Pain and Glory: The Life of a Butterflier

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Natalia Kaczor, Swimming World College Intern

“Alright everyone, break into your stroke lanes for our main set today!” coach announces.

“Yes, we have been waiting for this practice all week!” exclaim the backstrokers.

“We finally get slower intervals to be able to train our stroke!” say the breaststrokers with a sigh of relief.

And finally, the butterfliers all look at each other with the same anxious faces. “Well, this is going to hurt,” they utter.

Butterfliers have respect from other swimmers because of their hard practices and dedicated work ethic. However, they always seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to stroke sets: having six plus butterfliers in one lane at once, quick intervals, sore shoulders, and back knots for weeks at a time. They may complain at times, but when it comes down to championship meets, being able to swim a fast 200 butterfly is a great feeling. Here are some pains and feelings of glory of butterfliers:

Too many people in the butterfly lane


Photo Courtesy: Grace Schwiederek

“Six butterfliers in one lane? No one arm butterfly? Come on, coach!”

Anyone could agree that this is one of the biggest challenges in the butterfly lane. Trying to hold a certain pace while swimming in all the waves is tough. However, coaches expect these swimmers to deal with it and still swim fast, despite the conditions. No excuses.

Quick Intervals

(140818) -- Nanjing,Aug 18,2014 (Xinhua) -- An athlete warms up ahead of match during Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, on Aug. 18, 2014. (Xinhua/Fei Maohua)(zc)

Photo Courtesy: Xinhua/Fei Maohua

“Okay, backstroke, you’re on 45 seconds, and butterfly, you are too,” coach states when explaining the main set. Oh man. It is so much harder to swim a short axis stroke with so many people in one lane without breaking form and still trying to go fast. Oh well, like mentioned earlier, no excuses.

Sore shoulders


Photo Courtesy: Dr. G John Mullen

This is a big one for butterfliers. The constant repetitive pull of the stroke catches up to swimmers’ shoulders quickly. Luckily, there are Shoulder Flexibility Tips┬áto help with caring for your shoulders and making sure you can perform your best at practice and meets.

Back knots, on knots, on knots

Butterfly muscle groups

Photo Courtesy:

With sore shoulders usually comes compensation in your stroke, leading you to overwork your back muscles. The image above shows all the muscles that are used when swimming butterfly. Muscles can get tight, creating knots that cause a lot of pain.

To help get rid of these knots, it is a good idea to stretch and roll out your back. Lacrosse balls help to target bad individual knots in your back.

Respect from other swimmers


Photo Courtesy: Brooke Wright

Have you ever met a swimmer who thinks butterfly is the easiest stroke? Me neither. Being a butterflier gives you a certain feeling of confidence, knowing you train arguably the hardest stroke. Other swimmers look up to you, thinking, how do you do it?

Championship meet payoff

Sarah Sjoestroem Sweden Bronze Medal, Jeanette Ottesen Denmark Gold Medal, Ilaria Bianchi Silver Medal 100m Butterfly Final Swimming 32nd LEN European Championships Berlin, Germany 2014 Aug.13 th - Aug. 24 th Day10 - Aug. 22 Photo Andrea Staccioli/Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli Insidefoto

The pain, tears and dedication pay off at the end of the season. Not anyone can just get up and swim a 200 butterfly. That is what sets butterfliers apart from the rest of the swimmers.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. Amy Jordan

    Kiernan Jordan

  2. Ben Herrman

    Valerie, Lindsey, and Sara.

  3. Zoe Moran

    Amy Le

  4. Deanna Frey

    I stare in awe at competitions when I see the butterflies.

    • Tarah Ogilvie

      Um.. yeah this is awkward didn’t you know I’m a breastroker now

  5. Emma Marcus

    Jessica Lindholm

  6. Vanya Wild

    No shit! ?????