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.

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 when swimming the butterfly!

Short Term – Swim the Butterfly Fast Today:



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 Butterfly Swimming Speed Over Time:


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.


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.

Learn More Swimming Tips:

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.

51 Comments on “Swimming Technique: 3 Ways To Improve Speed (Butterfly Edition)”

    • Hi Alana! Without being able to observe you it wouldn’t be fair for me to say. There are many generic ways to improve your endurance but I definitely recommend having this conversation with your personal coach. If you are a casual swimmer on your own my advice would be to start by swimming butterfly only as long as your technique holds and then building upon that. For example begin with 25s and work your technique with varied efforts. If 25’s are too easy move into 50’s. Experiment with the amount of rest you are getting. The answer isn’t to always swim MORE butterfly, but to swim butterfly specifically and with intention. What is your goal? What is your distance? How do you align the two in a workout to meet that goal?

  1. Hello, I am USMS in Florida, and competing in the Florida senior Games, I did a time of 31.3 at age 62, with about 2.5 months of training swimming 1500 to 2000 meter a day. I have also been doing strength training, and I will compete at the state games here on 12/7-8. My strength and training have been good since October, I am going to shoot for time of 28.0 for 25 yards. my start was terrible and so were my turns and I still did 31.3, I thinking with better strength and endurance, and better start and turns, I can shave that 3 seconds, if I do, I set the Florida State record for 60-64. I am also swimming 100 fly and 100 I’m, I am shooting for a goal of 1:10:00 in each. Any thoughts. I have been working on coming off the wall better with kicks under water, so less strokes, and attended a stroke clinic in Atlanta that helped my stroke mechanics, so I feel like these goals are attainable. I started this in July , after swimming in high school back in the 70″s. So I am jazzed to be doing so good.

    • Dale this is fantastic! I love that you are setting goals for yourself and making a plan to help you achieve them! I agree that spending some time on your starts and turns will help you immensely. One other tip that isn’t in the article above is specific pacing. So if you take your goal time on any given race practice going hard for that period of time on repeats. Start with just a few 50’s or 100’s and build to multiples. You can start with loads of rest and decrease it as you improve in workout. Best of luck and keep up the hard work!

      • Hi there as a follow up, here we are in 2021, I am 64, and I just did 30.29 for the 50 fly , which was my fastest, and a team record here in the Villages, FL, ( senior heaven). I also did 1:15. 2 for the 100. I have a question, I would like to get down to 28.5-29.0, and then convert that into a 1:08 100 by 5/14/2022( date of Senior games nationals) How do I strengthen the second half of my 100 fly. My first have is fast, and I just need to be more efficient on the second half. I have a video, if that was something that could be looked at. On any account, I am faster at 64 than I was at 62, in all events, IM, breast, fly, even freestyle and my backstroke has improved. I appreciate any help.

  2. Hi Emily, I am Joseph and I have a championship swim-meet. I am 10 years in age. I am racing in 25y. I have a 14.14 in freestyle, a 15.04 in butterfly, and a 17.01 in backstroke. I really need help. I am aiming for a high 12 in freestyle, a high 13 in butterfly, and a 16.00 in backstroke. How can do this?
    Please help and thanks, Joseph

    • Hi Joseph! Best of luck at your championship meet! My favorite last minute tips are powerful dives, tight streamlines, and clean break outs on your first stroke. Be tough and race the whole lap. Be confident in your training and always communicate your goals to your coaches so they can help you achieve them! Have a great meet1

  3. Hi emily! This is an emergency. Before, my arms used to come up really high in the water. My coach gave me a tip that my head needs to reach farther ahead, i tried that and he complemented me that i was looking great. yesterday at practice, she told me that i need to have a faster catch. Can you help me on how to do that? I have a really big championship meet this weekend and im swimming the 50 fly and 1fly.

    • Best of luck this weekend! Trust in yourself and your training, keep those communication lines open with your coach! There is nothing I can tell you over the internet right this second that will help you more than you believing in yourself and the hard work you’ve put in! If you aren’t sure when you get a tip from coach, ask them, I am always happy to explain to my swimmers. Catch in swimming means the moment your hands hit the water, to you initiating your pull, so in butterfly when your hands hit the water after their time in the air, don’t pause there. Get right into your stroke and go!

