This article is for teaching the butterfly stroke.  I will do an article at a later stage to cover the coaching of the stroke.  The double arm and leg movements demand a lot of strength and power from the swimmer and I do not recommend teaching the whole stroke to young swimmers.  Get the other 3 main strokes under your belt first.  Saying that, you can start teaching the dolphin leg kick at any time as it is now used in the flutter strokes underwater for faster performances.  The children love to kick like a mermaid or a dolphin and can spice up a swimming lesson or are used as contrasting activity at the end of a lesson, wiggling through hoops etc.

The World famous Michael Phelps shows good form in this picture. Chin on the water to breathe, arms carried laterally over the water with little finger on the top and thumb just brushing the surface.

The World famous Michael Phelps shows good form in this picture. Chin on the water to breathe, arms carried laterally over the water with little finger on the top and thumb just brushing the surface.


As in all strokes the body must be horizontal and streamlined.  The teacher/coach must make sure the swimmer can push off the wall in a streamlined position initially on the surface and progress to dropping down under the water and pushing off under water and maintaining a streamlined body position.  This takes time and must be worked on continually.  Apart from teaching the swimmer the position needed for their body it, also, develops the legs muscles needed for the push off’s in their turns and eventually the leg drive needed for their dives.  You cannot practice this enough!

Body should be either in the prone or supine position.  Legs together, toes pointed, arms extended in front of shoulders, head positioned between the arms, ears squashed between the arms, one hand on top of the other.  There should be no gap between the arms and the ears. The top hand must be locked over the bottom hand, also, no gaps.

Teaching points:

  • Pretend you are swimming through a straw
  • Like a pencil
  • One hand on top of the other looks like a turtle
  • Hide the ears
  • Look at the floor (prone position)

In all your strokes, if you wish to swim fast, you have to maintain this streamlined body position.
How is this done?   The kick maintains the body position.
Why?   Kicking is an excellent conditioning exercise.  Not only for the legs but for the abdominal and lower back muscles which help the swimmer’s streamlining ability, body position and alignment in the water.

The streamlined body position can be learnt from the learn to swim stage and be continually worked on throughout their swimming career.  As their drive off the wall improves you can incorporate the butterfly kicks and flutter kicks allowed now in all competitive swimming events, except breaststroke.   Always maintaining that streamlining position.  Never allow sloppy push off’s.  Peat and repeat until it becomes automatic for the swimmer.



SW 8.3 All up and down movements of the legs must be simultaneous. The legs or the feet need not be on the same level, but they shall not alternate in relation to each other. A breaststroke kicking movement is not permitted.

Requirements needed

  • Core body strength
  • Good hip and pelvis flexibility
  • Good ankle plantar flexion

DESCRIPTION of the dolphins leg kick

The legs kick up and down in a symmetrical and simultaneous movement. The legs begin fairly straight during the up kick.  The movement is initiated in the upper abdominals and thoracic spine (mid to upper spine) with the aid of the lower paraspinal muscles (muscles which run alongside the spine) which contract (tighten).  This extends the thoracic and lumbar spine, which in turn posteriorly rotates the pelvis, extends the hips and flexes the knees and the feet are drawn up to the surface.
During the down kick the reverse action takes place. The abdominals contract and this makes the thoracic and lumbar spine flex making the pelvis rotate anteriorly, flexing the hips, extending the knees and the feet are drawn down ending with the legs in a hyper extended position (straight).  The movement is rhythmic and fluid.  It is a whip like action.  The whole leg is used not just from the knees down.


Personally, I start teaching the dolphin kick without using a kick board.  In fact, I try never to use a kicker board when teaching or training dolphin kick.  A few years back Professor Cameron from the  ASA Olympic committee did a series of tests with butterfly swimmers and found that the use of a kick board, especially while using fins caused swimmers to develop injuries in the lower lumbar areas especially later in their careers and retirement.  The whip like action on the down kick causes the energy generated to jar the lower area of the back when the swimmer is using a kick board especially when using fins as well.  When no board is used the energy is allowed to travel out through the head and no jarring occurs.

