Butterfly: 6 tips for mastering swimming's hardest stroke

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Arguably the most feared of all disciplines in the pool, Mark Foster imparts some expert advice on how to smash the butterfly stroke.
Written by Patrick McAleenanPublished on
Many swimmers find the butterfly the toughest stroke to master. Or, at the very least, the one they're most likely to look like an idiot doing.
You either love it or hate it, but there are several ways to tweak this stroke which builds strength, boosts your metabolism and, at least when done properly, is one of the most striking movements possible in water.
With that in mind, we spoke to European and Commonwealth freestyle and butterfly championship sprint swimmer Mark Foster – who better? – and he duly gave us six excellent tips for mastering this super-powerful and majestic stroke...

1. Keep your head steady

It’s a common mistake for butterfly swimmers to tilt their head up when ready for a breath. “Swimming the butterfly correctly requires you to keep your head set solidly in a downward-facing position,” says Mark. Since shoulder and neck strain is a common complaint when learning the butterfly, this vital tip can save you an aching back while beginning the stroke.

2. Channel your inner dolphin

Your body should flow in a continuous up-and-down wave as the power for this stroke comes from the whole body. Mark reminds us: “Most people think it’s the arms that drive the movement, but you should be driving energy from the hips and core, and the arms follow."

3. Stay close to the surface of the water

Aim high. The higher your body is in the water, the better. “The best butterfly swimmers keep a undulating motion but the depth of the movement is shallow,” says Mark. “The key is to create a wave with a minor frequency and stay close to the surface."

4. Your kick should come from the hips

Similar to the front crawl, the legs should be high in the water with the heels breaking the water on the up kick. “Your feet should stay together, and your ankles should be loose and flexible,“ instructs Mark. “Keep your glutes and hips at the centre of this motion.”

5. Breathe when the hands have completed the stroke

Get the rhythm right. This is the hardest part because timing is so important with the butterfly stroke. “Your head should be back in the water as the arms end the recovery phase and begin the pull, so it’s a very quick inhalation," says Mark.

6. Focus on the body first and allow the arms to follow

Most people know butterfly from the arm movements, so they focus on that and let their body follow. “It should be the other way round – arms first, with body to follow,” advises Mark. It's not an easy mindset to get in, but with enough practice it will eventually feel natural to focus on the body.
Now to put it to good use, click below to see the UK's best swimming pools to train in