Body Driven vs. Shoulder Driven Butterfly: Dryland Training Implication

By Sean Kao

The butterfly is a demanding stroke that requires power, rhythm, endurance, and mobility. If you’ve watched the butterfly stroke underwater, you’ve noticed that there are mainly two noticeably different techniques, three if you exclude Yuya Yajima’s dolphin dive (video below). They are the body driven, and shoulder driven butterfly.

The body driven fly is typically used by 100 & 200 athletes while the shoulder driven fly is often seen in 50 & 100 athletes. Phelps vs. Cavic is a classic example that displays the difference (video below).

Phelps uses large undulations from his head and chest to drive his stroke forward while Cavic’s head and chest stay closer to the surface and uses very little undulation. Both men have gone sub-50 in the 100m butterfly but use completely different strokes. Joseph Schooling, Misty Hyman, and Tom Shields all use a body driven fly while Florent Manadou, Evgeny Korotyshkin, and Denis Pankratov use a shoulder driven stroke.

So how do you know which one works best for you?

The most simple answer to this question is: “whatever feels most comfortable.” Athletes should always use a stroke that suits them the best. Variables, such as limb lengths, strength, psychology, and physiology play important roles on what technique to use with various swimmers. This is where good coaches can excel with the “art of coaching.” Rather than advising all swimmers to use one particular style, good coaches should advise a style that best fit each individual swimmer. This is where objective data from mobility tests such as the wall-standing-shoulder flexion test or subjective movement screenings may come in handy.

Shoulder Flexion Test

As a coach, if you believe a body-driven butterfly stroke will work best for your swimmer, but the athlete is unable to do it, test to see if they have issues with shoulder flexion first. A fail of a shoulder flexion test would preferentiate the swimmer towards a shoulder driven stroke in his or her present state.

If you determine an athlete has poor shoulder and/or thoracic mobility, exercises should be used to improve the athlete’s potential. Below are just several examples of many exercises that can be used to improve shoulder and thoracic mobility, proprioception, and control.

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Stability ball wall press: While driving the ball into the wall, move the arms from neutral to flexion.

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Foam roll/medball assisted thoracic/shoulder/lumbar extension

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Using a barbell, wall, counter etc. drive the chest down

This article is not intended to prescribe or recommend a particular butterfly technique,rather to provide information on how to potentially improve butterfly swimming to be more efficient. It is up to the coach and athlete to decide which technique, exercises, and mobility work to use.


Haley, A. (n.d.). Back-to-Wall-Shoulder-Flexion.jpg [Digital image]. Retrieved October 15, 2017, from