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Learn How To Swim 101 - Butterfly - The Arm Movement

Hold on to your hats I'm now going to give you some real technical information. But keep reading because at the end the information will stand you in good stead, ready for when I give you the drill. Now that we have the Butterfly Leg Action or Dolphin Kick going, it's time to look at the Butterfly Arm Action.

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Butterfly Arm Movement

Why is the butterfly stroke often considered to be the most difficult of the competitive strokes?

Because both of your arms go out and over the water at the same time.

The stroke itself is broken into several stages:

  1. The Catch
  2. The In sweep
  3. The Up sweep
  4. The Recovery

Entry And Catch: Where Your Hands Enter The Water

Your hands enter the water shoulder width apart, with the palms facing outwards so your hands slide smoothly into the water. Your hands should submerge up to about 20 centimeters below the surface of the water and sweep outwards until they are wider than your shoulders (see second picture below). Your palms should slowly rotate in towards the end of the out sweep until they face back.

Image of a swimmer doing butterfly arm movement with her arms entering the water
Butterfly Arm Entry

Image of a swimmers butterfly stroke viewed from underwater showing the direction of his arms as they go from entry to outsweep to by his side then exiting the water
Butterfly Stroke Underwater View   

The In and The Up Sweep

The In Sweep is the first of the two most propulsive phases of the stroke. During the In Sweep:

Your arms sweep downwards, inwards and then upwards in a semicircular movement until they are under the shoulders, close to the midline of the body

Your hands should be pitched to allow the water to be deflected backwards over the palms from your thumb to the little-finger side

Your hands should at this point speed up.

The Up Sweep, the second of the major propulsion phases, commences as your hands come close together under the middle of your body.

During the Up Sweep your hands change directions to a backwards, outwards and upwards movement until they come close to the surface beside your thighs.

The Up Sweep is usually the most powerful part of the stroke.

Arm Recovery

The release of the hands occurs just prior to the arms fully extending and before the hands reach the surface.

Image of young swimmer with her arms leaving the water after a butterfly stroke
Butterfly Arms Exiting The Water 

The release is made by turning the palms of your hands inwards to allow them to be slid out of the water with minimum resistance.

Your arms must be extended during the exit from the water to allow a
circling up, out and forward movement.

Now your arms and hands skim above the surface of the water until the entry is made.

During the over-water recovery, the palms of your hands should face inwards
during the first half and be rotated outwards during the second half. Your
head should be lowered with your chin pressed towards your neck.

The Drill

So now that you know all the technical stuff it's time to figure out a way to learn in the arm action. So next time we'll talk about my butterfly drill.


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