Dolphin Kick

Dolphin Kick

Witnessing the surreal beauty of a well-executed butterfly stroke undulation in motion is not something you’re likely to forget. 

A dolphin kick is part of a butterfly stroke in competitive swimming. When coupled with the body undulation and the outstretched Y-shaped arms, this makes up the butterfly stroke. However, the kicking portion on its own can also be done as a dryland exercise. 

As opposed to traditional tandem style kicking, the dolphin kick utilizes a whipping motion with both legs in synchronicity and pointed feet. 

As a compound dryland exercise, the dolphin kick primarily works the abdominals, quadriceps, and hamstrings, while it also stabilizes the core and spine and engages the glutes. It is often used to improve rhythm and coordination in swimming. 

History of the Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly movement style originally evolved from the breast stroke. It was originally invented by Sydney Cavill, son of the Australian  “swimming professor” Frederick Cavill. At the age of 16, he was a champion amateur swimmer who migrated to America to coach many notable swimmers at the prestigious San Francisco Olympic Club.  

1933’s Brooklyn Central YMCA competition saw the first butterfly stroke performed in the US by Henry Myers. This sparked a period of innovation amongst American swimmers in an effort to move toward this new style of swimming.

University of Iowa’s swimming coach in the 1930s David Armbruster was concerned with the issue of drag in the breast stroke, so he developed a faster method of bringing the arms forward and dubbed this style the “Butterfly.”

The next year, one of Armbruster’s swimmers, Jack Seig, developed a side swimming technique where his legs kicked in unison like a fishtail. He named it the “Dolphin fishtail kick.” 

UI coach and swimmer discovered that by combining their respective techniques, they could create a much faster swimming style. This new stroke involved butterfly arms and utilized two powerful dolphin kicks per cycle. 

However, when Richard Rhodes used the “dolphin” to win the 1938 Olympic trials, he was disqualified. He claimed that he learned the style from Volney Wilson who developed it from studying dolphins. 

The International Swimming Federation rejected the dolphin-style kicking as they claimed it violated the breaststroke rules, but the butterfly arms were accepted. It wasn’t until 1952 that the entire butterfly stroke was accepted as a separate style. 

The first Olympic games butterfly stroke competition was held in 1956. 

How to Perform a Dolphin Kick

There are two ways to execute a dolphin kick: 

  1. In the water utilizing the fluid undulation portion of the kick.
  2. On dry land lying facedown on a mat. 

We will focus on doing the kick on dry land, as that tends to be more accessible to those trying to exercise at home. 

Step 1: Lye facedown on a mat

Step 2: Place your hands palm up under your hips, keeping your head in alignment with your spine. 

Step 3: Looking down and keeping your toes pointed and legs synchronized, slowly lift your feet off the ground as far as you can without bending your knees. 

Step 4: Slowly lower your legs back to the floor. 

Step 5: Repeat until your desired number of reps has been achieved. 


  • Faster swimming technique
  • Improves balance
  • Increases flexibility
  • Builds eccentric strength of the quads and rectus abdominis
  • Builds concentric strength of the rectus abdominis
  • Improves total body coordination
  • Increases scapular stability
  • Improves core, spine, and hip stability


There are several other kicks that can be performed as an alternative to the dolphin kick, including:

  • The Butterfly Twist
  • The HK Spin
  • The Corkscrew
  • The Illusion Twist
  • The Hyper Twist

Speed up and Strengthen Your Swim Game with the Dolphin kick

The butterfly style of swimming is an expert-level skill, much harder to master than the front crawl, breaststroke, or backstroke, which can be leaned as a beginner. For the butterfly, one needs to develop good technique, strong muscles, and total body coordination to pull off the undulation-kick flawlessly.

 The generation of power throughout the legs while maintaining a stable core and upper body allows an energy transference to propel a swimmer through the water faster. 

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