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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Jay Chambers
5 years ago

I heard from a reliable source that Mary T (The original and IMO the only Madam Butterfly, knocked down 10×400 fly on the 6…LCM!

5 years ago

Back in the 70’s, I had Ron Tyre going 10 x 400 fly on 6, as was Robbie Orr under Peter Daland. We used to send the times to each other, one always trying to beat the other. Also, we used to race 1500 and 1650’s all fly. Times have changed!!

6 years ago

10×300 fly with buoy only

Erkan Gunay
6 years ago

this sets are incredible… but not useful for 13-17 age group swimmers. however gender differences is most important to create fly set. Because of girls metabolism of energy during all out fly swimming not same than boys. they need much less repeat and high uw and swimming quality… for example :

For boys:25 m’s 5 (2 fly swim – 1 single arm drill or left right , 3 fly swim-1 single arm drill, 4 fly swim 1 single arm drill) 30 seconds send off UW kıck must be 3-4 and breakout must be NO2 🙂 and than 02 * second rule is keep calm do100 pace and relax accelerate * last rule is last 10 meter more power pull same… Read more »

Geoff Wood
6 years ago

1 x 200 fly without goggles
1 x 25 fly race start max to feet
1 x 150 fly push start
1 x 25 fly push start max finish climb out
1 x 25 fly race start max to feet
1 x 125 fly push start
2 x 25 fly push start, 2nd to finish climb out
1 x 25 fly race start max to feet
1 x 100 fly push start
1 x 50 fly push start
1 x 25 fly push start max finish climb out
1 x 25 fly race start max to feet
1 x 75 fly push start
2 x 50 fly… Read more »

6 years ago

Winter Training Trip 25m LC pool
3rd Day, 9 hours after 20 x 100 off the block all out
10×300 Butterfly

8 years ago

Once when I was in the tenth grade at a school in Brisbane Australia, we did this mega set
that took hours

1x 4000m IM
1x 3000m IM
1x 2000m IM
1x 1000m Fly at maximum effort

8 years ago

50 x 50 LCM @ 1:00

Get an average stroke count on the first 3 and whenever you go more than 1 stroke over the count you get a 50 EZ. Most will make it through the first 15 no problem and then it’s varying rates of fall off.

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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