From his flawless technique to his incredible speed, most swimmers agree that Michael Phelps is the king of butterfly. He makes the most challenging stroke look easy, bringing home 7 Olympic medals in the 100 and 200 butterfly events throughout his career.

So, what makes Michael Phelps’ butterfly so perfect? We analyzed his stroke to find out! 

The Pull & Recovery

Whether he’s swimming at race pace or at a relaxed speed, Michael’s butterfly tempo always looks graceful. His pull and recovery play a huge role in that!

We can think of the pull phase of butterfly as 2 freestyle strokes done at the same time. Just like in freestyle, a solid early vertical forearm helps pull the water back to move the body forward. And, of course, Michael’s EVF is flawless!

Related: Sarah Sjöström Butterfly Analysis

The recovery phase of his stroke — when the arms are out of the water — is especially smooth.

Michael breathes every stroke, which is often frowned upon since breathing is the slowest part of the stroke and causes the hips to drop slightly. Despite this, he is able to maintain good technique & a high body position. 

When his hands re-enter the water, he presses his chest down and looks to the bottom of the pool, encouraging his hips to lift again. He keeps his arms relatively straight, and his hands enter the water slightly wider than his shoulders — think 11 and 1 on a clock — setting himself up for another solid EVF and pull.

Related: Michael Phelps Freestyle Analysis

This cycle creates the undulating, dolphin-like motion in the stroke! Michael’s ability to maintain this technique set him apart from the pack in the 100 and 200 butterfly.

Dolphin Kick

Watch any race footage and it’s easy to understand why Michael is known for his incredible dolphin kick. He wasn’t always the fastest off the wall, but he was consistent, which made a huge difference as his competitors got tired.

Related: How to Swim Butterfly with Perfect Technique

Starting with his streamline, you can see that his hands are stacked on top of each other and his arms are tight to his head and locked out to reduce drag. His bodyline is amazing throughout each phase of his kick!

His kick amplitude is larger than that of many other swimmers. If we look at Sarah Sjöström’s kick, you’ll find that hers is much smaller. There’s no right or wrong “size” for your dolphin kick. Do what feels right for your body!

Related: How Michael Phelps Became the Greatest Swimmer of All Time

One common theme in Michael and Sarah’s kicks is that they kick both up and down, which maximizes power. Many swimmers neglect the “up” kick in favor of the more powerful “down” kick, but that’s actually not the best way to swim faster. Think about it: The faster you can finish your “up” kick, the faster you can get to the “down” kick, which is a lot more powerful.

So, moral of the story? Work on your “up” kick and keep your streamline tight!

Drills

Drills and kicking were a huge part of Michael’s training. He often incorporated the “2 Right, 2 Left, 2 Together” butterfly drill. Here’s how to do it:

  • Do 2 butterfly strokes with just the right arm, keeping the right arm out in front of you
  • Do 2 with just the left arm
  • Do 2 full strokes
  • Repeat!

This drill works on rhythm. Focus on pressing your chest down! In single arm butterfly, breathe to the side (similar to freestyle). Check out this example of proper single arm butterfly:

Michael Phelps wasn’t born the greatest swimmer in the world. He had to work hard for his success! Even the best of the best are focused on improving one small aspect of their stroke each workout, just like you are! 

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