FINIS Tip Of The Week: Butterfly Breathing

Welcome to the “FINIS Tip of the Week.” Swimming World will be bringing you a topic that we’ll explore with drills and concepts for you to implement with your team on a regular basis. While certain weeks may be more appropriate for specific levels of swimming (club, high school, college, or masters), each tip is meant to be flexible for your needs and inclusive for all levels of swimming.

The tip for this week focuses on the all-so important breathe in butterfly. Because of the nature of the stroke, a single off breath in butterfly can significantly disrupt your stroke tempo, create an inefficient body position, and end up creating a domino effect of adding resistance with each stroke. Below are some tips to help avoid this and make each breath as efficient as possible from start to finish.

Push Chin Forward

When moving the head for the breath, you want to think about pushing the chin forward as opposed to lifting the chin or looking up toward the sky. Thinking about pushing the chin forward gives your body a low profile over the water and directs your energy forward. It also makes it that much easier to place your head back in line after each breath.

Arms Knock Head Back In Line

Another key aspect of the butterfly breath is finding the correct timing for placing the head back in the water. Ideally you want to keep the head up as long as possible during the arm recovery, starting the breathe more towards the middle of your stroke and having your head fall back in line as your arms swing back around to the front and enter the water.

While it may seem counterintuitive to lift the head later during the arm recovery, doing so limits resistance as you finish your second kick (which should start when the arms exit the water) and also helps find the feeling of “throwing” your arms forward at the end of each stroke cycle that helps develop a strong forward press at the end of each stroke. Again, the breath should be low and fast just above the surface will also help make this timing feel more natural.

Head Drives Forward, Not Down

Finally, an equally important part of the breath needs to be putting the head back in the water. Ideally, you should be driving the head forward in line with the spine at the end of every breath, keeping it just under the surface with each breath.

Because butterfly is commonly thought to follow a simple “up and down” undulation, often swimmers feel the need to drive their heads down once they re-enter the water. Forcing the head down requires more time to bring your head back up on your subsequent breathes and is an inefficient way to think about butterfly.

In reality, you want that press at the end of your stroke to be driving you forward, not down, and making sure your head follows that helps ensure the rest of your body does too. Happy swimming!

All swimming and dryland training and instruction should be performed under the supervision of a qualified coach or instructor, and in circumstances that ensure the safety of participants.

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Author: James Sica

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James Sica is the Men and Women's Assistant Coach at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been an assistant coach at CMU in Pittsburgh, PA (2015-2017), a volunteer assistant coach with the Harvard women’s program (2014-2015) and an assistant with the Ithaca College men's program (2012-2014).

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