From Openwaterpedia
Chun Kong Mak swam a butterfly Ice Mile in Altenwörth, Niederösterreich, Austria in 43 minutes 3 seconds on 16 February 2020 in 4.7°C water
John Batchelder after swimming butterfly at the 2017 24-mile (38.6 km) Tampa Bay Marathon Swim in 14 hours 41 minutes
Vasily Mosin of Russia racing butterfly in the Tyumen Open Cup in Siberia in 0ºC water and -6ºC air temperature, selected as the finalist in the Outsider Magazine Photo of the Cup. Photo by Nuala Moore, a fellow ice swimmer from Ireland
Dan Projansky completing the 36-mile END WET marathon swim on 20 June 2015, swum all butterfly with a rash guard
Brenton Williams swimming butterfly between Kendal Wright and Kyle Harris in an unprecedented 8 km ocean swim around Cape St. Francis and Shark Point in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa
Brenton Williams swimming butterfly in the open water. Photo by Clive Wright
Brenton Williams swimming butterfly in the open water. Photo by Clive Wright
Brenton Williams swimming butterfly in the open water. Photo by Clive Wright
Brenton Williams swimming butterfly in the open water. Photo by Clive Wright
Brenton Williams swimming butterfly in the open water. Photo by Clive Wright.
Brenton Williams swimming butterfly in the open water. Photo by Clive Wright.
Brenton Williams swimming butterfly in the open water. Photo by Clive Wright.
Héctor Ramírez Ballesteros swam butterfly across the Strait of Gibraltar in 7 hours 5 minutes

noun - The butterfly (colloquially among swimmers known as fly or mariposa in Spanish) is a competitive swimming stroke swum on the stomach with both arms moving simultaneously, accompanied by the butterfly kick (also known as the dolphin kick). While other styles like the breaststroke, front crawl (or freestyle), and backstroke can be swum adequately by beginners, the butterfly is a more difficult stroke that requires good technique as well as strength and coordination. Many swimmers and coaches consider it the most difficult swimming style. It is the newest swimming style swum in competition, first swum in 1933 and originating out of breaststroke. The main difficulty for beginners is the synchronous over-water recovery, especially when combined with breathing, since both arms, the head, shoulders and part of the chest have to be lifted out of the water for these tasks.

Once efficient technique has been developed, it becomes a smooth, fast stroke in a pool. However, its usage in the open water remains extraordinarily difficult.

Famous Butterflyers In History

Butterfly In The Open Water

The butterfly stroke is rarely used by open water swimmers, but it is used by a handful of marathon swimmers including individuals who have crossed the English Channel, Catalina Channel, and Strait of Gibraltar swimming butterfly. The rules of swimming butterfly in the open body of water were first proposed by Steven Munatones of the World Open Water Swimming Association. The rules are posted here.

Speed and ergonomics

The peak speed of the butterfly is faster than that of the front crawl, due to the synchronous pull/push with both arms. Yet since speed drops significantly during the recovery phase, it is overall slightly slower than the front crawl.


Australian Sydney Cavill (1881 - 1945), son of the Swimming professor Frederick Cavill, was 220 yards amateur champion of Australia at the age of 16 and is credited as the originator of the butterfly stroke. He followed his famous brothers to America and coached notable swimmers at San Francisco's Olympic Club.

In 1933, Henry Myers swam a butterfly stroke in competition at the Brooklyn Central YMCA. The butterfly style evolved from the breaststroke. David Armbruster, swimming coach at the University of Iowa, researched the breaststroke, especially considering the problem of drag due to the underwater recovery. In 1934 Armbruster refined a method to bring the arms forward over the water in a breaststroke. He called this style "butterfly". While the butterfly was difficult, it brought a great improvement in speed. One year later, in 1935, Jack Sieg, a swimmer also from the University of Iowa, developed a kick technique involving swimming on his side and beating his legs in unison, similar to a fish tail, and then modified the technique afterward to swim it face down. He called this style Dolphin fishtail kick. Armbruster and Sieg quickly found that combining these techniques created a very fast swimming style consisting of butterfly arms with two dolphin kicks per cycle. Richard Rhodes claims that Volney Wilson invented the 'Dolphin' after studying fish, and used it to win the 1938 US Olympic Trials, earning him a disqualification.

