Butterfly for Boomers – Ease your way to a 200 Fly
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on October 3rd, 2009

I recently taught a butterfly lesson to an old friend who wants to swim a 200 Butterfly . . . and feel good all the way . . . at age 65.

Craig was an active Masters swimmer 20 years ago in his 40s, but mainly swam 50s and 100s of Butterfly. He says the final 25 yds of his 100s — even as a teenager — were always an ordeal. Thus, the idea of attempting a 200 was inconceivable. Admirably, he has set a Kaizen goal of swimming a 200 Fly this year — and to be able to feel nearly as good on his last 25 as on his first.

Though he hasn’t swum Fly in many years, his muscle memory was good and he still has a reasonably good stroke, albeit fatiguing after 5 to 6 strokes. So we focused on energy-saving stroke thoughts, combined with some strategies for building incrementally from a single 25 that feels good all the way to 8 nonstop 25s that feel just as good.

Here are the stroke thoughts I gave him. The idea is to choose just one and swim 1 or more 25s focused only on that thought. Each stroke thought emphasizes sustainability over speed to complete a 200 with minimal (or perhaps manageable) fatigue.


Land on chest and upper arms to travel forward. (If you land on hands and forearms, you’ll dive.) Land gently with least possible splash.

Land with arms wide enough to easily sink between them. Be patient — let gravity sink your chest.


Streamline as you sink. Hang head between shoulders and point toes. Feel yourself travel forward during streamline.

Hold your streamline and be patient, waiting for buoyancy to return you to the surface.

Try to remain in streamline (i.e. delay beginning the next stroke) a “nanosecond” longer than usual.


Just before your head breaks the surface, pull as briefly (and as gently) as possible then immediately relax your arms.

(Dolphins don’t) Kick

Don’t kick!  Just “soften” your knees as you start the pull. That will initiate recovery with no muscular effort.

Focus on using the kick that occurs as you land, to help accelerate your hands forward. Do this kick mainly as a “toe flick.”


Chin in water, eyes down as you breathe.

Breathe every stroke. Practice this at a range of speeds. Do it in all races above 50 yds/m. Make it a “sneaky” breath with top of head propelling forward, not up. (Sneaky breath means you imagine someone watching you swim and try to hide your breath from them.)

Practice Tips

1. While familiarizing yourself with these stroke thoughts, focus on only one at a time.

2. Swim mainly 25s, resting 3 to 5 breaths between.

3. Count strokes as a measure of efficiency and to compare the impact of one stroke thought vs another.

It may be a good idea to establish an SPL range of 3 stroke counts. My highest efficiency SPL is 7. My highest speed SPL is 9.

4. You might also  give each 25 a “mojo score” – say from 1 to 5. A 5 would be nearly effortless, feeling like you nailed the particular sensation in your stroke thought, and with your highest efficiency stroke count.

5. Train for the 200, by doing any of the following:

– More 25s at a consistent SPL.

– Same as above, but with a shorter rest interval (fewer breaths)

–  When I can swim, say, 8 x 25 at 7SPL with a rest interval of 3 breaths, I might add in one or two 50s in a pattern like this:

– 3 x 25 – 1 x 50 – 3 x 25

– 2 x 25 – 1 x 50 – 2 x 25 – 1 x 50

– 2 x 50 – 2 x 25 – 1 x 50

This isn’t intended as a single set, but as 3 examples of a “broken” 200, with fewer breaks and more continuous swimming. Add distance only as you can do so with efficiency and sustained ease.  Don’t practice struggle.

When you extend repeat distance to 50s, resume taking 5 breaths rest between and allow for +2 SPL on 2nd 25.

Eventual goal would be 4 x 50 on 3 breaths rest interval at, say, 16 strokes.

Take a peek at the clock now and again, but focus mainly on consistent ease.

7 Responses to “Butterfly for Boomers – Ease your way to a 200 Fly”

  1. PS3 Fan says:

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  3. minnowgo says:

    This was so helpful! I just returned to swimming last year after decades out of the pool. At my first meet I watched the 200 fly event and I thought-‘I want that. I want to do that”…they looked like dolphins. Beautiful.
    I like what you said about not practicing the struggle, the stroke thoughts, the drills and well, just everything.
    I’m going to work on this and let you know what happens!

  4. You go, minnow. Please do update us on your progress.

  5. minnow says:

    Checking in on 200 Fly progress-and it goes like this-I swim 200 fly every single practice, usually in the middle. I just know when the good time to begin is-and off I go. I was inspired by an 84 year old lady who says she swims this every time she gets in the pool..albeit slowly, but surely. And as the weeks have gone on, its gotten easier and I’m learning how my thoughts affect my breaths. I rope in the chatter and get zen with it, is the only way I can describe it. Focus on the stroke and the glide, head position etc.. It feels graceful and doable. Want I want is graceful and fast. It will get there…

  6. Is this butterfly or butterfrog.
    Your post makes me think I should do something similar. Swim 200 Fly at least a couple of times a week, if not every time. My aim would be to make incremental improvements in my time, mainly from becoming more sensitive to where small inefficiencies occur and correcting them. I’ll try one today.

  7. Wolfgang Vintan says:

    At 49 years of age I did this year the 100 m fly under 1.30 seconds and the 200 m fly under 3.40 seconds. This would not have been possible without having read this post! I still to improve my technique so. That’s why most of the time I do 25 m. Sometimes little changes make all the difference. If I lack concentration I will finish 25 m in 28 seconds. But if I put everything together I might up finishing in between 14 and 18 seconds…

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