How to Swim Butterfly Like Michael Phelps How to Swim Butterfly Like Michael Phelps

How to Swim Butterfly Like Michael Phelps? 4 Important Things You Need to Know

If there’s one name that echoes through the halls of aquatic prowess, it is undoubtedly that of Michael Phelps. A prodigy in the pool, Phelps has revolutionized the world of swimming with his mastery of the butterfly stroke. His success in the butterfly events, particularly the 100 and 200 meters, is a testament to his unparalleled technique and persistent dedication.

If you love swimming, I am sure you are eager to explore how to swim butterfly-like Michael Phelps.

So, in this article, you will learn about the minute details, mechanics, and techniques of the butterfly stroke.

How to Swim Butterfly Like Michael Phelps?

Phelps’ victories are not merely the product of physical strength or innate talent but are rooted in an intricate understanding of the mechanics of the butterfly stroke.

This is evident in his trademark underwater dolphin kick, a technique that has intrigued both fans and athletes worldwide. By maintaining a streamlined body position, Phelps could reduce drag, allowing him to glide effortlessly through the water even as his competitors grew tired.

The essence of the underwater dolphin kicks lies in its timing. As per conventional wisdom, the butterfly stroke involves two main styles: “arm pull up simultaneous with dolphin kick” and “arm pull down simultaneous with dolphin kick“. However, Phelps’ approach stands out due to his exceptional ability to synchronize these movements, creating an undulating, dolphin-like motion in his stroke.

The Butterfly Stroke
Source- Shutterstock


1. Phelps’ Unique Approach

When Phelps’ hands re-enter the water, he presses his chest down and looks to the bottom of the pool, lifting his hips again. His arms remain relatively straight, and his hands enter the water slightly wider than his shoulders — similar to the positions of 11 and 1 on a clock.

This setup allows him to execute another solid Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) and pull, which contributes to his remarkable speed and efficiency.

  • The intrigue around Phelps’ technique extends beyond his dolphin kick.
  • His quick, early catch and relaxed recovery are other significant elements of his unique approach.
  • Phelps avoids the common mistake made by beginners – pulling straight down toward the bottom of the pool.
  • Instead, he focuses on having his fingertips down and palms backward.
  • His forward-charging technique, as opposed to moving up and down, compounds the effectiveness of his stroke.

In essence, Phelps’ dominance in the butterfly stroke is a perfect blend of power, precision, and technique. As we delve deeper into the subsequent sections, we will uncover the science behind his strokes, evaluate his style vis-a-vis other masters of the butterfly stroke, and explore how you can incorporate elements of his technique into your swimming routine.


2. The Mechanics of the Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly stroke, known for its distinct style and rhythmic beauty, is often regarded as one of the most challenging swimming techniques to master. Let’s break down the steps to make it easier to understand.

Step 1: Arm Extension and Pull

  • The butterfly stroke begins with your arms extended above your head, reaching out in front of you.
  • Your hands then pull towards your body in a semicircle, palms facing outward.
  • This arm motion is crucial to propelling your body forward in the water, creating a surge of speed and momentum.

Still, beginners often make the mistake of bending their elbows too much during this phase, which can reduce propulsion.

Step 2: Push Back and Arm Recovery

  • Next, push your palms backward, pulling your arms along your sides and past your hips.
  • This ‘push’ provides a powerful thrust, further increasing your speed.
  • Then, recover by sweeping your arms forward and back above your head, ready for another cycle.

The recovery phase should be quick and relaxed, with the arms swinging sideways across the water surface to the front, with the elbows straight.

A common beginner’s mistake at this stage is to lift the arms and shoulders out of the water by dropping the hips, which disrupts balance and rhythm.

Step 3: The Butterfly Kick

While your upper body is busy propelling you forward, your lower body plays a critical role in maintaining your rhythm and stability.

The ‘butterfly kick‘ involves both legs moving together in a dolphin-like motion. This kick starts from the hips and flows down to the toes. It’s important to remember that the power of the kick comes more from the hips than the knees.

Beginners often struggle to synchronize their kicks with their arm movements. But with practice, they can achieve harmonious coordination that makes the butterfly stroke seem effortless.

By understanding and practicing each of these steps, any swimmer can start to grasp the mechanics of the butterfly stroke.

Remember, every movement in this stroke affects your speed and agility in the water. The better your technique, the faster and more efficient your swimming will become. So take your time, practice regularly, and soon you’ll see improvements in your butterfly stroke.

Common Beginner Mistakes

As mentioned throughout, beginners often encounter challenges in perfecting the butterfly stroke.

These include bending the elbows excessively during the arm pull, improperly lifting the body during recovery, and failing to synchronize the kicks with the arm movements.

