Swimming Technique: 3 Ways To Improve Speed (Butterfly Edition)

Swimming Technique: 3 Ways To Improve Speed (Butterfly Edition)

Welcome to a new Kiefer swimming blog series!  We are going to take a look at all four strokes plus starts and turns to help you improve your speed in the pool. We will start with Butterfly and work our way through the strokes of the IM line to give you some valuable swimming pointers.

Swimming Technique: 3 Ways To Improve Speed (Butterfly Edition)For our ready to rock n roll athletes, let’s begin with quick returns. Yes, you can feel and be faster in the water today!

Short Term- Swim Fast Today:

1. Accelerate! Setup is key. If you leisurely push off the pool wall and slowly kick up into your breakout, how much speed have you built up?  NONE!  Push off the wall aggressively and build your underwater dolphin kicks to your first stroke. Set yourself up for success by timing stroke number one so it is smooth and meets no water resistance. Don’t let your legs quit either! For Butterfly, there should always be two kicks per stroke. It is a common flaw to forget this on your breakout. Kick up into your first stroke and ride your momentum!

Long term- Build Swimming Speed Over Time:

2. Learn to tempo train. Count your cycles and get some rhythm. As I mentioned, above in Butterfly there are two kicks per stroke (cycle). There is one kick on hand entry and one at the end of your “power phase”, when your hands finish their push through the water. Counting your cycles will help you determine your efficiency in the water, ie if you take 10 cycles over the course of 25 yards, you know you are traveling more than 2.5 yards per stroke (allowing for your underwater breakout). To improve your speed and your distance per cycle, start counting those kicks. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four; over and over. 2.0 tempo is two kicks and one cycle in two seconds. 1.5 tempo is two kicks and one stroke in one and a half seconds. 1.0 is two kicks and one cycle in one second. Over time you can train yourself down to a faster tempo.

Pro tip:  Keep your chin low to the water when you breath to eliminate wasted time and unnecessary progression. Swim to the end of the pool, not up in the air.

3. Your cycle is a circle. Butterfly is not a square stroke. There are no pauses. No gliding. No rest. You will constantly be in motion. Eliminate corners. When your hands enter the water there is no reach or pause. Work on immediate catch. Hands hit the water, hands get to work. Flatten hands out front and make sure to get your face back in the water after your breath. A common mistaken for swimmers is allowing your head to remain up after the hands have already hit the water.

Pro tip: Head down before your hands after a breath.

Have any questions? Please let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

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About Emily Milak

Emily Milak is a lifetime competitive swimmer living in Southeastern Wisconsin. Emily is a US National Team champion, NCAA champion, and USMS champion with extensive coaching experience. She is a product development consultant at Kiefer.

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I've been a swimmer my whole life. My parents started me with lessons as a three year old and by five I had joined my first team. I started swimming year round at eight and by thirteen I was qualified for Junior Nationals. By fifteen I was a member of the US National Junior Team (National 'B' Team) and a Senior National Qualifier. I attened my first Olympic Trials in 2000 and finished third in the 200 butterfly. I am a US National Champion, three time NCAA Champion, NCAA record holder, and was a memeber of the US National 'A' Team for five years. I've competed in two World Championships, two Duel in the Pools, a Pan Pacific Championship where I earned a bronze medal in the 200 fly, and competitor in the Goodwill Games. I love to swim and love to coach. I have been working with 12 & Unders for the past ten years including a lengthy stint as the head age group coach in Houston, TX with the toughest bunch of little swimmers I have ever had the privilege of working with. Now I am a mom who swims! I substitute coach and swim master's. I have only competed at one Master's Nationals but walked away a two time champion.

27 Comments
  • andy says:

    hi Emily, I noted you said how important under water work was for sprints and was wondering if you had any tips for my daughter. she is looking to make her first regional finals in may and has just won the 10/11 county championship butterfly final in 35.4 seconds. it has left her needing to shave .71 seconds off her time and under water seems like the place she could lose time. great article
    thanks

    • Emily Milak says:

      Hi Andy, congrats to your daughter and making it to regionals! Simple tips for young kids learning how to use their underwaters like a weapon might help in a pinch. Accelerating to the breakout is one, if those kicks aren’t getting faster as you approach the surface you are loosing speed and it isn’t helping. Making sure you kick up into that first stroke and not having ‘dead legs’ is another. Underwater work is all about maximizing your body’s power. Have your daughter express her interest to her coach and maybe they can take some time to come up with a plan for her race.

  • Jose De Jesus Ramirez Maldonado says:

    Hello there. Thanks for such a good article. I’m currently trying to break the minute on my 100 fly. I started this event just this year, after my 50 fly in the 200 IM reached 29 seconds. I do a breath in no breath pattern but my coach thinks constant breaths might be better. I’ve been looking for a second opinion, since this tires me out quicker than one breath one not. Any opinios?

    • Emily Milak says:

      Hi Jose! Some swimmers have excellent success in butterfly breathing every stroke and others do best not breathing at all or once for a 50. Stick with your coach and try it out, if it doesn’t work out I am sure they will help you continue to improve. Give it some time and some training. Best of luck!

  • Angela Miah says:

    How many leg kicks would you do on a 25m and 50m butterfly race before first arm pull?

    • Emily Milak says:

      Hi Angela! I think some of that depends on the swimmer and what their age and ability is. My coaches always pushed for seven, but that was some time ago and I was a 200 butterfly swimmer. Being aware of the 15M line is also important so you don’t go too far. For the sprint distances though you want to utilize as much of that underwater time as possible!