Try it yourself and you will feel how there is a continuous pressure on the lower lumbar area when using a kickboard and fins.


The swimmers lie on the tummy in their streamline position and tell them to push the chest down into the water and let their bottoms rise and then visa versa, chest up and bottoms down.  They can do this with the hands by the side to begin.  They continue the movement trying to get to the other side of the pool.  They must do 3 – 4 movements without breathing and push the chin forwards to grab a quick breath and then the head returns to the streamlined position with the eyes looking towards the bottom.  Do not tell them to do anything with the legs as this movement should make the legs do a gentle butterfly kick as long as the legs are relaxed.

Once this has been established try to extend the arms in front of the head in the streamlined position and perform the same movement breathing every fourth kick.  Slowly build up the strength in the kick by doing short distances with short to moderate rest intervals.

The goal is for a quick movement from the legs and this take strength and practice.  Your goal should be to execute 3 kicks per second!  Yes, 3 kicks per second.   Make sure the kick stays in the water.  Ideally, the feet must not come out of the water during the kick except maybe the heel can break the surface.  If the feet or lower leg are clearing the surface there is too much bend at the knee.  Experiment with kicking underwater and trying to go further doing the dolphin kick underwater.  Make sure they do not slow down to go further though.  Start timing their breakouts and seeing how far they can go.  All kicking practices can be done with and without fins.

Teaching points:

  • Legs together like a big fish’s tail. Kick up and kick down.  Bang, bang fast with the feet.
  • Kick the head down, kick the head up.
  • Chest up, bottom down. Chest down , bottom up.
  • Like a wiggly worm.
  • Like a mermaid

Once the swimmer is kicking a good streamlined dolphin kick you can now introduce other aspects of the stroke.  Scull with arms extended in front of shoulders in co-ordination with a down kick.  Do 3 – 4 sculls then take a breathe.  This is introducing the first kick in Butterfly stroke which is co-ordinated with the outward scull.  Scull out, kick down, scull out, kick down etc.  The scull inward is where the legs are kicking up getting ready for the next kick down.  Get the timing of this first kick down to co-ordinate with the first scull out.

Place the hands at the hips and push back with both hands as you perform a down dolphin kick.  This is for the timing of the 2nd downward kick in the Butterfly stroke.  Again do several push backs timed with a down kick and take a breath.  Try to keep the arms fairly straight doing this drill.  You do not want them to bring the hands up past the belly button. It is just a push from the hips to the upper thighs.

Now you put the 2 kicks together. i.e.  scull out in front as you do a downward dolphin kick, push back towards the hips with both arms as the upward kick takes place and perform a downward kick as the hands reach the hips.  Recover the arms underwater towards the streamlined position back in front.  This in known as underwater recovery drill.  It teaches the swimmer the timing of the 2 kicks in Butterfly stroke. The chin is pushed forwards as the arms are pushing back to the hips to breathe and the head goes down as the arms are pushed forwards to start the next stroke with eyes looking down.

Teaching points.

  1. Kick in, kick out.
  2. Kick, pull, kick.
  3. Accelerate arms past hips
  4. Chin on water when you take a breathe.
  5. Make a big white beard round your chin.
  6. Eyes down



The next progression is similar to underwater recovery drill but this time the swimmer does  4 streamlined dolphin kicks and then the push back to the thighs with a breathe.  The swimmer recovers the hands towards the front underwater, and drives the head in on the first dolphin kick.  Make sure the swimmer does not go too deep on this drill. Some part of the back must be dry at all times.   There is some undulation in the butterfly stroke but you do not want the swimmers to submerge too deeply.  The swimmer needs to be as horizontal as possible.

Next progression is to do 2 x Biondi drill followed by 4 dolphin kicks and a normal over the water butterfly arm stroke.

1 x Biondi drill followed by 4 dolphin kicks and a normal over the surface arm stroke.

You can progress with as many variations to this as you want to get the correct movements required.

