How to Sprint for the Butterfly

Dana Vollmer wins the 100-meter butterfly gold medal at the 2012 Olympics.
i Al Bello/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

The lung-busting butterfly, with its requirements for exceptional upper-body power, can challenge even the most fit Nestie. Some of swimming’s greatest athletes, including American champions Mary Meagher and Dana Vollmer, have met the challenge and earned Olympic gold medals in the 100-meter butterfly, the sprint distance for the stroke. Succeeding in the butterfly sprint requires endurance and strength plus a mastery of technique.

    Step 1

    Dive into the pool and begin your dolphin kick as soon as possible. Glide underwater for no more than 15 meters at the start of the race, taking a maximum of one arm pull while you’re beneath the surface. A strong start is essential in a shorter race, so remain in the streamlined, underwater position for as long as possible up to the 15-meter mark. Come to the surface within 15 meters to avoid a rules violation.

    Step 2

    Pull your hands straight back during the insweep and upsweep sections of your stroke, when your hands are below your body. A 2008 British study showed that butterfly swimmers often used incorrect form in these phases when they became tired later in the race, leading to reduced speed.

    Step 3

    Breathe every three strokes. Limiting your breathing helps you maintain a faster stroke rate in a short sprint.

    Step 4

    Maintain your speed all the way to the wall as you come in for your turn. After you push off the wall, dolphin kick as soon as possible, while you’re in the streamlined position with your arms in front of your head. Surface before the 15-meter mark to avoid a rules violation.

    Step 5

    Pace yourself -- even elite swimmers tend to slow down a bit in the second half of a butterfly sprint race. Practice at racing speed and leave yourself enough energy so you can apply your maximum effort during the final quarter of the race.


    • While 100 meters is the shortest individual butterfly race at the college and Olympic levels, youth or senior swimmers may compete in 25- or 50-meter (or yard) butterfly sprints, depending on their age level.

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