  • Nikki says:

    WOW! What a bunch of great information. Thanks for taking your time to sharing this.

  • vinod randeria says:

    my son under 17 he play butterfly swim 50 mtr 100 mtr and 200 mtr how can improve his endurance which supliments best for swimmers

    • Emily Milak says:

      Hi Vinod! Endurance can improve everyday they attend practice and work hard. Stroke specific training with their coach and goal setting is a great place to start. Having your son and his coach on the same page with goals will help them work together better to achieve them. Supplements for swimmers is really an at your own risk market. I have a favorite that I feel I can trust and did trust as an elite level swimmer, but to each their own. If he chooses to take supplements make sure to do your due diligence and research the company. Call. Ask questions. And always refer to banned substance lists before taking anything that might jeopardize their eligibility.

  • TarMarPan says:

    Hi Emily – My 14 yr. old daughter swims the 100 yard and 200 yard Fly. She has decent enough times, but recently has been adding time and getting winded by the 75 yard mark. Also, she adds significant time to each 50 yard she swims. Is there anything she can do in practice that will help her pace better, swim faster and get less winded during the races? Thank you.

    • Emily Milak says:

      Hi there! Butterfly, my favorite! I always encourage athletes who are struggling or want help to open a dialogue with their coach. Ask for some of their time to sit down and talk swimmer to coach and see if their ideas of performance goals line up or not. It really wouldn’t be fair for me to assume anything about your daughter and try to give her advice without watching her train or race. Butterfly basics though, that I can do. For example a 200 fly is going to get ugly from time to time, depending on where athletes are in their training. Typical 50 progression is often a ascend to the third 50 and then a little descend coming home on the last one. In a perfect world it is even or negative split. Butterfly is hard, the 200 fly is hard, a good hard, but being winded is, I feel, very normal. Ideas to get the conversation between your daughter and her coach started: breathing pattern (especially on the first 50), pacing, tempo per 50 and her goals. Hope this helps a little bit!

  • Niki Sweeting says:

    My daughter has recently joined the swim team and has been asked to swim the butterfly. Are these tips good for a first time competitive swimmer? How often should she swim to be competitive?

    • Emily Milak says:

      Hi Niki, have your daughter start a dialogue with her coach. With very limited knowledge about her I couldn’t give you sound advice as to how often she should be competing, definitely worth a talk with her coach. My tips here are fairly generic, if she is new to swimming technique first and foremost. Things like accelerating into turns and out of breakouts apply to everyone. However tempo training would come after a good stroke is developed. Circles is a good tip for anyone, it applies to multiple strokes and is a good thing to keep in mind. Best of luck to her!

  • Youssef Gomaa says:

    Hey Emily,
    Usually in a 50M fly i take only 1 breath before the 10m line what donyou think about that?
    And wat i think is a big mistake is that i take a less breath as possible in a 100 fly as well i can go 3 strokes no breath and 1 with breath wat do u think about that too?
    You’ve been very helpful so far thank you

    • Emily Milak says:

      Everyone has a different strategy. For example my club coach in highschool told me to breathe as much as I wanted on the first 50 of a 400 IM and then settle into my breathing pattern for the second 50. But the same coach was a stickler about the breathing pattern sticking for the whole 200 fly. However I do recommend not putting yourself at an oxygen deficit early on in a race. 50’s, sure go nuts, limit your breathing. Typically for a 200 fly I did two breaths, no breath pattern and a 100 fly one breath no breath. Things have changed and surely will continue to do so. For your 50 fly I think you are fine, maybe give yourself a little breathing room in that 100 though!

      So much of this has to do with your tempo and distance per cycle, some swimmers carry such a fast rate regardless of whether or not they breath. So they breath and oxygenate. It doesn’t work for everyone. Find your best fit and train away!

  • Youssef says:

    How can i practice a clear and powerful break our its always left to chance and i hate that?

    • Emily Milak says:

      Timing is everything! There is a little set I like to do that works your break outs from a dive and from turns. We call them In and Outs. Begin with a dive and breakout, race pace speed to the 12.5 meter point. Take some rest there, then race your turn and breakout off the wall and back to the 12.5 meter point. Take rest again and finally work that last 12.5 meter to perfect your finish. This would be in a SCM or SCY pool.

  • Youssef says:

    Thank u dear for your great article im 30 years old trying to come back after 10 years of returning and break my records wish to go 25 sec in 50 meters:)
    Will try this till my next meet

  • drnehagami says:

    thanks Emily.
    My 9 years old son does butterfly but he complains of pain in his back muscles afterwards. any suggestions?

    • Emily Milak says:

      Hi there! Butterfly is indeed a demanding stroke and soreness after a good workout isn’t unusual, however I would ask him to specifically identify where the pain in is and then have him communicate that with his coach. They can then work together to figure out if it is a technique flaw causing the discomfort or something else.

  • This is a really cool post! Can I please share it on my blog with a link to this page?

  • shreya Kumar says:

    I have my national competition in one month.I’m a short distance swimmer and my events are 50m butter 50free and 100free my current timing in butterfly is 33 I have to improve 2-3 seconds.Can you please give me some guidance?

    • Emily Milak says:

      Shreya my first recommendation would be working out your start and underwater kicking. Set up is so key in short distance races. Focus on accelerating into your first stroke and a clean breakout. With excellent and efficient underwater dolphin kicks and a strong breakout your will find the rest of your race falls into place much more consistently.

  • sofia grayson says:

    Thanks Emily Milak for the knowledge to swim fast .keep posting like this articles..

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