“To watch Olympic swimmers do the butterfly is to witness a metamorphosis: half-human, half-fish, wholly mesmerizing.” That perspective of the Butterfly stroke makes it a prospect that’s simultaneously daunting and alluring. As the fourth of the basic swim strokes for beginning swimmers to learn (see Parts 1, 2 & 3), the basic Butterfly stroke can be described as powerful, impressive, and even explosive — when performed properly, that is. Getting to that point, of course, takes time and effort, but many swimmers find it quite enjoyable. Less likely to be used for merely recreational swimming than the other stroke types, this stroke is a popular competition stroke, and like all swim strokes, it helps improve a person’s physical and mental health.
Fourth Basic Swim Stroke: Butterfly
The Butterfly begins with a stretched, streamlined position, with the eyes pointing toward the water. This position should be maintained as the body is propelled rhythmically through the water, with the head leading the way. The body will undulate into and out of the water in a dolphin-like manner.
Butterfly Anatomy: Upper Body Movement
The shoulders should remain horizontally oriented, as the arm action occurs in sync with the leg movement. The hands should enter the water, starting with the thumb and index finger. As the hands enter the water, they should press outward and downward in an S-shaped path, moving toward the hips. As they exit the water, the arms should then move over the water and re-enter it, reaching as far as possible. Depending on the swimmer’s speed and skill level, breaths should be taken during either every stroke or every other stroke. As the head emerges from the water, the swimmer will exhale and then quickly inhale as the arms exit the water, and before they re-enter it.
Butterfly Anatomy: Leg Movement
In the Butterfly stroke, the kick occurs simultaneously with the arm movement, beginning just as the hands enter the water. When performed properly, the kick will powerfully and rhythmically propel the body through the water. The toes should be pointed and ankles relaxed as the knees bend. The legs should remain within the body’s width, providing a downward, whip-like movement. The initial kicking movement will support the body’s upward motion as the arms pull through the water and the head emerges to allow for a breath, while a second kick serves to support the propulsion of the body as the arms emerge and then prepare to re-enter the water. The kick-pull-kick-recover rhythm then starts over again.
It’s easy to get frustrated when your first attempts at the Butterfly stroke far more closely resemble an animal in distress than the impressive movements of an Olympic medalist like Michael Phelps. If you’re noting the disparity, you’re definitely not alone. These things take time of course, and with practice, increased coordination will help make these movements more fluid and forceful. But remember: even if it doesn’t look pretty, it’s still accomplishing the health benefits that come with swimming of any kind.
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