Michael Phelps: One-Arm Butterfly Drill

Young Michael Phelps, 18, who set eight individual world records in four events during 2003, was Swimming World’s unanimous selection as its Male World Swimmer of the Year. ┬áHere is an article he wrote some years ago for Swimming Technique.

One-Arm Butterfly Drill
World record holder Michael Phelps, who does at least 400 yards or meters of drills at every workout, explains and demonstrates his favorite drill, the One-Arm Butterfly Drill.

At the ripe old age of 17, Michael Phelps has established himself as America’s greatest all-around male swimmer, Uncle Sam’s answer to Ian Thorpe.

In 2000, just barely past his 15th birthday, he became the youngest man to make a U.S. Olympic swim team in almost 70 years. In Sydney, he improved his time in prelims, semis and finals, and finished fifth in the 200 meter butterfly.

By 2001, he was ready to take command of his event, lowering the world record at the U.S. Nationals in April while he was still 15, then taking it down to a stunning 1:54.58 while winning gold at age 16 at the World Championships. At year’s end, he was named Swimming World’s male American Swimmer of the Year.

At the U.S. Nationals in Fort Lauderdale in August, he broke Tom Dolan’s world record in the 400 meter individual medley, clocking 4:11.09. For good measure, he set American records in the 200 meter IM (1:58.68) and 100 meter fly (51.88), becoming the second-fastest man in history in each event.

At the Pan Pacific Championships, the year’s biggest meet, Michael won three gold and two silver medals. His 51.13 butterfly split on the world record-setting U.S. medley relay (3:33.48) was the fastest in history. Once again, he was named Swimming World’s male American Swimmer of the Year, and was just barely edged out by Thorpe for World Swimmer of the Year honors.

Training harder than ever, Michael hoped that all that he had accomplished thus far would only be a prelude to what he would achieve that year and next, at the Athens Olympics.

Here Michael shares his favorite drill, the One-Arm Butterfly Drill.

Drills are an essential part of my training. I do at least 400 yards or meters of drills at every workout. Typically, I do 300-400 stroke drill and sometimes a 400 IM drill.

My favorite drill, and one I do every day, is the One-Arm Fly Drill. This drill renews my feel for the stroke and is a constant reminder of how the fly should be done.

I started doing this drill when I was much younger, and it’s something I’ve grown up with and have just kept doing. (Coach) Bob (Bowman) thinks it enhances my feel for the water and teaches me to keep my hips in rhythm with my stroke.

When I do the drill, I concentrate on three things: keeping my stroke long; making sure my hips are high, riding the surface; and kicking hard every time. I never drop my legs, and there is no time during the drill when I am resting. The movement is exactly the same as when I am swimming fly, except that I am stroking with one arm instead of two, and breathing to the side instead of out front.

Sometimes I alternate, one stroke left arm, one stroke right; at other times, I’ll do two or three strokes with each arm; still others, I’ll alternate one lap with each arm.

Over the years, I’ve learned that whatever I do in practice will show up in a meet. So it’s important that my stroke in practice is perfect, my hips are high and I keep a strong, steady kick going.


The drill begins as, stretched out, my left arm enters the water.


Staying streamlined, I dive under the water, hips held high.


Breathing to the side, I pull straight back with my left arm, keeping my elbow high. My right arm remains out front, and I use a hard dolphin kick.


I push all the way through with my left arm and kick again.


Remaining streamlined, I recover my arm and prepare to enter the water again and take another stroke.