Butterfly Arms

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Are you wondering if your butterfly arms are letting your stroke down?  Discover what you need to do to get them in sync with the rest of your swimming stroke. 

butterfly arm technique for beginners

Butterfly arms are a continuous simultaneous movement that require assistance from the undulating body movement.  Correct arm technique keeps the leg kick and body movement balanced. 

Butterfly Arms Technique Video

FREE Butterfly Stroke Technique eBook

FREE EBOOK:  all of the technique tips here can be found in my 'Butterfly Stroke Technique' book, along with a couple of bonus drills to help you perfect some essential parts of the stroke.

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The action of the arms is similar to that of front crawl as the arms pull long through the water towards the hips and recover over the water surface. The underwater catch, down sweep and upsweep parts draw a typical keyhole shape through its movement path.

1.  Hand Entry

  • The entry of the hands into the water should be finger tips first, leading with the thumb.  
  • Fingers should be together with palms flat and facing outwards.  
  • Arms should be stretched forward with a slightly bent elbow.  
  • Arms should be extended inline with the shoulders.

2. Catch and Down Sweep

Butterfly arms - swimming technique for beginners
  • The pitch of the hands changes to a deeper angle with hands almost vertical.
  • The catch and down sweep should begin just outside the shoulder line.
  • The elbow should bend to about 90 degrees to provide the extra power required.  
  • The hands sweep in a circular movement similar to breaststroke, but in a downwards path.

3. Quick Hand Upsweep

Basic butterfly stroke arm technique
  • The pitch of the hands changes to face out and upwards towards the water surface.  Elbows extend fully to straighten the arms and hands towards the thighs.
  • Hands and arms must clear the water on recovery in accordance with ASA Law.  Arms and hands should exit the water little finger facing upwards.
  • Arms must clear the surface as they are thrown over and forwards.  Palms remain facing outwards, naturally giving a thumb-first entry.

Butterfly Arm Technique: Common Mistakes

The two most common mistakes made when it comes to butterfly arms are:

  • an incomplete or short pull
  • wide hand entry

Short or Incomplete Pull

The arm technique is sometimes compared to front crawl when it is taught to beginners in its most basic form.  This it due to the long sweep and the recovery over the water surface.  This is where the similarities end and this comparison can sometimes be taken literally, resulting in an almost double front crawl arm action with an excessive elbow bend. 

Wide Hand Entry

The most common mistake made amongst slightly more advanced butterfly swimmers is a wide hand entry.  The hands should enter the water inline with the shoulders.  If the entry is wide of the shoulder line then this will result in a weak and inefficient arm pull.

Simply walking though shallow water of about shoulder depth practicing the arm action in slow motion will help to establish a full sweep and an inline hand entry.

Now complete your butterfly stroke by adding in the rest of the parts...

You have learnt all about the arm action - great!  My book 'How To Swim Butterfly' will give you everything you need to take your butterfly technique to the next level. 

Click below to download a copy to your computer, tablet or mobile device. Or, click here for more details. 

The easy to follow guide to how to swim butterfly stroke


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