3 Butterfly Core Training Exercises

The state of swimming core training is out-dated. For years, swimming coaches and trainers have only taught sit-ups, crunches, and leg lifts. While this information was the standard of practice in the 1970s, it isn't up to par nowadays. With dryland and weight training progressing, you'd expect core training to progress as well. Unfortunately, the state of swimming core training is still lagging behind, reducing performance and increasing injury. Luckily, it isn't too late to improve your core training theory for swimmers and providing specific core training exercises, helping swimmers activate their core, then integrate it with their arms and legs.

Despite the possibility of improvement, many in the swimming community will continually perform flexion focused programs, stating it is sport specific for butterfly, starts, and turns. Unlike other swimming physical therapists, I am in agreement, spinal flexion strength is key for these aspects of swimming. Unfortunately, flexion based exercises are often too easy for many swimmers, resulting in high volume training approaches increasing the risk of low back pain, especially when these exercises are performed with improper form. 

One reason I believe the high volume core flexion approach is utilized is a lack of knowledge in difficult flexion based exercises which can fatigue a swimmer with less repetitions. This was one area of focus in the Swimming Core Training product. Here are 3 hard butterfly core training exercises for those looking to protect their spine, while still developing spinal flexion strength!

01
of 03

Bosu Curl-Up

Butterfly
Butterfly. Matt King/Getty Images

Having eccentric control of a movement is key for reducing spinal stress and increasing strength. The eccentric phase is when a muscle is lengthened. The Bosu ball allows a greater eccentric range of motion, focusing greater force production and control of movement.

Lie with your back on a Bosu Ball with knees bent. Lock your fingers together over your head. Brace your abdominals before initiating movement. Do a curl-up, until the bottom of the shoulder blades come off the floor. Keep abdominals tight and back flat at all times. There is a great tendency to arch your back as you lift. Do not let this happen.

Bosu Curl-up Video

02
of 03

Hands Over Head Curl-Up With Partner Pulls

Mary DeScenza, Butterfly, 19 January 2008
Mary DeScenza, Butterfly, 19 January 2008. Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Integrating the core with the legs plays a critical role in butterfly. Unfortunately, many swimmers simply don't emphasize the legs during their their activation. This exercise helps strengthen the back of the legs (the hamstrings), while improving spine flexion strength.

Lie on your back with knees bent. Brace your abdominals. Lock your fingers together over your head. Flatten back before initiating movement. Have a partner pull on your heels, attempting to straighten your leg (do not let them straighten your legs). Do a curl-up, until the bottom of the shoulder blades come off the floor. Keep abdominals tight and back flat at all times. There is a great tendency to arch your back as you lift. Do not let this happen.

Hands Over Head Curl-Up With Partner Pulls Video

03
of 03

Kneeling Pallof Press with Extension

Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps of the United States competes in the Men's 200m Butterfly. Adam Pretty/Getty Images

The last step is integrating the arms, core, and legs. This exercise requires shoulder stabilization, spine flexion strength, and quadriceps strength. When done properly this trifecta creates a challenging, but safe form of spinal flexion strengthening. 

Securely set up a band head height while kneeling. Next, kneel on a mat and face away from the band. Brace your abdominals, lean back, then raise your arms overhead and slowly return upright. Lower the arms, then repeat. Do not let your body arch. 

Kneeling Pallof Press with Extension Video

Summary

There is no question improving core strength enhances performance and prevents low back pain. Make sure you can activate your core muscles, then progress to safe, lower volume spinal flexion exercises which strengthen the anterior core, which is crucial for butterfly. After this, add arm and leg integration for an entire core workout. If you liked these exercises, consider purchasing Swimming Core Training, a complete guide to 21st century core training!