Monday, June 4, 2012


Teaching and coaching a specific butterfly pull pattern has been popular for a long time, maybe for as long as the stroke has existed. Film study of the USA National Team and many of the world’s best has proven one thing though: there are different pull patterns among the best butterfliers in the world.

So what does that mean?


Like so many swimmers and coaches, I have always believed that the ideal fly pull looked like a keyhole – the hands go wide then narrow (making the shape of a circle), and then pushes straight back to finish off the keyhole shape.

Upon working at USA Swimming, I noticed there are many variations of this. Some pulls have a very distinct keyhole shape while others are more straight back. Some pulls are very wide in the beginning, while others aren’t. Some pulls are so narrow at the finish that the hands nearly touch, while others never pull underneath the body at all.

With so much exposure to the best swimmers in the world, I decided to put that theory to the test with extensive video analysis. Here is what I found:
  • The pull pattern has nothing to do with gender, strength, or sprint/distance fly.
    • I always thought that male athletes and stronger flyers would have a certain type of stroke…but nope! Believe me, I looked.
  • The pull pattern is related to how deep a swimmer presses with their chest.
    • (For more information about the chest press: 
    • If a swimmer pressed deep (with the chest and head deeper than the arms), the pull pattern was keyhole-shaped.
    • If a swimmer didn’t press deep (and pressed forward and flatter), the pull pattern was straighter (not as wide at the beginning, and not as narrow at the end).
  • No matter what the pull pattern, the palms of the hands were always facing back towards the feet.
    • Moving the hands wide or narrow still meant the palms were facing back – never facing to the outside or inside.
This is what I would generally advise swimmers and coaches to focus on:
  1. Push water towards the feet
  2. Press the body forward
  3. Get a good catch
Don’t focus on a specific pull pattern. If you do the three things above, the pull pattern you have is the best one for you.

For more tips from the National Team High Performance staff, visit the National Team High Performance Tips archive.

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