The butterfly pull is tough to master. It can feel impossible to muscle both arms out of the water at the same time! 

If you’re struggling with butterfly arms, try two of our favorite drills to refine your technique and make your pull feel more natural.

Common Butterfly Pull Mistakes

We see three key mistakes in the butterfly pull:

  1. Entering Too Short: Many swimmers swim with a short pull – their arms enter really close to their head. When they don’t fully extend, they end up taking more strokes per length than they need to.
  2. Pushing the Water Down Instead of Back: Improver pull technique can result in some swimmers pushing straight down when they try to pull, which causes the body to move up and down instead of forward.
  3. Incorrect Timing: Breathing at the wrong time can make it really tough to recover the arms over the water.

How do we fix these issues? Do these three things: 

  1. Extend the Arms Fully: Try to straighten your arms as much as possible before your hands enter the water, and keep the arms in line with the shouldersd. You’ll take fewer strokes and will make you less tired. 
  2. Pull With a High Elbow: When you swim with an Early Vertical Forearm pull, you’ll push the water back instead of down, and you’ll create more forward momentum.
  3. Breathe at the Right Time: To make it easier for your arms to recover, breathe early in the pull phase, so your head drops back down before your arms have to sweep around. Check out our favorite drills for perfecting this timing!

The Best Drills for Butterfly Pull

Single-Arm Butterfly Drill

This drill will help you nail the timing of your pull and kick, while also isolating your pull to just one arm.

It’s pretty simple to do: Swim butterfly with one arm!

For every pull that you take, do one butterfly kick. Kick one more time as you recover your arm over the water to get back to the top. Yep, that means two kicks for every stroke: One when you pull the water and one to help push your arms back over the water. Make sure to kick from your hips, core and ankles, not your knees.

Breathe at the start of your catch, and make sure to pull with a high elbow. Make sure to drop your head back into neutral before your arms recover out of the water.

You can breathe forward, or turn your head to the side – whichever feels best to you.

If you don’t want to worry about breathing, try doing this drill with a snorkel to really focus on your pull and kick.

Butterfly Pull With Freestyle Kick

This drill might sound a bit crazy, but trust us, it’s a good one! It allows you to focus on your butterfly pull while staying high in the water. You’ll notice that your pull will feel a bit easier when doing this drill…that’s a good thing! 

To do this drill, push off the wall and kick as you would in freestyle, while doing butterfly pull with your arms. Kick fast, so you feel the power of your arms surging ahead as they recover over the water.

It might take a bit of practice to find a good rhythm, but you’ll find it after a few lengths. Try adding fins for an extra power boost.

Pro Tips: Head Position

Make sure to keep your head in a neutral position when you aren’t breathing. Think about looking down at the bottom of the pool! 

When your head is looking forward, your hips will sink and you’ll feel like you’re swimming uphill.
Butterfly is tough, so keep working at it! Over time, regular technique work will pay off and you’ll be crushing butterfly swim sets like a pro.

Download the MySwimPro app for butterfly-focused workouts, drills and personalized Training Plans.

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