Butterfly Stroke Arm Movement

Last Updated on August 1st, 2023

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Swimming is a great workout, but if you’re not using the right technique, you may not be getting the most out of your time in the pool.

Butterfly stroke requires a lot of energy, making it a good cardio workout. It will also provide your back, neck, and shoulders a better workout than other strokes. 

So, let’s examine the correct arm movement for this stroke, so you can start to reap all the amazing benefits of the butterfly stroke. 


What is the Arm Movement for a Butterfly Stroke?

Being able to swim the butterfly stroke quickly and efficiently requires mastering the arm action. The upper body is essential for creating speed and drives in the butterfly stroke.

When swimming in the butterfly stroke, both arms are used symmetrically and at the same time. This makes the arm movement less complex compared to the other strokes. Three main elements to the arm movement for swimming in butterfly stroke exist.


What are the 3 Phases of the Arm Movements in the Butterfly Stroke?

The first phase of the arm movements when swimming the butterfly stroke is the catch. This is needed for a good grip on the water. This step is important as it sets you up to be successful for the rest of the stroke. 

To perform the catch effectively : 


  • Start with your arms straight out, at a shoulder-width distance
  • Your palms should face downwards
  • Press down and out at the same time with both hands


The phase after the catch is the pull phase. This phase is where the majority of the drive forward comes from. To perform the pull phase: 


  • As your palms face outwards, pull your hands towards your body in a semicircular motion
  • Aim to reach underneath your belly button
  • Allow your arms to sweep back out and pass your hips to leave the water
  • Keep your elbows higher than your hands
  • End the pull once your hands have left the water


The third and final phase is called the recovery phase. This phase starts as soon as your hands leave the water. To perform the pull phase: 


  • Keep your arms low above the water
  • Bring your arms over in a circular motion
  • Throw them forward into the starting position
  • Keep your arms mostly straight


What are the Entry Hands and Arms of Butterfly Stroke?

Here is the correct way for your hands and arms to perform the entry: 


  • Your fingertips should lead your hand entry, driven by the thumb.
  • Keep your fingers together and your palms flat and facing outwards.
  • With a slight bend in the elbow, stretch your arms forward above the surface of the water.


Your hands should be in alignment with your shoulders when you enter the water. The arm’s pull will be weak and ineffective if the entry is wider than the shoulder line.


Final Thoughts on Butterfly Stroke Arm Movement

Even though the kick primarily drives the butterfly, arm movements are still important. This is because the arms play an important role in creating speed, particularly while driving the body forward in the water. 

That is why, if you want to be a successful butterfly swimmer, you must learn the arm movement technique.