Breaking Down the Butterfly


Breaking Down the Butterfly

Gary Stockdale



Butterfly is one of the two short axis, competitive strokes. This is to say that it oscillates up and down, and it is one of the swimming styles accepted globally by the swimming community. However, it is generally misunderstood, performed with poor cadence and a misguided prioritization of strength. This is generally the reason why you will hear swimmers groan at its mention.

The following is a full breakdown and demonstration of one full stroke cycle of Butterfly, which begins and ends with the hands in front. What happens in between is magic:


The stroke should ALWAYS be initiated by performing a Dolphin kick, or more appropriately titled, a “Body Dolphin”. The kick is initiated by driving the chest downward and lifting the hips/anteriorly tilting the pelvis. This “kick” initiates the downward movement of the arm stroke and should be given the most emphasis.

The chest press eccentrically tensions the frontline of the abdomen, certain aspects of the lats and the frontline of the arms. After the arms start to drift downward, the pull should drive powerfully towards the hips. This is what creates the two kick phenomenon that is commonly seen in the stroke. The first kick sets up the arms and when they pull, the body cracks like a whip. Too much emphasis on performance of the second kick, disrupts the natural flow/relationship between the front end and back end.

Stable head position is critical in the perfomance of all strokes. However, some discussion of cervical spine and scapular dynamics between myself and Chris Ruffolo, has got me departing from the standards of my formal training and teaching experience. At the initiation of the body roll, I am bringing my cervical spine into extension, to maximize the elevation of the scapula with the forward reach, further stabilizing the catch phase of the pull. Then during the power phase, pulling the chin down, (flexion of the cervical spine) which gives more power to the frontline of the body.  The efficacy of the cervical spine is critical to coordinate the simultaneous rhythm, power, and stability of the entire movement pattern.


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