By being aware of these common mistakes, you can consciously avoid them and improve your butterfly technique.

Remember, mastering the butterfly stroke doesn’t happen overnight. Like any skill, it requires patience, practice, and consistent effort. But, with the right approach and determination, you too can glide through the water with the grace and speed of a butterfly.


3. Inside Phelps’ Technique: The Unconventional Aspects

Delving deeper into the intricacies of Michael Phelps’ butterfly stroke, one cannot help but note a few unorthodox elements that have become hallmarks of his technique.

A standout among these is his quick catch and relaxed recovery. These features, along with his preference for charging forwards instead of up and down, set him apart from other swimmers and contribute significantly to his speed and efficiency in the water.

The Quick Catch and Relaxed Recovery

The quick catch is an important aspect of any successful butterfly stroke. It’s akin to the catch phase in freestyle where swimmers aim for an early vertical forearm.

Phelps takes it to another level with his swift, early catch. He ensures his fingertips are pointing downwards and his palms facing backward, a strategy that enables him to start pulling water faster and more efficiently than most swimmers.

This quick catch, combined with his extraordinary wingspan, allows him to generate powerful thrusts that propel him forward at a remarkable pace.

Equally noteworthy is Phelps’ relaxed recovery. As the name suggests, this is the phase where the swimmer returns their arms above water after completing the underwater pull.

Phelps executes this with an enviable level of relaxation and flexibility. His shoulders, chest, and back remain flexible, which prevents the shortening of strokes, a common issue encountered by swimmers as they fatigue. Maintaining a relaxed recovery throughout ensures that Phelps can maintain his speed and rhythm for longer durations.

Charging Forwards, Not Up and Down

Another unconventional aspect of Phelps’ technique is his focus on moving forwards rather than up and down. Contrary to the approach of many beginners who concentrate more on emerging above the water, Phelps emphasizes charging forward with each stroke.

This not only conserves energy but also enhances his overall speed by reducing the time spent in the air and increasing the time spent pushing against the water.

This forward propulsion aligns perfectly with his unique body proportions. Boasting a wingspan that outmatches his height and an unusually long upper body, Phelps has a natural advantage when it comes to executing the butterfly stroke. These physical attributes, coupled with his unconventional techniques, provide him the edge needed to dominate this demanding event.

Phelps’ success isn’t merely due to physical superiority. His unorthodox techniques have played a crucial role.

Despite deviating from textbook methods, Phelps’ technique has proven effective, helping him clinch numerous medals and etch his name in the annals of swimming history. His example demonstrates that sometimes, it’s the unconventional approaches that lead to unprecedented successes.


4. The Science Behind Phelps’ Swimming Strokes

Michael Phelps
Source- Shutterstock

As we delve into the scientific aspects of Michael Phelps’ renowned butterfly stroke, it’s essential to acknowledge the groundbreaking research carried out by Rajat Mittal and his team.

Their studies have played a pivotal role in understanding the intricacies of Phelps’ swimming techniques, providing substantial insights into what makes him the fastest in the water.

Mittal and his colleagues embarked on their research journey with a focus on numerical models. These models were meticulously designed to scrutinize the complex flow mechanics of a human swimmer. In particular, they sought to understand how the interaction between a swimmer’s movement and the water around them can significantly impact their speed and efficiency.

Undulating Motion

For example, a study highlighted the undulating motion that a swimmer’s body undergoes during the butterfly stroke. The head leads this undulating movement, followed by the rest of the body, while the arms provide most of the propulsion by stretching out, pulling, and sweeping simultaneously. This concept was at the heart of Mittal’s research, as they sought to use numerical models to replicate and analyze this phenomenon.

Strategic Positioning

The researchers’ findings revealed fascinating insights about Phelps’ technique. For instance, they discovered that during the butterfly stroke, Phelps positions his hips higher than his head. This strategic positioning is designed to counterbalance the raising of the shoulders and head to breathe, a move Phelps executes every stroke.

Such precision in maintaining body position amidst the water’s flow dynamics contributes significantly to his superior performance.


By utilizing numerical models to observe and understand the mechanics of Phelps’ strokes, Mittal’s research has provided invaluable insights into the science of swimming. His study not only elucidates why Phelps’ technique is so effective but also guides swimmers worldwide on how to improve their own performance.

Through a keen understanding of these scientific principles, one can certainly aspire to master butterfly strokes like Phelps.


5. Comparisons with Other Butterfly Stroke Masters

When it comes to the butterfly stroke, numerous swimmers have made their mark in the pool but few stand out as much as Michael Phelps, Denis Pankratov, and Mary T. Meagher.

Each of these legends has a unique approach to this challenging stroke, yet all of them have demonstrated extraordinary effectiveness.

