Butterfly stroke swimmers execute a dolphin kick. Both legs do a simultaneous whipping motion with feet pointed. This technique looks a bit like the tail movements a dolphin uses to move forward, hence the name.
The following video shows Michael Phelps’ dolphin kick in slow motion:
The movements of the legs are rather simple. However, it takes practice to integrate them with undulation of the body that is at the heart of the butterfly stroke.
This undulation is initiated by your head and chest, travels down your torso, hips and then into your legs, where it ends in the dolphin kick. To explain the movements, let’s imagine that you are in the following initial position:
Now here’s how to do the kick:
As discussed above, both your legs move synchronously, unlike in front crawl or backstroke for example.
During the downbeat, you should actively keep your feet in a pointed position to properly execute the whipping movement. Then, as your lower legs moves upward, you can relax your feet. The water pressure will cause them to move them into a neutral half-extended position.
The propulsive phase of the kick occurs during the downbeat, when your feet are pointed and you extend your legs. During that phase, there’s a short amount of time where the top of your feet are facing backwards. Because you are moving your feet downward, water will then be pushed backwards and provide propulsion.
The more flexible your ankles are, the better the propulsion of your feet is as you can keep the top of your feet facing backwards for a longer amount of time. For example, in the video above, you can see that Michael Phelps has extremely flexible ankles.
While swimming butterfly there are in fact two dolphin kicks per stroke cycle:
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