This new style was considerably faster than a regular breaststroke. Using this technique Sieg swam 100 yards in 1:00.2. However, the dolphin fishtail kick violated the breaststroke rules set by FINA and was not allowed. Therefore, the butterfly arms with a breaststroke kick were used by a few swimmers in the 1936 Berlin Olympics for the breaststroke competitions. In 1938, almost every breaststroke swimmer was using this butterfly style, yet this stroke was considered a variant of the breaststroke until 1952, when it was accepted by FINA as a separate style with its own set of rules. The 1956 Summer Olympics were the first Olympic games where the butterfly was swum as a separate competition, 100m (women) and 200m (men).

Butterfly Ice Mile

  • Pauline Barker completed the world's first butterfly Ice Mile in Harthill Reservoir in Rotherham, England in 52 minutes 0 seconds on 23 November 2016 in 4.73°C water.
  • Chun Kong Mak completed the world's second butterfly Ice Mile and first for a man in Altenwörth, Niederösterreich, Austria in 43 minutes 3 seconds on 19 February 2020 in 4.7°C water.


The butterfly technique with the dolphin kick consists of synchronous arm movement with a synchronous leg kick. The wave-like body movement is also very significant, as this is the key to easy synchronous over-water recovery and breathing. In the initial position, the swimmer lies on the breast, the arms are stretched to the front, and the legs are extended to the back.

Arm movement

The butterfly stroke has three major parts, the pull, the push, and the recovery. These can also be further subdivided. From the initial position, the arm movement starts very similarly to the breast stroke. At the beginning the hands sink a little bit down with the palms facing outwards and slightly down at shoulder width, then the hands move out to create a Y. This is called catching the water. The pull movement follows a semicircle with the elbow higher than the hand and the hand pointing towards the center of the body and downward. Do form the traditionally taught "keyhole".

The push pushes the palm backward through the water underneath the body at the beginning and at the side of the body at the end of the push. The swimmer only pushes the arms 1/3 of the way to the hips, making it easier to enter into the recover and making the recovery shorter and making the breathing window shorter. The movement increases speed throughout the pull/push phase until the hand is the fastest at the end of the push. This step is called the release and is crucial for the recovery. The speed at the end of the push is used to help with the recovery.

The recovery swings the arms sideways across the water surface to the front, with the elbows straight. The arms should be swung forward from the end of the underwater movement, the extension of the triceps in combination with the butterfly kick will allow the arm to be brought forwards relaxed yet quickly. In contrast to the front crawl recovery, this arm recovery is a ballistic shot. The only other way of lifting the arms and the shoulders out of the water is by dropping one's hip. Therefore the recovery, at least the acceleration of the arms, is in no way relaxed. It is important not to enter the water too early, because this would generate extra resistance as the arms moved forward in the water against the swimming direction, however, during longer distances, this cannot be avoided, and it is more important to avoid dropping one's hips. A high elbow recovery, as in front crawl, would be disadvantageous because of the natural undulations that are partially caused by the recovery and the relaxed movement caused by the momentum of a triceps extension. Limitations of the shoulder movement in the human body make such a motion unlikely. Hands should enter into the water again at 11 and one with thumbs entering first and pinky last.

The arms enter the water with the thumbs first at shoulder width. A wider entry loses movement in the next pull phase, and a smaller entry, where the hands touch, wastes energy. The cycle repeats with the pull phase. However, some people prefer to touch in front, because it helps them catch water, as long as they can do this efficiently, they are not losing anything.

Leg movement

The leg movement is similar to the leg movement in the front crawl, except the legs are synchronized with each other, and it uses a whole different set of muscles. The shoulders are brought above the surface by a strong up and medium down kick, and back below the surface by a strong down and up kick. A smooth undulation fuses the motion together.

The feet are pressed together to avoid loss of water-pressure. The feet are naturally pointing downwards, giving downwards thrust, moving up the feet and pressing down the head.

There is no actual stipulation in competitive butterfly rules that a swimmer make a fixed number of pulses in butterflyñthe swimmer may kick as little or as much as he or she may wish. While competitive rules allow such a choice, the typical method of swimming butterfly is with two kicks.


