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Some swimmers look as if they could swim butterfly all day long. Part of this is due to body build and flexibility. Part of it is due to good technique and knowing how to focus on the right things. But a big part of effortless butterfly is how you breathe.

Let’s slow this down and look at how and where I’m getting air. Let’s look first at my eyes.

Notice how I’m looking down at the water when I come up for air. My head stays low, my chin and mouth just barely clear the surface, and I find my air in a pocket that’s formed just above the water.

This swimmer is looking forward – toward the other end of the pool -- when she comes up for air. When the head comes this high out of the water, something else has to sink…and it’s usually the legs. This makes butterfly so much harder than it has to be.

If you keep your head low and your eyes down when you come up for air, your hips will ride higher and your legs won’t sink. Here’s a side view. The breath comes…here…and my hips stay near the surface.

You can see this even better from the surface. Notice how I stay low for the breath. And that my hips don’t sink when I breathe. I stay in a horizontal position, and this makes it easier to finish the pull and take my second kick.

Notice that I also breathe early – just as I start to pull.

This swimmer waits too long to start the breath. Her arms have already started to pull before she comes up for air. If you breathe too late, it interferes with the rhythm of your stroke and the alignment of your body. Notice how this swimmer is struggling to find a rhythm, and is almost vertical in the water.

By starting the breath early, you’ll get a better breath and a cleaner breath. Notice here that I start the breath as soon as I start the insweep of my pull.

If you start the breath too late, as this swimmer is doing, you must use your arms to push up to air.

If you start the breath early -- at the same time as you start the pull -- you can use your arms to send you forward.

One question that swimmers ask me all the time is…How often should I breathe in butterfly? What’s the best pattern?

My answer is that there IS no answer. There are lots of breathing patterns that work. You just need to experiment and decide which one feels best to you. What counts is that you find a pattern that lets you swim without interrupting your body rhythm.

In this clip, I’m breathing on every other stroke. This is the pattern that I use when I swim the 100 fly. It lets me maintain a fast body rhythm, without too many interruptions for the breath. It lets me stay quick and flowing.

If you breathe on every other stroke, make sure that you keep your body rhythm the same for each stroke.

In this next clip, I’m breathing two up, one down. This is the pattern that I use in the 200 fly. It lets me get air a little more often, but still lets me keep a fast rhythm.

In this clip, I’m breathing every stroke. I don’t use this pattern very often, but that doesn’t mean it’s not right for YOU. You need to experiment and work with your coach to decide which breathing pattern is best for you in each event.