3 Point Test To Stop You From Sucking at Butterfly

cullen-jones-butterfly-santa-clara-2015 (2)
Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

By Dr. G. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS

I’m often asked about screening tools for swimmers. When I discuss screens, I often respond with a generic…”it depends on the person” response. However, one screen (and exercise) I often give swimmers is the 3-point Y.

Strength coach and speed golf pro (I know pretty random) Allan Phillips and myself met for the first time three years ago and put together the Swimming Troubleshooting SystemIn this book, we have hundreds of screens, helping coaches and swimmers troubleshoot swimming stroke dysfunction on land and most importantly, in the water.

In this book, we describe troubleshooting as follows:

Understanding cause and effect lies at the heart of effective movement correction, both in and out of the water. The more efficiently we master the body’s movement fundamentals, the easier we can interpret stroke “flaws”  and correlate them with a swimmer’s physical attributes and limitations. The quotations around “flaws” is intentional, as the flaw that catches our attention on deck may be the body’s default way of compensating for an underlying physical limitation. To achieve lasting results, it is critical to examine the body’s fundamental movements.”

Butterfly Screen 3-pt Y exercise

Photo Courtesy: Dr. John Mullen

At first glance, the 3-point Y looks like a dinky exercise, but give it a try. Have a swimmer with poor thoracic motion? Do they have problems undulating? Are they unable to push through the entry of their butterfly? Have them try this exercise and let us know what you found! I bet you’ll see a correlation between swimmers on your team who can’t perform this movement and have butterfly difficulties. I’ve seen many elite swimmers struggle, especially if they are poor at butterfly, specifically with undulation. The Y is a goofy set-up, as it places the athlete in thoracic kyphosis. This unorthodox position forces the swimmer to isolate shoulder mobility and strength.

Now, many functional movement and even physical therapists will poo-poo this exercise due to the set-up. Yes, I agree the set-up is not in the best postural position. However, it does truly test midback and shoulder mobility, as well as scapular strength.


Have the swimmer kneel, then sit their butt onto their feet. Next, have the swimmer place their head on the ground. Keeping your arms as straight as possible (at 11:00 and 1:00), bring both arms in front of your body with the thumbs facing upwards. Raise the arms as high as you can, remembering to raise them only as far as you can to maintain your starting back position. Lower the arms slowly and repeat.

Keep in mind these fine points:

  1. Starting Position: Face down, heels on the butt. Tighten your core, preventing low back compensation. Tuck your chin.
  2. In all of the following exercises, as you bring your arms up you will have a tendency to arch your back. In order to target the correct muscles and not cheat through the thoracic and lumbar spine, only perform the exercises with the back flattened.

Try the 3-point Y with your swimmers and see how many can’t get their arms off the ground and let us know if these are the swimmers with problems in butterfly!

3-point Y

If the 3-point Y is too hard, try starting with the following:

3-point Robber

3-point Windmill

Can you get your hands off the ground? Do you have proper press through your butterfly? Let us know in the comments!


  1. Wyatt Fate

    Step 1 be a flyer

  2. Jon Ford

    Jack Ford

    • Isaac Byrne

      Now we just need to find something to help with your breast stroke

    • John Mullen

      Never too late!!

  3. Julia Hogg

    Sophie Colson

    • Sophie Colson

      this is why I don’t move

    • Sophie Colson

      because I cannot do this

    • Sophie Colson

      that’s what physio said too

  4. Nancy Petrick

    Interesting. Riley can not do the Y

  5. Hellen Swedo

    Juan Martin Limburg

  6. Rony Daher

    Hernan Campos Zapata

  7. Dave Hoover

    Too late, I long retired from that stroke….

  8. Tarryn Els

    Caroline Els

  9. Vim Arachchige

    Bach Nguyen you need this you scrub

    • Bach Nguyen

      Ahahahaha get a load of this guy! ?? Ethan Albert John

  10. Paula Manns

    Kenyon Kellett !!!

  11. Ken Innes

    Ken’s 3 Points, 1. train more than 4 times in 3 years, 2. Dont drink and eat to much red wine, beer and cheese, 3. remember try 100m before the competition.

  12. Ben Brbich

    Nicholas Rollo

  13. Ally Mayhew

    Naomi Ruele Skye Carey

  14. Lisa Dumsar Branham

    Daisy CapetilloMoises RiveraJose RamirezQuelvin RamirezRodolfo Higuera

  15. avatar

    no prob with any of these…

  16. avatar

    Why does everyone comment someone else’s name?

    • avatar

      That is when someone tags someone else in Facebook