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8 Best Core Exercises for Butterfly Swimmers to Swim Faster

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Butterfly is easily one of the toughest strokes in competitive swimming. I’m not saying the other strokes aren’t tough, but I think anyone can agree that butterfly challenges your body in ways other strokes don’t. And that’s why, in today’s article, we will be taking a look at some of the best core exercises for butterfly swimmers.

Having a strong core plays an important in maintaining a good butterfly stroke when swimming. The core helps you to do a strong butterfly kick and it also connects the upper and the lower body to work together more efficiently.

Furthermore, the core plays an essential role in having good technique when swimming. Why? Because a strong core is an essential part of maintaining a good streamline and body position in the water. This will reduce drag and ultimately assist you in having great butterfly swimming technique as well as swimming fast.

And if that isn’t enough for you, a study published in the International Journal of Science and Research found that just 6 weeks of core training positively improved 50m swimming performance.

In total, 60 swimmers participated in the study. They were divided into 2 groups, one group that didn’t do core training and another that did. At the end of the 6 weeks, the group that did core training saw nearly double the improvement over the group that didn’t do core training.

So with that said, let’s take a look at some of the best core exercises for butterfly swimmers. Afterwards we’ll discuss some more benefits and also ways you can ensure that you are continually becoming stronger.

Best Core Exercises for Butterfly Swimmers

Here are the best core exercises for butterfly swimmers-

  • Plank
  • Deadbug
  • Sit-ups
  • Flutter kicks
  • Leg raises
  • Hanging knee raises
  • Toe touches
  • Mountain climbers

1. Plank

The plank is easily one of the best core exercises for butterfly swimmers and swimmers in general. It’s a great overall core exercise that strengthens and develops the entire core.

The plank features many variations, starting with the basic plank we all know, and also- weighted planks, plank with your arms extended, and a more dynamic variations named the ab-wheel roll out. Additionally, planking technique is quite easy to learn and the exercise can be performed almost anywhere.

Progression can be achieved by increasing the amount of seconds you hold the plank or by using the more advanced variations I mentioned above.

How to perform the exercise-

  • Start by going into a push-up position, but instead of balancing your upper body on your hands do it on your elbows.
  • Then try to straighten out your body as much as possible, until you are in a straight line.
  • After that squeeze, your core and other muscles tight, remember to breathe.
  • Hold that position for as long as you can and work from there.

2. Deadbug

The deadbug is a great dynamic core exercise that strengthens the majority of the core muscles while engaging both your arms and legs at the same time. This exercise is also great for developing balance and stability which will help you to swim butterfly with less resistance.

In terms of technique, this exercise is a bit more complicated and can take some time to get good at. It can be performed almost anywhere and only requires you to have about a body lengths worth of space.

Like most dryland exercises, the deadbug does have a few variations, but in my opinion, the standard variation is the best option for this exercise.

How to perform the exercise-

  • Start by lying on your back on a mat or on the floor.
  • Put your arms up straight in the air in line with your shoulders and put your legs up with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Then you lower your opposite arm and leg in a controlled manner.
  • Afterward, bring them back up and repeat on the opposite side.

3. Sit-Ups

Sit-ups are one of the most basic and popular core exercises out there. This exercise is an effective way of strengthening the core in an easy and simple manner. Sure, it’s not quite as versatile as some of the other core exercises, but it does strengthen the important core muscles for butterfly swimming and that is all that matters.

Sit-up technique is very easy to learn and you’ll be able to get started right away. The exercise also has a couple of more advanced variations like decline sit ups and weighted sit ups which will help to make it harder as you progress and become stronger.

How to perform the exercise-

  • Lay down on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • If possible get someone to hold your feet down.
  • Then, place your hands behind your head or cross them over your chest.
  • Afterward, bring your upper body towards your knees until your chest touches your leg.
  • Lastly, lower back down to the starting position and repeat.

4. Flutter Kicks

Flutter kicks are another very basic, but practical core exercise for butterfly swimmers. It strengthens most of the core and has a couple of different variations that you can play around with. Some include- flutter kicks while shooting a medicine ball, scissor kicks, and bicycle kicks.

Beginners can start by placing their hands under their bum to make it easier, then you can move them away more and more until they are finally behind your head when performing the exercise. You can also do flutter kicks while hanging from a pull-up bar in an L-sit position to make it really difficult.

Once, again the technique for the basic variation of this exercise isn’t complicated and can be performed almost anywhere.

How to perform the exercise-

  • Start by laying on your back.
  • Place your hands underneath your bum or by your sides, depending on how strong you are.
  • Then lift your feet and your back slightly from the ground.
  • Start by doing small flutter kicks in that position.
  • Do 20-30 repetitions for a start and more if you are strong enough.

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5. Leg Raises

Leg raises are a great core exercise for butterfly swimmers that will simulate the trunk flexion motion found when swimming butterfly. This exercise is also quite popular among swimmers and is even used by the 100m butterfly world record holder Caeleb Dressel.

The technique isn’t too complicated and the exercise has a couple of variations to choose from. To start off we’ll be doing it while laying down, but as you progress you can consider performing this exercise in a hanging position using a pull-up bar.

How to perform the exercise-

  • Start by laying down on your back.
  • Place your hands under your bum or by your sides if you are a bit stronger.
  • Keep your legs together and lift them until they are facing the ceiling and forming a 90-degree angle with your body.
  • Then slowly lower your legs again until they are hovering just above the ground and repeat.
  • Try to keep your neck and head relaxed when performing this exercise.

