The Best Swimming Stroke for an Upper-Body Workout


Although swimming is really a total-body workout, there are certain strokes that can elevate your workout by focusing on a certain part of the body. The butterfly stroke requires you to do two things simultaneously. First, you must perform the dolphin kick. Second, you must keep forward momentum by swinging your arms out in front of you, wide and low, then using them to push back the water. While considered by many to be the most difficult stroke, the butterfly is also the best swim stroke for an upper-body workout.


  • One of the best ways the butterfly stroke provides the best upper-body workout is by thoroughly working out the muscles in your shoulders, specifically the deltoid muscles. When your arms rotate through the water, you build up your deltoid muscles on the front and back of the shoulders. As you complete each arm stroke, both of your shoulders are rotating. This constant rotation means your shoulders are constantly building muscle.


  • In addition to your shoulders, the butterfly relies on your arm muscles to propel your body forward. When you swing your arms out in front of you, your arms must be straight. As a result, your triceps contract while your biceps lengthen, keeping your arms up and elbows from dropping. Your biceps and triceps get a workout because of the distinct way you have to take an arm stroke during the butterfly.

Hands and Wrists

  • As you move your arms wide and low, your palms should face backwards. Then, as you reenter the water, they should rotate downwards. Both of these movements work out the muscles in your wrists and hands, because your hands force pressure down on the water. Your hands and wrists flex to push the water behind you, thereby growing stronger with each stroke.

Building Muscle

  • Swimming is a cardiovascular exercise that strengthens and works out all the parts of the body. However, swimming the butterfly in shorter periods of time will work out the upper body, thereby building muscle. Butterfly-specific drills can help. For instance, swim with one arm extended in front of you and one arm performing the butterfly arm stroke by itself for four full stroke counts. Switch sides and repeat.

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