7 Butterfly Sets To Test Your Toughness

Monday morning’s post, 7 Distance Butterfly Swims That Might Make You Cringe, generated a lot of emails, tweets and posts to Facebook.  The messages had a common theme, pride and pain, mostly framed as I remember when so and so did this incredible fly set.  For a taste of what we received, see 7 Butterfly Sets to Test Your Toughness below. For some perspective we’re starting off with the mastro of butterfly training, NBAC coach Bob Bowman. He’s the architect behind Michael Phelps’ butterfly stroke and ultimate success. Phelps is merely one of many great buterflyers he has coached. NCAA 200 fly champion Davis Tarwater is another, and presently Bowman’s coaching 200 fly national champion Tom Luchsinger.

1. The “Bowman Wobble Set” a la Tom Luchsinger (see video above)

Tom Luchsinger wins the 200 fly with a time of 1:55.57 at the 2013 World Championship Trials

Tom Luchsinger wins the 200 fly with a time of 1:55.57 at the 2013 World Championship Trials

30 x 100 meter butterfly on 1:30

– 50 free under 35 seconds
– climb out and up to the blocks
– dive a 50m fly striving to hold sub 28 seconds

NOTE: Bowman looks for a slight wobble somewhere after the 20th repeat. Then he knows you’re pushing it, making some gains!

2. Katrina Radke’s Thanksgiving USA National Team Camp Fly Test – 1987

– 16000 meters butterfly for time

That’s it. I know, not for the faint of heart.  Katrina did this Thanksgiving day next to Olympic sliver medalist Dave Wharton who swam it IM.  Legendary coaches Mark Schubert and Frank Keefe timed it.  Katrina touchd the final wall in 3 hours and 12 minutes, holding 1:15 per 100 for much of the swim.

3. David Marsh Lactic Acid Butterfly Burn

David Marsh - 2014 Arena Grand Prix at Mesa  (courtesy of Mike Lewis, olavistaphotography.com)

David Marsh, Head Coach & CEO of SwimMAC (courtesy of Mike Lewis, olavistaphotography.com)

– 6 x 100 meter butterfly, off the blocks, all out on 6 minutes.

Simple yet painful, the goal is to stay within 2 and 1/2 seconds of your personal best time or faster.

I’ve done this set, and I’ve hated this set. If done correctly, all contents of your stomach are in peril.  Also, I hated Marsh a few times we did it because he made us start over. As he would say, “Unless you’re swimming all-out, to absolute failure, you’re not doing it right. Start over!”

4. McFly Guy 200 Fly Set via Ian Crocker’s Coach

From McFly Guy: “I specifically remember one set/practice I did. My coach was Ian Crocker’s old coach from Maine so she had a lot of good fly sets.”

– 24 x 200 butterfly short course meters, starting on 2:45

“If you held your breathing pattern and kicked out past the first yellow off each wall for four 200s in a row, you could add 15 seconds to the interval. I got done doing 200s fly on 4 minutes.  It was the most painful practice. but when I got done I felt so accomplished.”

5. Gold Medal Mel Tennessee 200 Fly Test Set

Back in college at the University of Tennesssee, test sets for 200s were rare, but we did them. My TN coach, JT, liked to stress us, then force us to hit the gas. Here was his idea of how to accomplish that:

(5 x 200 yard butterlfy on the 2:45) x4

– 1-4 easy speed, holding 2:00

– 5th 200 butterfly from the blocks all-out

Number 5, 10, 15 and 20 were never all-out. We’d always start off going 1:55 or slower on the first 200 butterfly from the blocks, which brought on the threats of “You better pick it up or we’re starting over!”  10,15 & 20 would dip to 1:50, certainly 1:48-49 by the last one.

6. SF via Twitter @nomisknarf Rips 400 repeats in Fly

SF was feeling shy on Twitter about his fly set, but it works for me:

– 1 x 400 meter fly, 100 free easy x5

1600 meters of fly with active rest is hearty meat and potatoes hard work, the kind most flyers undertand and appreciate! Thanks for sharing SF!

Follow our fellow flyer and jazz musian on Twitter here. 

7. Fly For Fitness or the Former Swimmer

Emily White, owner of Whitesmith Entertainment, spends her days working in the music industry and managing elite swimmers’ careers, like Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin and national champion David Plummer. When Emily’s done with her day, she likes to  relieve stress swimming fly.