There is only a short window for breathing in the butterfly. If this window is missed, swimming becomes very difficult. Optimally, a butterfly swimmer synchronizes the taking of breaths with the undulation of the body to simplify the breathing process; doing this well requires some attention to butterfly stroke technique. The breathing process begins during the underwater "press" portion of the stroke. As the hands and forearms move underneath the chest, the body will naturally rise toward the surface of the water. With minimum effort, the swimmer can lift the head to fully break the surface. The swimmer breathes in through the mouth. The head goes back in the water after the arms come out of the water as they are swinging forward over the surface of the water. If the head stays out too long, the recovery is hindered. The swimmer breathes out through mouth and nose till the next breath.

Normally, a breath is taken every other stroke. This can be sustained over long distances. Often, breathing every stroke slows the swimmer down. At a certain level, a breathing stroke becomes just as fast as a non-breathing stroke; therefore, very experienced competitors - such as Michael Phelps - may breathe every stroke. Other intervals of breathing practiced by elite swimmers include the "two up, one down" approach in which the swimmer breathes for two successive strokes and then keeps their head in the water on the next stroke, which is easier on the lungs. Swimmers with good lung capacity might also breathe every 3rd stroke during sprints for the finish. Some swimmers can even hold their breaths for an entire race (assuming that it is a short one). To be able to swim with best results it is important to keep your head down when you take a breath. if you lift your head high your hips drop, creating drag, thus slowing you down. The closer your head is to the water the better you swim, but not too close so that you choke on the water.

Body movement

Swimming butterfly is difficult if the core is not utilized, and correct timing and body movement makes swimming the butterfly much easier. The body moves in a wave-like fashion, controlled by the core, and as the chest is pressed down, the hips go up, and the posterior breaks the water surface and transfers into a fluid kick. During the push phase the chest goes up and the hips are at their lowest position. In this style, the second pulse in the cycle is stronger than the first pulse, as the second pulse is more in flow with the body movement.

Although butterfly is very compatible with diving, the resulting reduction in wave drag does not lead to an overall reduction of drag. In the modern style of the Butterfly stroke one does only little vertical movement of the body. Start

Butterfly uses the regular start for swimming. After the start a gliding phase follows under water, followed by dolphin kicks swim under water. Swimming under water reduces the drag from breaking the surface and is very economical. Rules allow for 15 m of underwater swimming, before the head must break the surface, and regular swimming begins.

Turn and finish

During turns and during the finish in a pool, both hands must simultaneously touch the wall while the swimmer remains swimming face down. The swimmer touches the wall with both hands while bending the elbows slightly. The bent elbows allow the swimmer to push himself or herself away from the wall and turn sideways. One hand leaves the wall to be moved to the front underwater. At the same time the legs are pulled closer and moved underneath of the body towards the wall. The second hand leaves the wall to be moved to the front over water. It is commonly referred to as an "over/under turn" or an "open turn". The legs touch the wall and the hands are at the front. The swimmer sinks under water and lies on the breast, or nearly so. Then the swimmer pushes off the wall, keeping a streamline position with the hands to the front. Similar to the start, the swimmer is allowed to swim 15 m underwater before the head must break the surface. Most swimmers dolphin kick after an initial gliding phase. The finish requires the swimmer to touch the wall with both hands at the same time, in the same horizontal plane.

FINA swimming rules

SW 8.1 From the beginning of the first arm stroke after the start and each turn, the body shall be kept on the breast. Under water kicking on the side is allowed. It is not permitted to roll onto the back at any time.

SW 8.2 Both arms shall be brought forward together over the water and brought backward simultaneously throughout the race, subject to SW 8.5.

SW 8.3 All up and down movements of the legs must be simultaneous. The legs or the feet need not be on the same level, but they shall not alternate in relation to each other. A breaststroke kicking movement is not permitted.

SW 8.4 At each turn and at the finish of the race, the touch shall be made with both hands simultaneously, at, above or below the water surface.

SW 8.5 At the start and at turns, a swimmer is permitted one or more leg kicks and one arm pull under the water, which must bring him to the surface. It shall be permissible for a swimmer to be completely submerged for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the start and after each turn. By that point, the head must have broken the surface. The swimmer must remain on the surface until the next turn or finish.

Butterfly in the Open Water

Brian Suddeth, a butterflying open water swimmer in the U.S.A., did some calculations on his fellow butterflyers. Based on his calculations below are some of the speediest distance butterflyers in the world and how fast they are in miles per hour (mph) in various swims around the globe.

