T Nation

Improving My Butterfly Swimming


Apologies if this does not seem to be an appropriate topic for T-Nation or the forums board, but I need some advice on improving my butterfly stroke. I figured with so many gurus on strength training here, you guys might have some godly pointers to help me improve myself to swim better.

I think I have basically got the stroke right, but I find myself lacking endurance and strength to swim the whole lap (50m). I find myself lacking in upper body strength because I am not able to continue the pulling phase of the stroke. My arms get tired too soon and subsequent pulls are weak and I am not able to “fly” up.

What exercise can I do to improve endurance? What kind of lifting regime should I do to improve strength?

Any advice would be much appreciated. Many thanks in advance.

How old are you? What’s you’re swimming experience.

While the butterfly is incredibly difficult it doesn’t require much strength. If you can’t complete 50 meters then your stroke is inefficient, you have poor conditioning, you’re unbelievably weak, or a combination of all 3.

Strength training for swimming is pretty puzzling. I personally know a lot of fast swimmers who, despite having very close times in relation to eachother, are vastly different in terms of strength. I know 2 kids who bench 315 and did pretty well at a D3 invite. Of course, I also know that neither of these guys can squat 315 and I doubt any swimmer seriously lifts for their legs.

I also know just by looking at Michael Phelps that he probably has trouble picking up the morning paper and I know for a fact that the only weight training he did before he started squatting last year to train for worlds (He claims in Sports Illustrated he went through brutal squat workouts but I doubt he used more than 135) to improve his leg endurance at the tail end of the 200m butterfly was some light lat-pulldown work because one of he lats was bigger than the other.

Lifting weights will not help improve your butterfly. The only thing that will help improve your butterfly is swimming more butterfly, learning how to look down while you breathe, learning proper hip-motion, bringing your arms straight over the water while keeping them low, and swimming more butterfly.

Think about all the girls who can swim butterfly. All those 9-15 year old girls. I’ve got news for you. They’re weak as kittens.

If you think you basically have your stroke right and you’re training without any coaching, then you need coaching.

That said, your weight program should focus heavily on developing your front delts, your lats, and your triceps. People will tell you that you should do lots of core work in order to learn how to rotate in the freestyle or stay stable in the butterfly. It’s not your core muscles that are moving you. It’s your arms, shoulders, chest, back, and hips. People will also tell you to do movements in the weight room that will mimic swimming motions. I’ve been doing Dumbbell Pullovers for a long time and while the weight I can use has doubled, I can confidently say it has not caused me any major time drops.

Fat-man Pull-ups
Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Tricep Extensions
Front Squats
Dumbbell Power Cleans

If I had to design a weight program for a swimmer I’d have them perform these exercise for 15-50 reps depending on the exercise. The exception would be front squats where I’d have them do a max set of 3-5 only once a week.

I wouldn’t have a swimmer do any overhead pressing. They move their arms overhead more than 1000 times a day. That’s enough of that.
They wouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting with their shoulders. That’s why I’d choose light isolation exercises. I probably wouldn’t emphasize the need for big strength gains and would prefer rep records. My biggest concern would be building up their rear delts and the muscles in their rotator cuffs in order to compensate for all the internal rotation they’re doing.

The best way to train swimming muscles is to use a swim-power-rack (nothing like a squat rack), rubber bands, tiny parachutes or buckets for dragging, paddles, flippers, and a Vasa Swim Bench (Basically a $2,000 Total Gym with Bungie Cords)

If you are a total beginner at swimming and you’ve never been on a team or coached and you’re just hopping in the pool at the YMCA and trying to do fly, then the next best thing you can do besides getting your form looked at is to swim fly with some flippers on. This will allow you to go fast easily so you can get a feel for what good, fast, efficient fly feels like when you swim it.

I’d say pullups/pulldowns and pullovers with a dumbbell or a machine. I’ve seen the USC swimteam training with bands tied to the fence by the pole.

Butterfly is a bitch my best was breast stroke and my fastest was freestyle of coarse and I hate backstroke the most.

IMO the best thing for you would be to keep swimming! If you can’t keep going with fly very long thats OK, go for as long as you can, rest a bit, and go again, and again, and again.

At this point you haven’t built up enough strength to even overcome the water, therefore using weights wouldn’t give you any significant benefit over simply swimming more.

That said, it sounds like you are in the sort of shape that would benefit quite a bit from general weight training. Good luck!

I was a butterflyer. I didn’t lift until college. Trust me you don’t need to lift weights to be good at fly. I made my junior nats cut as a junior in HS and I never lifted weights. There are two things you need to get down in fly. 1) is form. If you have a shit form, the stroke is going to be extremely hard and you WILL tire quickly. When most people do fly there timing with the kick and pulling motion is usually off which kinda trashes your whole stroke. I’d get a coaching session with a swim coach who knows what he’s doing, just for like an hour or something. It’s kinda pointless to instruct someone how to swim over the net due to the complexity of the technique of each stroke.

After you’ve got the form down, just start swimming lap after lap. You’re form will turn to crap after a few laps, but just keep chugging away. I was able to do 30 minutes straight fly when I was in my teens(no breaks). They were called “T-30s”. Basically you have to swim as many laps as you can in 30 minutes. I think I was able to complete 2400 yards of fly in that time, give or take. I’d suggest doing something like this, but start off with “T-10s”. You’ll get stronger and it will become easier. Good Luck!

Many thanks to all who have replied. Special kudos go to you, FightingScott. Your post is incredibly enlightening. I guess I need to work on my form MORE and just keep on swimming fly.