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Learn to Swim Butterfly: Hand-Lead Body Dolphin Drill

Hand-Lead Body Dolphin is a swimming drill to learn the butterfly stroke. It follows the Head-Lead Body Dolphin drill in our series of butterfly drills.

Hand-Lead Body Dolphin lets you practice the body undulation with your arms extended forward instead of resting at your sides.

A novice swimmer who practices the head-lead body dolphin drill for the butterfly stroke

Being able to do both variants of the body dolphin, the one with your arms at your sides, and the one with your arms extended forward, is prerequisite for later drills of this series.

It is therefore important to take the time to master both drills before proceeding.

Video Demonstration

The following video illustrates this drill:

Drill Instructions

  • Push off the wall and assume a horizontal position with the face turned downward.
  • Extend your arms forward, shoulder width apart.
  • Push your chest and head down in the water by contracting your abdominal muscles, then release the pressure.
  • The buoyancy of your lungs should push your upper body upward when you release the pressure.
  • Push your hips down as your chest moves upward, then release your hips.
  • Start a new cycle by pushing your chest and head down as your hips move upward.
  • Your legs should follow along with your hips in their up- and down movements.
  • Try to move forward in the water using these undulating movements.
  • The body undulation is akin to a wave that travels down your body from your arms to your legs.


At first, try to do a few pulses at a time without breathing, then stop to catch your breath. An alternative is to use a swim snorkel to avoid having to stop to breathe.

Add breathing progressively. For example, you can at first breathe once each five body undulations, then once each four, once each three, and so on.

Fit in breathing by raising your shoulders and head higher above the water surface. Inhale quickly and deeply as your face clears the water. Look down and slightly forward while breathing.

Exhale continuously as soon as your face reenters the water.

Additional Tips

It should be easier to undulate your body when your arms are extended forward rather than resting at your sides. You should also notice that you don’t need to undulate as quickly as in head-lead body dolphin to move forward.

Swimming fins can help you get a feel for the wave-like movements. This is especially useful in the beginning if your ankles are stiff and it is difficult for you to extend your feet with toes pointed. Try to get rid of the fins afterward progressively.

Keep your kick supple and relaxed. When you swim butterfly, it is the body undulation that drives the dolphin kick, and not the other way around.

Extend your chin forward as you press your head down in the water, then tuck in your chin as your head moves upward.

Take your time to master these body dolphin drills. Learning the body undulation is an essential prerequisite for an efficient butterfly.

You can check out this article with additional swimming drills that cover the body undulation and dolphin kick.

Learning Path for the Butterfly Stroke

Below is an overview of our series of articles on learning the butterfly stroke. Each article in this series contains one or more drills that have to be mastered. The current article is highlighted:

Once you have gone through all the steps of this learning path, you should be able to swim butterfly without any problems.

Good luck!