6. Hanging Knee Raises

Hanging knee raises is a slightly more advanced core exercise. It requires you to have a pull-up bar, which if you are a swimmer, you should have anyway. This exercise is right in between standard leg raises which we just discussed and its advanced hanging variation.

I decided to include this exercise as it will help to strengthen the entire core and is a variation that most swimmers should be able to perform with some practice. This exercise is quite challenging and can be made harder by holding a medicine ball or dumbbell between your feet when performing.

If you don’t already have a pull-up bar to do this exercise, I recommend picking one up immediately. My favorite is a wall mounted pull up bar that you can check out on Amazon:

If that’s too expensive or doesn’t work for you, you can also go with this simple doorway variation that you can check out on Amazon:

How to perform the exercise-

  • Start by grabbing onto your pull-up bar and going into a dead hang.
  • Then squeeze your traps and core until you are stable on the bar.
  • Lift your knees to your chest to perform a knee raise.
  • Make sure to avoid using momentum on this exercise.
  • You can also bring your knees up in an angled position to target the side of your core more.

7. Toe Touches

Toe touches are another great, basic, and practical core exercise for butterfly swimmers. It strengthens most of the core, the technique is easy to learn, and it can be very challenging, to say the least.

I like this exercise because it allows me to add quite a lot of volume to my core training quite quickly. You can perform many reps of this exercise within a short amount of time and you’ll also get a great core burn as a result.

How to perform the exercise-

  • Start by laying flat on your back.
  • Then lift your legs up in the air ( make sure to point them slightly away from your body) and stretch your arms out in front of you.
  • After that start lifting your upper body with your core muscles in order to touch your toes.
  • Make sure not to stretch out with your arms to touch your toes, but to actually lift your upper body with your core.
  • Don’t use momentum and perform in a controlled manner.

8. Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climbers are another great exercise for butterfly swimmers to strengthen the oblique muscles and most of the muscles in the core area. Furthermore, this exercise is also going to get your heart rate up quite quickly and is a great way to build some extra cardiovascular fitness and endurance.

This exercise is very much like a plank, but just with a dynamic twist to it making it quite challenging. Additionally, mountain climbers can burn up to 10 calories a minute.

How to perform the exercise-

  • Simply start by going into a push-up position.
  • Then squeeze your core muscles tight.
  • Start by bringing your legs in from the sides towards your elbows to perform a mountain climber.
  • Do this for a minute or two and you’ll feel the burn.

5 Reasons a Strong Core Is Important in Butterfly

1. Balance and Stability in the Water

Having a strong core is an essential part of maintaining a stable and balanced stroke. an Unstable stroke will result in bad technique and seriously decrease speed in the water.

If you have ever watched younger swimmers, you will clearly notice that their stroke is all over the place, this is mostly because they don’t have strong core muscles and is exactly why you should train yours.

2. Improved Dolphin Kick and Underwaters

As I mentioned a bit earlier, the core plays a vital role in the butterfly dolphin kick. And for those of you who don’t know- the kick is super important in swimming, with one study published in the BioMed Research Journal suggesting that the kick can generate up to 29.7% of the speed for male freestyle swimmers and 33.4% for female swimmers.

Keep in mind, that is only for freestyle, butterfly swimming is much more reliant on the kick than freestyle, leaving me to make the logical conclusion that the kick is even more important for butterfly swimmers.

And it just so happens that the butterfly kick is used in underwaters as well. Good underwaters can be faster than any of the swimming strokes, and guess what? You can perform up to 15m underwater after each turn. If you want to be one of the best swimmers, start by working on your underwaters.

3. Increased Power

This has to do with the core linking the upper and lower body when swimming. Essentially what happens is when you have a strong core it increases the amount of power you can exert from the pull and the kick.

This happens, because it keeps the upper and lower body engaged when your body starts to fatigue, allowing you to maintain a good body position for a longer period of time.

4. Trunk Flexion

Trunk flexion has to do with the up and down movement of the body to assist with the butterfly kick and other aspects of the butterfly technique when swimming. Having a strong core will increase the amount of power in this movement and ultimately result in faster times in the pool.

5. Improved Body Position

I touched on body position a bit earlier, but basically, a good body position is an essential part of swimming. It allows you to stay on top of the water when swimming allowing for reduced drag while assisting in having great technique in the water.

Becoming Stronger: Progressive Overloading

There is a simple concept widely known as progressive overloading. It means to gradually increase the volume or intensity of an exercise in order for you to keep getting stronger. Why? Because the body adapts to physical exercise after a while, resulting in a plateau in progress.

Thus if you don’t increase volume or intensity you won’t become stronger and you won’t be making any further progress. To avoid this, try to increase reps and sets as you become stronger or move to more advanced variations of the exercise.

Swim Faster Butterfly with These Core Exercises

Core training is an essential factor if you want to become a faster butterfly swimmer. Try to incorporate a few of these exercises into your dryland training routine or perform them separately for a couple of sets 3-4 times a week.

Photo of author
I am Benjamin, a competitive swimmer with over a decande of experience in the sport of swimming. I also hold certifications in Exercise Science and Nutrition. I am very passionate about competitive swimming and love sharing everything I have learned about the sport. I specialize in swimming butterfly and my favorite event is the 100m butterfly with the 50m and 200m fly closely following.

A Cheat Sheet for Creating the Perfect Swimming Workout and Routine

Download this FREE cheat sheet to create the perfect swimming workout and routine. Learn how to structure your swim workout and enjoy 9 example workouts, ranging from beginner to advanced.

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