While it takes male Olympic open water swimmers 1 hour 50 minutes to complete 6.2 miles of swimming in flat-water conditions, it takes a world-class male runner 1 hour 50 minutes to complete 22.5 miles of running in good conditions (at a 2:08 pace), so the world-class runners can traverse a distance 3.6 times as far as a world-class swimmer in the same time. "However, in this same time, the world's greatest open water butterflyers can only swim 3.61 miles. In other words, the world-class runners can traverse a distance 6.23 times as far as world class butterfly open water swimmers," explains Suddeth. "At the bottom line, it seems to me that while FINA defines marathon swims as 10K and over, when doing butterfly in the open water, the target distance for a "marathon class" swim is more like 5 kilometers by speed and effort based on the performances of the very best."

Some of its famous pool butterfly practitioners include Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps and Mary T. Meagher. Butterfly is also practiced by a small subset of open water swimmers including Vicki Keith, Julie Bradshaw MBE, Dan Projansky, Brenton Williams, Kathryn Mason, Graham Barratt, Héctor Ramírez Ballesteros, Paolo Eros Cerizzi, Brian Suddeth, and Gail Rice.

Sample of Fast Butterfly Open Water Swims

1. Julie Bradshaw: 3.01 mph (4.85 kph) in 2011 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, 28.5 miles (45.8 km) in 9:28
2. James di Donato and Jonathon di Donato: 2.93 mpg (4.72 kph) at the 1983 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, 28.50 miles (45.86 km) in 9:43
3. Héctor Ramírez Ballesteros: 2.67 mph (4.29 kph) at the 2012 Ria de Navia, 3.11 miles (5 km) in 1:10
4. Natalie Lambert (age 14): 2.57 mph (4.14 kph) at Lake Erie in 1993, 20.00 miles (32.187 km) in 7:47
5. Dan Projansky: 2.45 mph (3.95 kph) at the 2013 Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test, 27 miles (43 km) in 14:30
6. Sylvain Estadieu: 2.31 mph (3.72 kph) at the 2013 Lee Swim, 1.24 miles (2 km) in 0:32:28
7. Gianni Golini: 2.30 mph (3.71 kph) in Strait of Messina in 1977, 1.99 miles (3.2 km) in 51:49
8. James di Donato and Jonathon di Donato: 2.02 mph (3.25 kph) in a Bahamas to Palm Beach, Florida attempt (60 mile goal) in 1985, 40.6 miles (65.339 km) in 20:06
9. Sylvain Estadieu: 1.95 mph (3.13 kph) in Baltic Sea in 2010, 3.73 miles (6 km) in 1:55
10. Sylvain Estadieu: 1.94 mph (3.12 kph) in 2012 Lake Delsjˆn in Gothenburg (German lake), 3.11 miles (5 km) in 1:36
11. Gianni Golini: 1.93 mph (3.11 kph) in Strait of Messina - 2XM in 1977, 4.50 miles (6.5 km) in 2:23:56
12. Dan Projansky: 1.86 mph (3.00 kph) in 2012 Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test, 27 miles (43 km) in 14:30
13. Sylvain Estadieu: 1.86 mph (2.99 kph) in Sandycove Island in 2013, 13.92 miles (22.4 km) in 7:30
14. Julie Bradshaw: 1.85 mph (2.97 kph) in Lough Erne in 2006, 10.50 miles (16.89 km) in 5:41
15. Héctor Ramírez Ballesteros: 1.83 mph (2.94 kph) in Ruidera in 2012, 5.78 miles (9.3 km) in 3:01
16. Graham Barratt: 1.82 mph (2.93 kph) in Lake Bala in 1992, 3.25 miles (5.23 km) in 1:47
17. Charles Tupitza (age 58): 1.76 mph (2.84 kph) at 2013 Jim Mcdonnell Lake Swim, Reston, Virginia, 1.00 mi (1.609 km) in 0:34:03
18. Francesca Mazari: 1.73 mph (2.79 kph) in the 1992 Strait of Messina - 2XF, 4.50 miles (6.5 km) in 2:36:34
