As with any of the swimming strokes, we like to break the butterfly down into components so that swimmers can focus on one thing at a time. This is particularly difficult given the double-arm action and the continuous nature of the stroke. However, several drills can effectively help swimmers grasp the feel and timing of the butterfly. Understand clearly that every drill has a cost. A technique that isolates one portion of a swimming stroke will adversely affect another aspect of the stroke. The coach must use good judgment when deciding which technical aspect receives priority at a given time. Balance of ideas is critical in developing fast swimmers.
Body Position Drills
These basic drills are designed to assist swimmers in learning the best body position and balance when performing the butterfly. The basic movements in establishing a proper flow within the water are also examined.
Swimmers move through the water with the arms at the sides of the body. The eyes look directly at the bottom of the pool, and the neck should be long and flat. The swimmers must keep the hands at the sides and propel themselves only by manipulating the chest and torso. The legs should follow naturally and should have no down kick. The swimmers begin the motion by pressing the chest and shoulders down and forward. If the swimmer needs a breath, he or she should sneak it with minimal chin lift and immediately return to the neutral position. Later, the swimmer can perform this drill with the arms extended forward and a slight sculling motion with the hands. This drill is very effective in teaching the bodily movement of the butterfly.
Best Balance and Distance
The swimmer floats on the surface in a prone position with the arms extended forward. Making a small sculling motion with the hands, the swimmer performs a chest-initiated undulating action and a very light kicking action until they feel that they are effectively balanced on the water. At this point, the swimmer takes one arm stroke and returns to the flat position on the surface. The goal is to stay on the surface of the water after the pull and to not dive down. The swimmer lightly sculls and kicks until they have regained balance, and then performs another arm stroke. The swimmer should do this drill slowly and deliberately and should decide when to take the next stroke. Perhaps the swimmer will take only three or four arm strokes per 25-yard length.
Coordination and Timing Drills
The following drills are used to establish coordination and timing. Specifically, the single-arm drills improve arm recovery, timing related to breathing, and overall timing of the stroke itself.
Single-arm drills effectively teach the motion of the recovery and the timing of the breath. To promote proper timing of the breath, we have swimmers breathe to the side rather than to the front on all single-arm drills. Single-arm drills may be done with the nonpulling arm either at the side or extended in front. Keeping the nonpulling arm at the side produces more undulation in the stroke, so to minimize up-and-down motion, I tend to have swimmers extend the nonpulling arm in front. The arm should be straight as it recovers forward; this will ensure that the hips are engaged in the motion. The hand should extend slightly forward as it enters the water, and the hip should be at its highest point before the hand enters the water. The kick should be light and should accompany the entry and the exit of the pulling hand. Michael Phelps uses these single-arm drills to fine tune the timing of his hips and to coordinate the arms in the stroke.
Drills that combine single- and double-arms strokes can be very effective in teaching the butterfly to young swimmers and in fine tuning the stroke in advanced swimmers. At the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, one of our favorite drills is called 2-2-2. The swimmer takes two single-arm strokes with the right arm (breathing to the side), two single-arm strokes with the left arm (breathing to the side), and two full stroke cycles (breathing forward). This drill allows the swimmer to set up their timing with the single-arm movements before adding the power movement of the complete stroke. This drill is very effective when used in training sets.
This drill perfects the timing of the arm stroke with the kick. The swimmer pushes off underwater and takes three or four full stroke cycles. The hands recover under the body in a manner that is similar to a breaststroke pullout. This drill emphasizes the catch phase and timing the leg action with the arms. After the swimmer has mastered the technique, they perform the drill at different speeds. This will help them develop stroke control over a range of speeds.
These kicking drills are designed to strengthen the kicking action and to help the swimmer develop a continuous kick in which all kicks are in the same range.
This drill is popular in our program and is effective for beginners and world-class swimmers alike. Swimmers assume a position in the water where the head, shoulders, hips, and knees all line up vertically. The swimmer folds the arms across the chest and holds the elbows close to the body. The head is out of the water, the neck should be long and flat, and the eyes should look directly forward. The swimmer initiates motion in the chest, and the motion flows down the body through the torso to the feet. The amplitude of the kicking action is small and the action is continuous. The swimmer should feel water on the feet when kicking in both directions and should tighten the core muscles and drive the motion from the torso. The swimmers should maintain a vertical position and not lean forward or backward during the drill. This drill is best performed for short durations at high intensity. It reinforces the idea that the body works as a single unit in the butterfly stroke and it is invaluable in teaching swimmers how to move underwater during turns.
The swimmer performs this drill on the side and extends forward the arm that is closest to the bottom of the pool. They should rest the ear on the shoulder so that they can easily take a short breath when needed. To emphasize body movement, the swimmer should minimize sculling motions with the hand. The top arm is at the side and rests on the torso. The swimmer starts movement at the chest, and the movement flows through to the feet. We often tell the swimmers that this motion is like cracking a whip. It should be continuous, and the swimmer should feel pressure of the water on both sweeps of the legs and feet. Swimmers should vary the amplitudes of the kick when performing this drill; this will give them good awareness of how the body should move in a range of speeds.
Reverse Fly Kicking
The swimmers perform dolphin kicking on the back, which allows for a greater emphasis on the down-sweep of the bottom of the feet. In actual butterfly swimming this is the up-sweep; swimmers must hold water on the feet during this motion to ensure proper timing of the stroke and gain maximum propulsion from the leg action. Swimmers can perform this drill with the arms in a streamlined position above the head (which emphasizes body line and small kick amplitude) or with the arms at the side (which emphasizes core motion and a larger kick amplitude). Both methods are effective for teaching the kicking action and for conditioning swimmers to maintain continuous kicking action while swimming butterfly.