– 1,000 straight: 200 Free, 200 IM, 200 fly kick on my back and ending with a 400 IM

Emily says, “It’s a perfect workout in and of itself for adult fitness or for former swimmers. It doesn’t take very long and you feel great and invigorated at the end. Regardless, the more fly swimmers of any age can incorporate into warmup and all elements of their practice will make the stroke that much easier. I started doing 200 fly during a slump as an age grouper because less girls were in it. I certainly could at least finish the race and score some points for my team since only about 20 girls swam it at our state meet.”

Emily’s a bit of grinder, even after hanging up her competitive suit. She likes to warmdown swimming fly. “I love ENDING my current workouts with an easy 200 fly; maybe picking it up on the last 75, 50 or 25. There is no greater feeling than ending a workout with an event that many folks find challenging alone.”


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tall n wet

These have ‘corrective shoulder surgery’ written all over them.


actually with the right technique you’d be surprised how long you can swim fly and not kill your shoulders.


I’m curious which type of training got you faster times?


Out of college got my faster. In the butterfly at least both 100 and 200. My 100 free time was fastest in college but we did so many repeat 100 frees that I don’t think there is a way to quantify it. I should also specify I never swam club until after college. but I said it in another comment, my club coach was very technique and goal based training. So some of our warm ups were a 500 free, as slow as you want, but fly kicking half way every 25, no stopping on walls. So you got used to being underwater. every set had something to focus on other than time.


I only learned the proper body movement technique when I was a senior in highschool–for the previous 12 years I’d been swimming, fly always killed me. Flipped a switch as a senior and was able to swim fly without much effort.

Lost a bet before Christmas with my coach and had to do a ~9500 yard practice all fly, although he relented and let me use fins. Went numb by about the 5000 yard mark, but still kept my technique and finished it out!

No shoulder issues – Shoulberg prepared us with lots of dryland (small muscles first and then to bigger muscles, to prevent injury).
16000 meter was in Dec. 1986 – 3 hr, 56 min – and then 14000 (3 hours 12 min) was in Hawaii, at USA Training Camp. Swimming 200 fly in Olympics seemed a nice distance 🙂
I don’t recommend this – but having done some crazy training from the 80s, I always enjoyed a challenge. Pushing myself to see what is possible is one of the best joys – being fully in the experience. By accomplishing things that might seem impossible, we realize what we really are made of, and can do.


Same here. If you have good form and take care of yourself you won’t have issues.


We did this set a couple of days ago…..

20 x (8 x 25’s sprint) on 12 seconds, with 1 minute in between each set of 8. Every 25, you get up and dive from the edge.

Even if you’re just getting out of the water and the whistle blows, you still have to do the full dive. After set 10, you are ready to pass out and wave the white flag.


25’s on 12 sec. Getting out of the water each time. 20 rounds. No way!


160 x 25s on :12 while also climbing out of the water. I will concur with the person above me. I call B.S but would love to see it. You should film your swimmers doing that one, and post it here.

He did not tell if anyone survived the set… but let tell this set is totally HL(HARDCORE LEVEL).

160x25s on the :12…fly? I’d have trouble seeing anyone do that even free. If Vlad is 8.99 to the feet in free, If you really give him the benefit of the doubt, 8.00 to the hand on a full all-out sprint, then he can get out and dive back in on a turnaround of only 4 seconds, going absolute top speed, for 32 minutes straight? There’s probably only a handful of guys in the world who could pull that off for 2 in a row. Maybe Shields or someone can do a 25 fly in 9.9, then 2.1 seconds to get out and dive back in??


Not sure, but I’m guessing he means each one was under 12 seconds, since it takes like 3 or 4 seconds to get back on the block


the point was that nobody would make every interval, wherein you are literally sprinting as fast as possible until you fatigue, and you still have to push through that pain. And sorry,need to clarify: you had to hit the wall under 12 seconds, and had around 3 seconds, depending on how generous coach was feeling, to get out and literally flop into the water.


would anyone make the first interval? I wasn’t the fastest flyer, but sprinting a 25 from the block i could go 10.5. Once. and 2 seconds to get out and dive back in? this isn’t even a set that’s do able. even at the pro level this is set up to fail.


Yeah, but on a 25, a second and a half is a lot of difference. I don’t think I could finish the set with every one under 12, but I could hold it for a while. My guess is not everyone would be expected to make them all; it would be more of a test set to see how many you could make.

Barry Alldrick

My youth 400IM and 2

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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