Phelps vs. Pankratov: The Art of Breathing

Denis Pankratov, known as the “Russian Rocket,” was famous for his underwater dolphin kick technique, similar to Phelps. But, their respective breathing techniques offer an interesting contrast.

  • Pankratov often breathed late during the stroke, which allowed him to keep his body low and reduce drag.
  • On the other hand, Phelps tends to breathe early, maintaining a high body position that promotes forward propulsion.

This consistent rhythm of breathing every stroke enables Phelps to maintain speed and rhythm, a strategy that’s been key to his success.

Phelps vs. Meagher: The Role of Physical Attributes

Mary T. Meagher, also known as “Madame Butterfly,” held world records in the women’s 100-meter and 200-meter butterfly events for nearly two decades.

Her technique emphasized a powerful kick and a high arm recovery, contrasting with Phelps’ more relaxed recovery and quick catch. Yet, what truly differentiates Phelps is his physical attributes.

Phelps’ unusually long upper body and wingspan, equivalent to that of a man who is 6’8″ tall, provide him with a significant advantage in the water. This body structure allows Phelps to cover more distance per stroke, contributing greatly to his speed and efficiency.

Phelps vs. Spitz: The Evolution of the Butterfly Stroke

Beyond Pankratov and Meagher, it’s worth considering Mark Spitz, another colossal figure in swimming history.

  • Unlike Phelps, Spitz employed an ‘over the water‘ concept, lifting his head and body quite high out of the water, a method that created more up and down motion.
  • This approach, while effective in its time, translated into a higher drag coefficient, making it slower and more energy-wasting compared to Phelps’ technique.
  • Phelps, utilizing modern styles, focuses on the slight oscillation of the body and skimming the surface with his chin, thus conserving energy for forward motion.

Through these comparisons, we can see that Phelps’ technique combines the best aspects of traditional and modern approaches to the butterfly stroke.

His method focuses on reducing drag, maximizing propulsion, and capitalizing on his unique physical attributes. It stands out amongst these masters, demonstrating why he is considered one of the greatest swimmers of all time.

Michael Phelps
Source- Shutterstock



What is Phelps’ butterfly technique?

Michael Phelps’ butterfly technique is a unique blend of power, precision, and technique that has made him a dominant force in the swimming world.

Who is Michael Phelps and why is his butterfly technique significant?

Michael Phelps is an American former competitive swimmer and the most successful and decorated Olympian of all time. Phelps’ butterfly technique is significant because it has revolutionized the sport of swimming.

How is Phelps’ butterfly technique different from traditional butterfly swimming?

Phelps’ technique, including underwater dolphin kick, arm entry and pull, quick catch, relaxed recovery, and forward charging technique combined with his physical attributes and dedication, set him apart from traditional butterfly swimmers and have contributed to his unparalleled success in the sport.

Are there any specific drills or exercises to improve the butterfly technique?

Yes, there are several drills and exercises that can help improve the butterfly technique. These include Single-arm butterfly, 3-3-3 drill, Stone skipper drill, Dolphin kick on back, and Vertical Dolphin kick, etc.

Can anyone learn and master Phelps’ butterfly technique, or is it only for elite swimmers?

Yes anyone can learn and master this technique.

Are there any common mistakes that swimmers make when trying to emulate Phelps’ butterfly technique?

Incorrect timing, improper arm entry, lack of relaxation, and focusing on up and down movement are some common mistakes.


Conclusion: Mastering the Butterfly Stroke Like Phelps

We have journeyed through the intricacies of the butterfly stroke and analyzed the technique of its greatest master, Michael Phelps. His unique approach is a tapestry of elements that intertwines strength, fluidity, and precision into a stroke that has broken world records and won numerous Olympic medals.

Phelps’ butterfly technique is characterized by a few key elements. Mastering these above-mentioned key elements can improve one’s butterfly stroke.

Each movement, from the arm extension to the dolphin kick, contributes to the swimmer’s speed and efficiency in the water. Understanding these techniques is crucial, but replicating them requires practice and dedication.

So, let’s remember what we’ve learned from Phelps and strive to incorporate these techniques into our swimming routines.

Butterfly stroke mastery is not an overnight achievement. It’s a result of consistent effort, perseverance, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

As you dive into the pool next time, remember to extend your arms wide, sweep them in a powerful semicircle, maintain your streamline, and execute those dolphin kicks with grace and power. Keep the image of Phelps’ perfect butterfly strokes in mind, and who knows, perhaps, one day, your strokes might mirror the mastery of Phelps himself!

So now, it’s over to you. Dive in, swim hard, and keep perfecting that butterfly stroke. Remember, every Olympic champion was once a beginner who never gave up. Happy swimming!