Butterfly Stroke Muscles

Last Updated on August 1st, 2023

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Swimming is often suggested as a great exercise for most people and for a good reason. It helps you to burn cardio and work out all of your muscles at the same time. 

And when we say all of your muscles, we mean it. The butterfly stroke is one of the most demanding swimming techniques. 

It works out muscles in your core, arms, and legs all at once. Without a proper base to start this exercise, you can find yourself struggling to perform the moves correctly. 

Keep reading to learn more about the muscles used in the butterfly stroke and why muscle-building is necessary beforehand. 


What Muscles Do You Use the Most with Butterfly Stroke?

The list of muscles that are used in the butterfly stroke is extensive and includes more muscles than any other stroke. Below are some of the main muscles across muscle groups that are trained during the butterfly stroke:


  • Pectorals
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Hip Flexors
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Soleus
  • Gastrocnemius
  • Abdominal


This is one of the reasons why learning the butterfly stroke is so difficult. Not only do you have to learn some of swimming’s most complex techniques, but you also have to use all of these muscles in conjunction with each other to efficiently swim the butterfly stroke.

Sometimes, you might even have to develop these muscles by swimming or other means before you can really understand the sensation of the proper body movements.

The arm and shoulder muscles, especially the triceps, are some of the most used muscles from the list above. This is because they perform plenty of energy-intensive actions during the butterfly stroke that builds up these muscles.


Does Swimming Butterfly Stroke Build Muscle?

Swimming is a great cardio exercise; the butterfly stroke, particularly, burns many calories. In addition, the butterfly stroke is especially good as a method for building muscle for several reasons:


  • Low impact. For people who have weak bones, are recovering from other physical injuries, or are obese, swimming provides exercise without all the usual strain of impacts on your joints and bones. 


  • Builds endurance. Because swimming is an energy-intensive form of exercise, it can be used to build your endurance for training. 


This means that you will be able to swim longer to continue building muscle, or you can use that endurance in the gym for other muscle-building activities.


  • Increases lung capacity. Being able to perform the movements of swimming demands a high oxygen supply to power and build muscle. 


Controlling your breathing while exercising increases the lung capacity so that your muscles have the oxygen needed for the energy to repair and build themselves up.


What Muscles do People Injure the Most with Butterfly Strokes?

Even though the butterfly stroke is extremely physically demanding and uses many muscles across the body, the muscles that are often injured are in the same groups every time.

Below are some of the most common injuries in swimming, especially during the butterfly stroke, and the muscles that are affected:

Neck pain – Butterfly stroke, like the front crawl, requires a decent amount of motion in the neck that gets repeated many times for just a few laps. 

The rotation and lifting of the head can cause repetitive strain injuries in the neck, especially if a swimmer does not observe proper head positioning to reduce the resistance felt by the head and neck.

The muscle most likely to be injured from improper positioning during the butterfly is the trapezius muscle. 

This muscle can be easily strained if you raise your head too far out of the water during cycles of the butterfly when the head should remain submerged for most of the stroke.

Shoulder pain – Injuries to the shoulder are the most common kind of injury that a swimmer can or will experience. This is because the shoulder joint is heavily used and relied upon in almost every swimming stroke.

Repetitive rotation and prolonged overuse of the shoulder joint when performing the windmill-like motion during the butterfly stroke can cause bicep tendonitis. This is inflammation and swelling of the bicep tendon at the front of the upper arm. 

In addition, the front of the shoulder down the arm typically experiences pain and weakness as a result of the tendon tearing slightly.

Other muscles that can be injured in the shoulder when swimming the butterfly include the entire group of rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) and their tendons.

Knee pain – Often known as “swimmer’s knee” in the sports medicine community, this injury is often associated with the breaststroke but can also be caused by improper dolphin kicking during the butterfly stroke.

Hyperextension of the knee during a dolphin kick can cause damage to the ligaments of the knee under the kneecap. 

Tearing of the ligaments like the anterior cruciate ligament or medial collateral ligament can be extremely painful and lead to additional injuries to the knee if not treated right away. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary for recuperation.

Learning about the potential injuries you could get while swimming in the butterfly stroke can be scary, but realize that most of these injuries can be avoided with some caution. 

By warming up with stretches and gentle cardio before swimming, you can avoid more immediate injuries like pulling muscles. Rest is important to avoid overtraining, and good form will prevent most injuries involving repetitive movements.

If you get injured while swimming the butterfly, or any stroke for that matter, ensure you get it treated properly and take plenty of time to heal before considering swimming again. 

This will prevent irreparable damage to your body and ensure you have the confidence to get back in the water when ready.


Final Thoughts on Butterfly Stroke Muscles

The butterfly stroke is a great cardio exercise that burns plenty of calories in a short timeframe but is also a powerful way to build extra muscle. 

The many muscles used in the butterfly stroke can get damaged if the motions are made incorrectly, though, so it is important to practice good technique early on so that you have healthy habits later in your swimming life.