they have completed 15 meters.

The first swimmer to reach the other side of the pool wins the race. There is often a timer for each swimmer to break any potential ties between swimmers.

What Makes a Good Butterfly Stroke?

A common technique to swim faster is to have kicks with larger strides. The longer a stride is, the more distance is often covered. It also means a swimmer may be able to breathe less.

When doing the over-the-arm recovery, swimmers do not typically raise their arms too high. It is often exhausting to raise the arms too high, so they should opt to keep their arms low.

Swimmers also cannot spend too long (even if it’s just a few seconds) to breathe. Taking too long to breathe will slow the swimmer down. Instead, they’re encouraged to breathe forward or as they’re lowering their head.

When doing the over-the-arm recovery, fingers should be pointing down with palms facing back. This ensures that the swimmer won’t strain themselves while swimming.

A swimmer’s breathing pattern is also key to swimming fast. Generally speaking, most swimmers like to breathe at every other stroke during the Butterfly, perhaps to cover more distance. However, some expert swimmers will breathe at every stroke. But the breathing pattern should never affect rhythm nor speed.

Butterfly Strokes

For this stroke, it is important for the swimmer to lead with the crown of their head. Their body should be close to the top of the water and their arms and legs should be fully horizontal. The swimmer’s leg power comes from the hips and should come from a full body motion. Additionally, the legs should be kept together and the ankles should be relaxed.


For breathing in the butterfly stroke, the first thing to know is to breathe toward the front. Considering, the swimmer should lead with their head out of the water, the head will rise to allow for an efficient and natural breath. The exhale is taken immediately when the head submerges back into the water. Some swimmers choose to take a breath on their side, however, this could uncomfortable for the neck. It is imperative for competitive swimmers to find the most comfortable and efficient breathing technique specifically for them.

What Not To Do

Although the head should be positioned forward, it is important to not look forward while swimming in this stroke. What this means is, the swimmer must make sure they are facing down for ultimate efficiency and to avoid drag in a race. Furthermore, swimmers should make sure their kick is not too big. This will cause the swimmers to get tired quickly and cause them to solely rely on their legs motion instead of focusing on the collaboration of the arms and legs together.