You can do  25m with or without fins using a variety of kicks and arm movements.  6  streamlined dolphin kicks + 1 butterfly arm stroke landing the arms out in front for the next 6 kicks or  4 dolphin  kicks + 1 normal butterfly arm pull land in front.

Once they can do the 4 kicks one pull they must try and get 2 arm pulls into the 4 kicks.  Normal butterfly in other words, breathing on the 2nd pull only.
Always aim for great technique at all times.  Hips must ride the surface.  You need a strong leg drive to swim a great Butterfly stroke.  Emphasise that the arms must be relaxed during the recovery.  Enter the water softly with the fingers first, not the thumbs, about shoulder width.


SW 8.2 Both arms shall be brought forward together over the water and brought backward simultaneously through-out the race, subject to SW 8.5.

DESCRIPTION of the Butterfly arm pull

The Dolphin arm action is a continuous, simultaneous movement.

Entry:  The hands enter the water, softly, fingers first in advance of the head in line with the shoulders.  The arms should be stretched forward with a slight elbow bend to allow the soft, no splash entry.

Catch: The pitch of the hands changes to a down and out angle.  The catch is made just outside the shoulder line. The palms remain facing in the direction of travel.  The elbow bends to an angle around 90 degrees to aid the powerful push back.  The hands sweep in a circular movement out, round and together, with the thumbs coming almost together around the throat and chest area.

Upsweep: The hands change to face out and up towards the surface.  The elbows extend fully to straighten the arms and hands towards the thighs.  The hands must accelerate towards the thighs.

Recovery: The hands, little finger first, exit the water and the arms are thrown laterally over the water back to the entry position, keeping the little finger on the top and the thumb just brushing the surface.  The elbows bend slightly just before entry in order to make the entry smooth.


Also, refer to previous paragraph on Biondi drill.

Angel drill

The swimmer lays in the prone position, eyes down, arms extended in front.  The arms are kept straight and travel out, around and back towards the hips in a circular movement and then back in a circular movement to the front.  The arms do not go under the water but stay on the surface throughout.  They can do a gentle flutter kick to keep on the surface or lay on a kick board when  they do the movement.  If they do need to breathe they just life the chin and take a quick in breath but it is better if they can hold their breath during the circular movement.

Push up

Swimmers get into the water and face the side.  Put their hands flat on the top of the pool surround and perform a push up.  Try to push both hands and arms at the same time until the arms are fully extended.  Hold this position.  Explain to the swimmer that this is the underarm action needed to do the Butterfly.  You will see that their hands are placed on the side about shoulder width apart for the easiest way to do their push up.  The same principle applies when they swim Butterfly.  The hands must be shoulder width apart as this is the easiest and most powerful way for them to push back.

Combine Angel drill and the push up drill

Do the Angel drill laying on the kick board.  Arms do the circular pattern from outstretched in front and round to the back and return to the front.  From the extended arm position they do a push up underwater to the thighs as they did at the side of the pool and recover the arms out of the water back to the front.  Sometimes, the push back has such force that they FLY off their kick boards.  This is fine and gives the swimmer the idea of the movement required.
All drills for Butterfly can be done with fins to help the swimmer get the rhythm and help keep the hips high.

Single arm butterfly drill

Left arm held straight in front while using the right arm to pull.  Breathe to the side at this stage.  Do the drill slowly and get the rhythm.   Kick as hand goes in and kick as hand comes out.  Emphasise to keep the hand moving.  Do not dunk the head in.  The head enters the water just before the hand.

Try with the other arm pulling.  Progress to doing 2 single arm pulls with the right arm and the 2 with the left.  Introduce alternate single arm pulls and then a double arm pull.  You can use as many variations as you can think of to make the swimmer achieve the correct rhythm and co-ordination.   Do not do a lot of full arm butterfly in the learning stage.

Good luck with teaching Butterfly.  The swimmers love to swim this stroke and it is such a beautiful stroke to watch.  This is only a few of the methods I have tried and used.  I hope you find them useful.

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