4 Different STYLES of Butterfly Breathing Techniques!

All, welcome back to Part III of our series on Butterfly Undulation. We really couldn’t finish out this series without talking about the breath, and how it plays a role in the Butterfly stroke. After all, we all need to get air while swimming. Did you know there’s really 4 different Butterfly Breathing Techniques? I didn’t, until I took a deep dive further into this subject.

If you missed Part I, click here. If you missed Part II, click here. Otherwise, let’s get started!

If you’re like most swimmers, you were taught to breathe in Butterfly during the pull. Most swimmers are taught that as the hands pull down – the head rises, and as the hands recover back to the beginning of the stroke – the head drops back down.

The key element within your Butterfly Breathing Technique is to make sure your head is DOWN before the hands enter back up top! This ensures swimmers hits their line every time while swimming down the pool. If the head is slightly tilted up at the beginning of their pull – that means the hips are down, and swimmers aren’t in a fully horizontal position.

To get this key element completed, swimmers have 4 Butterfly Breathing Techniques to choose from:

1.) The Traditional Way

This means swimmers lift up as described above, with the eyes looking FORWARD. To do this, swimmers’ chests must come out of the water, which is why this Butterfly Breathing Technique is categorized under a High Raiser Butterfly Undulation stroke. There are actually two different Butterfly Breathing Techniques that require swimmers to be High Raisers. Not sure what Butterfly Undulation you’re using, click here.

2.) The Water Watcher

The Water Watcher is the second type of Butterfly Breathing Technique that is categorized as a High Raiser also. In order to do this type of breathing style, swimmers MUST bring their chest out of the water. The difference between this breathing technique, and the Traditional Way is where the eyes are looking. Instead of the eyes looking forward like in the Traditional Way, a swimmer’s eyes are looking down at the water (aka why it’s called the Water Watcher)!

3.) The Chin Surfer

This one is Michael Phelps breath that everyone has seen. This breathing style is coupled with a Flat Butterfly Stroke. This is the first of two Butterfly Breathing Techniques completed with a Flatter Butterfly Stroke.

The reason you use a Flat Butterfly stroke is swimmers must stay LOW during this breath, and extend their neck forward while looking forward – surfing their chin on the water. The goal is to keep the chin as close to the water line as possible, before dropping the head back down.

4.) The Side Breather

Probably the most uncommon type of Butterfly Breathing Technique out there, but it wouldn’t be a full 360-degree view of Butterfly Breathing Techniques if I didn’t mention it.

This style was more normal back in the 1990’s to early 2000’s, where the thought was if you keep swimmers closer to the water’s surface in Butterfly – they’ll have a FASTER stroke.

As we discussed in Part II, this isn’t the case for everyone. The flatter the stroke is, the more help from the kick is required. Plus, an inordinate amount of shoulder flexibility is needed. On top of that — in a Side Breathing stroke – you have to move the head back to neutral each time after you completed the breath, which this motion happens after the head has already gotten back into the water. So you’re essentially moving your head back AGAINST the water each time — adding more drag.

Best for You?

If I were to pick my favorite Butterfly Breathing Technique — it would be the Water Watcher. The Water Watcher is still combined with High Raiser Butterfly undulation, but it requires LESS head movement than seen in the Traditional Way. I find this technique less complicated to teach, and also gets my swimmers to success quickly.

As always with swim technique, there is NO one size fits all equation. That’s why when I make sure to write blogs, I try to include all the technique styles available and from there — you pick what’s best for you. I do currently have a couple more spots available for my virtual coaching clients. I haven’t even launched this officially, and have almost filled up my monthly quota.

Now’s the time — if you’re looking to take your swimming to the next level, let’s do it together. For more information and/or how to sign up, click here.

Until Next Time,


Abbie Fish

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.