How does swimming butterfly improve your front crawl?

Team GB Olympic butterfly swimmer Aimee Wilmott explains how swimming fly can help you develop a better and more efficient freestyle swim stroke, and shares two of her favourite drills

Credit: Getty Images/ DigitalVision/ People Images

Butterfly is the hardest stroke to perfect technically and is the most physically demanding. Even though this is the case don’t shy away from it, as swimming butterfly has added bonuses to help you with your other strokes. 


Why you should be swimming ‘off strokes’ regularly

Breaststroke technique for triathletes

Is there a difference between front crawl and freestyle?

The stroke builds strength in many of the key swimming muscles – deltoids, trapezius, biceps and triceps. It’s also great for building core strength – which is beneficial across three sports, but in swimming it helps protect that back from injury – and in the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles.

If you compete in pool triathlons you’ll know the importance of butterfly kicking off the walls in freestyle. This is the fastest part of any length (the underwater phase), as when you’re underwater you’re more streamline and there is less resistance. Practising butterfly swim helps you to improve the power of these underwater fly kicks too.

When swimming butterfly it’s really important to make sure the underwater part of the pull starts off slow and finishes fast as your arms exit the water, otherwise it’s really hard to recover both arms over the surface at the same time. This motion is pretty similar in freestyle swimming and if you can master the art of an accelerated exit when swimming butterfly with two arms, you’ll have no problem doing this on freestyle when only one arm pulls at a time.


The timing of the your breath is really important when swimming butterfly. If you breathe too late or too early it can cause your hips to drop too low, difficulty recovering your arms over the surface of the water, and the leg kick can also become out of time. The aim is to start the breath and lift your head when your arms are half way through the underwater phase, and finish the breath and begin to lower the head as the arms leave the water for the recovery phase of the stroke. This means your face will be back in the water by the time you kick and stretch forward at the end of the recovery phase.

Avoid breathing every stroke – even though you may feel you need the breath it makes it harder if you’re not a skilled fly swimmer as breathing takes it out of you, try breathing every other stroke instead and see if it helps with the timing of your breath.


Beyondi drill

This drill is perfect to help with timing or breathing, and makes sure you aren’t lifting your head really high out of the water to breathe either.  If focuses on the underwater phase of the stroke only. Start off flat on the surface of the water by sculling 3-4 times, then once you have a little bit of rhythm through the hips pull the arms under the water and push your chin forwards to breath at the same time. Then let the arms recover under water with your face back down. Then go back into scull and then repeat down the rest of the length. Top tip – it’s really helpful to wear fins!

Rhythm: It’s really important to understand that all strokes are more efficient when you swim to a rhythm, but more so on butterfly. Try not to break the fluid movement when you breathe and make sure you kick twice every stroke.

One kick should come at the front as the arms enter and stretch forward, and one kick as the arms exit the water at the back. The kick helps balance out the arm cycle and makes burtterfly swimming easy (if you can call it that)! Make sure the kicks are relatively large and come from the hips, if you’re going to use energy kicking your legs you may as well use them to help you drive forward!

Kick, kick drill

It sounds simple but when swimming actually saying kick at the front, kick at the back really helps to keep the stroke fluid and prompts you where to kick. Top tip: When you’re kicking don’t just bend from the knees, fly kick comes from your trunk and your glute so make sure you use them to your advantage and don’t just kick from your knees.

It helps to include butterfly drills little and often in all of your training sessions, and preferably nearer to the beginning when you’re feeling a bit fresher. The more you practice the better you get.

Try 4x25s of each drill with plenty of rest in-between each 25. Soon you’ll have them mastered!

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Aimee Wilmott has represented Great Britain at two Olympic Games, FINA world championships and European championships, and England in the Commonwealth Games. She is pictured left in Funkita swimwear available at


You can follow Aimee on Twitter @aimee_willmott