19. Héctor Ramírez Ballesteros: 1.72 mph (2.77 kph) in Iruelas Valley in 2012, 5.59 miles (9 km) in 3:15
20. Julie Bradshaw: 1.72 mph (2.76 kph) in Lake Windermere in 1991, 10.50 miles (16.9 km) in 6:07.3
21. Larry Paulson (age 64): 1.70 mph (2.74 kph) at 2013 Jim Mcdonnell Lake Swim, Reston, Virginia, 1.00 miles (1.609) in 0:35:12
22. Julie Bradshaw: 1.68 mph (2.71 kph) in Coniston in 1995, 5.25 miles (8.44 km) in 3:07
23. Sylvain Estadieu: 1.67 mph (2.69 kph) in lake Delsjˆn in 2013, 13.36 miles (21.5 km) in 8:00
24. Vicki Keith: 1.67 mph (2.68 kph) in Sydney Harbour, 22.50 miles (36.21 km) in 13:30
25. Julie Bradshaw: 1.62 mph (2.60 kph) in Ullswater in 1996, 7.25 miles (11.66 km) in 4:29
26. Héctor Ramírez Ballesteros: 1.61 mph (2.59 kph) in the 2012 International Crossing 10,000 Cullera, 6.21 miles (10 km) in 3:52
27. Kathryn Mason: 1.59 mph (2.56 kph) at the 2012 Irish Long Distance Championship in Lough Erne, Ireland, 15.53 miles (25 km) in 9:45
28. Robin Lajoie: 1.55 mph (2.49 kph) in a Welland, Ontario event, 6.21 miles (10 km) in 4:00:37
29. Julie Bradshaw: 1.48 mph (2.37 kph) across the English Channel in 2002, 21 miles (33.7 km) in 14:18
30. Robin Lajoie: 1.44 mph (2.32)in a Welland, Ontario event, 6.21 mi (10 km) in 4:18:00
31. Vicki Keith: 1.43 mph (2.30 kph) in Lake Winnipeg, 18.57 miles (28.9 km) in 13:00
32. Vicki Keith: 1.42 mph (2.29 kph) across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, 19.88 miles (32 km) in 14:00
33. Brian Suddeth: 1.41 mph (2.26 kph) in the 2011 Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, 1 mile (1.60 km) in 42:46
34. Brian Suddeth: 1.40 mph (2.25 kph) in the 2013 Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, 1 mile (1.60 km) in 43:00
35. Vicki Keith: 1.37 mph (2.21 kph) across the Catalina Channel in 1989, 20.2 miles (32.5 km) in 14:43.3
36. Brenton Williams: 1.35 mph (2.17 kph) in the 2012 Deep Blue Invitational Swim, 4.97 miles (8 km) in 3:41
37. Sylvain Estadieu: 1.29 mph (2.08 kph) across Lake Vidˆstern in 2012, 8.39 miles (13.5 km) in 6:30
38. Julie Bradshaw: 1.26 mph (2.03 kph) swam a Coniston 2-Way in 2000, 11 miles (17.70 km) in 8:42
39. Sylvain Estadieu: 1.26 mph (2.03 kph) across the English Channel in 2013, 21 miles (33.7 km) in 16:41
40. Philip Martin: 1.25 mph (2.02 kph) in a 2001 Rottnest Channel, 12.24 miles (19.7 km) in 9:45.1
41. Julie Bradshaw: 1.22 mph (1.96 kph) across Lake Bala in 2006, 6.50 miles (10.46 km) in 5:02
42. James di Donato and Jonathon di Donato: 1.11 mph (1.79 kph) from Fort Lauderdale to Pompano Beach, Florida, 16.50 miles (26.554 km) in 14:50
43. Héctor Ramírez Ballesteros: 1.11 mph (1.79 kph) across the Strait of Gibraltar in 2013, 8.70 miles (14 km) in 7:05
44. Vicki Keith: 1.03 mph (1.66 kph) across Lake Ontario, 32 miles (51.5 km) in 31:00
45. Vicki Keith: 0.96 mph (1.54 kph) across the English Channel, 21 miles (33.7 km) in 23:33
46. Vicki Keith: 0.78 mph (1.26 kph) across Lake Ontario, 49.83 miles (80.2 km) in 63:40

The average speed for these 17 butterflyers across these 46 events is 1.69 mph (2.73 kph). Impressive, very very impressive.


Video courtesy of Jose Diaz of Nadandolibre:

Héctor Ramírez Ballesteros swam across the Strait of Gibraltar butterfly. Coached by Jose Diaz, he completed the 14 km crossing in 7 hours 5 minutes:

External links