      • I’m 59 and just retuning to the pool . I love the water more than anything. I just started the butterfly but geez Louise . I can do a 25 yards in 25 seconds but that’s all . No coach just me. How can I get my time down? Is 25 seconds okay? Ugh

        • Maridy! Good for you!!! First of all well done, no need to be critical of yourself with something new and as challenging as butterfly. My recommendation is just start off working on your dolphin kick. You can do it on your belly or on your back, both even! Then you can integrate your arms, one at a time to start. Single arm butterfly. Keep the arm you aren’t using straight out on top of the water, breath to the side on the arm you are using. Try to kick count, two kick per single arm stroke, kick when your hand enters the water at the top and again when your hand pushes past your hips. Work on timing and add full arms back in as long as you can maintain your technique. For example two strokes right arm, two strokes left arm, two full strokes. Keep up the great work!

  4. Respected Ms Emily,
    My humble greetings.
    I am from India. I have one son 12 years
    and daughter 10 years. Both have been swimming
    for last one year and been doing well without any formal
    training from any coach. However, my daughter has
    won may competitions in last 1 years mostly winning
    Golds and best swimmer trophy in almost all events, except
    Breast Stroke.
    I need your suggestions and also I am ready to plan her
    training overseas if required.
    Hope hear from you.

    • Congratulations on to your young swimmers Binod! What kind of information can I help you with? If you liked the butterfly speed series looking into the other three might be a great place to start!

  5. Hi Emily,

    This is an absolutely a thrilling piece of article. I have a son who is 16 years old and does almost 27 second in 50M fly with his normal training without specifically trained for fly short distance. His timing is just under 2 second behind the best swimmer in his age group. We do have a very little swimming assistance in our country (Sri Lanka) to seek professional advice. I strongly feel he possess natural talent in developing his fly stroke with bit more coaching assistance with endurance and other related help. What you think where he needs to focus more as his arm rotation is slower than his peer competitors I guess with weaker kick?

    • Hi there! If you mean his stroke rate or tempo, the time from when his hands enter the water until they complete a full circle and return, there are absolutely things you can do. I feel very strongly about tempo being tied in directly to a swimmer’s kick. So ‘kick counting’ or tempo training is one way to improve. I was taught in high school to count each kick in butterfly, two per stroke, one in front and one in back. We started off training my kick at my goal tempo and increasing the distance as I was a 200 butterflier not a sprinter. By constantly reminding myself and counting my kicks to a beat in my head I feel like I was able to control my swims better and improve.

  6. Great article. One question, though: you mention there’s no “reach” in butterfly. But, I assume you still want arms/shoulders pressing forward? Not a glide, just fully extending arms into the catch?

    • As in the reach/stretch there is in breaststroke, you don’t want a pause in butterfly, something that changes your stroke from a circle to a square with corners to get caught up on.

  7. hi emily how to train differently for fly 100 and fly 200.what are some drills that can help me “go fast and come back faster” in 100 fly.

    • Hi Aushij! You are going to want to do race pace training to start, meaning going hard for as long as your race is in time, not necessarily in distance. For example if you want to build your endurance you want to take your goal time in either race and train going fast for that length of time over a series of repeats to build that endurance. Best of luck!!

  8. Hey,Emily milak I’m Vishwa from India I want to reduce 2sec in buttrrfly in 20days I really need Ur help

    • Hello Vishwa! I wish you the best in your competition! Quick speed tips are really what is listed in this article. If you are on limited time really focus on attacking your dive, underwaters and breakout. Set yourself up for the best possible start to your race by perfecting those three things, it will get you the best head start I can give from a computer and not in person!

  9. This is great information! Although I am a bit confused on the “cycle counting”. When you say “Count the cycles” do you mean count strokes per length? “10 cycles in 25 yds” is the same as saying “10 strokes in 25 yds”?

    Thanks for this great post!

  10. 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

    • 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.

  11. 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?

    • 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!

    • 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!

  12. 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

    • 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.

  13. 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.

    • 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!

  14. 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?

    • 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!

  15. 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

    • 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!

    • 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.

  16. 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

    • 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.

  17. 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?

    • 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.

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