for those that have distance swimmers

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    I’ve been trying to think of a way to explain race pace to distance swimmers and came up with this. It actually was inspired from a article I’d read about marathon running.

    Food for thought or the logic behind speed for Distance Swimmers

    There is a logical progression in time moving from 500, 1000 to 1650. In other words, if your best time in the 500 is 4:57.00, you CANNOT swim the 1000 in 9:52.00, that’s double the distance at a faster pace and by the same token you WILL NOT swim the 1650 under 16:15.00, again greater distance at a faster pace. So you swim your first 1650 of the season and go 16:54.00, and their first response is to say “I need more training”, so your training swims get longer and longer, which usually means slower and slower and you start to think of 500s as a warm-up, which means your 500 and 1000 times get slower and slower until eventually, your 1650 is 17:10.00. So if you want to get your 500, 1000 or 1650 time down, it’s not more endurance you need, its more speed.

    At this point I’ll throw in a disclaimer. There are swimmers who can sustain more or less the same speed from the 1000 to 1650. The normal response from them is “because my endurance is my greatest strength” My interpretation would be that their speed is inadequate.

    So the secret is be patient, work at speed and realize that the natural progression from 500 to 1000 to 1650 means that a faster swimmer over the shorter distances should mean faster performances at longer distances.

    Just thinking out loud

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    I think the same thing can be said for endurance in the 100. To swim a faster back half of the 100 sometimes the answer isn’t more endurance, it’s more speed. A while ago, I tried to figure out a generic formula of what you should be holding in your 25 100 pace stuff based on your top speed. For example if my sprint time in a 25 meter free was 12.2, I wanted to know what pace I should be holding doing 25’s on 15-25 rest. I figured there had to be some kind of a range with more primary 200 swimmers would hold a pace closer to their top speed than a drop dead 50 guy. I can’t remember exactly what the range was, plus it was kind of hard to calculate, but I believe I hypothesized that the range was 1.0-1.5 slower than your best rested all out 25 from a push is what you should be able to hold. That could be off a little. But to illustrate a point, whether you are Katie Ledecky or an average age group swimmer you are going to reach a point where it is unreasonable to expect to hold a pace that is close to your top speed. Even if you have the best endurance in the world you are not going to be able to hold something like .5 off of you top speed with 15 seconds rest for any significant amount of reps. Eventually there comes a point where you have to improve your top speed in order to improve your end of race speed. When I was doing 25’s, I hit the wall at 13.5 on freestyle but I just kept going thinking my endurance would improve but I stayed stuck for a while. I thought that in order to go below 13.5, I would have to bring my 12.2 sprint time down.

    I do 50’s on 2:00 now and I have been looking at back half splits in relation to top speed 50 times to figure out where I should be. I am not setting my pace based on this, I am using current back 50 tt as my pace. My back half of my 100’s are not where they should be based on my 50 times. For example my back 50 of my 100 breast is 6 seconds off of my top 50 breast time. It should be in the 3.5-4.5 range. In my case, the answer is more endurance but for someone who is 3.5 or less off of their 50 time, they have to improve their top speed in order to swim a faster 100. They could improve technique and turns but from a physical standpoint, all the aerobic training in the world is not going to make you go below 3-3.5 off of your 50 time.

    It pays to have as much speed in the tank as possible. Look at Sarah Sjostrom. She had the fastest back half in the 100 fly in the field. She went 29.47 and was the only person under 30 except for the Chinese girl that tested positive. Beating the field by over a half second on the second 50 is total domination. But if you look at the 100 free, she had a good back half, not the best though. Why is that? She was the best 200 swimmer in the field. She even had a slightly better second 100 of the 200 than Ledecky. So Sjostrom definitely has endurance. She is great at both fly and free, but clearly better at fry. At the same time it would make sense for her to be a little faster on the second 50 of a 100 free based on her crazy back 50 on fly and the endurance to swim a great 200 free. The difference is that she has so much more power and top speed in fly relative to the competition than free. On fly, she was +5 on her back 50 over her top 50 time. Oleksiak was about +4.6. So even though Sjostrom blew away the field, does that really mean she has the best endurance?

    Another thing that stuck out to me looking at the splits at the Olympics was Kyle Chalmers 100 free. Going 24.4 on the back half when your top 50 free time is 22 low is just absurd. He didn’t swim the 50 at the Olympics but maybe he could have gone 21.9 at best. But if you take away the benefit of the block and adjust for turn time he is not that far off top speed throughout the second half. That’s endurance if I have ever seen it. It is impressive for a muscular guy who split time between sports. He doesn’t have as much yardage under his belt as other swimmers who have been swimming year round their whole lives. So much for the aerobic base. But for Chalmers moving forward if his 22 low 50 doesn’t come down, I don’t see any way his going to go better than 47.5. Even though the 50 and end of a 100 are using completely different energy systems, top speed makes a difference. Your gap is only going to be but so much. So the only way Chalmers can drop his 100 is to get more top end speed.

    In yards the gap for 100 free is around 2-3.5 with most people around the 3 second range. Dressel was +3.0 on his ncaa record and everyone else was around the same gap. So even though Dressel blew everyone away on both the first and second half, it doesn’t really mean he has better endurance. Endurance should be measured by the gap between top 50 speed and back 50 speed not the difference between first and second 50’s. I hope that makes sense, I’m kind of rambling on at this point. Your second 50 is only going to be but so slow. Vlad Morozov had probably the worst race plan ever at 2013 Worlds going out in 21.9 but he was still able to make it back in 26.0. That won’t win you any races but that’s still not that bad considering how fast he took it out. Even with no aerobic training your gap is only going to be 5.0 at the worst. Erik Risolovato focuses mostly on the 50 and has done mostly speed work over the past couple of years. I don’t know all the details about his training but I know he does very little aerobic or back half 100 pace work and he was still able to go +4.5 on a 100 yard free and go a really fast time.

    I think different swimmers are somewhat predetermined to fall on different places on the endurance scale. For example, if you could go back in time and change Anthony Ervin’s training, he was never going to be a monster back half guy in any program. On the other hand, Phelps was never going to be a speed demon, lead a 100 wire to wire type of guy like Schooling. The goal for training for 100’s should be to improve your top speed as much as possible while not sacrificing any time on your top 50 time/back 50 of 100 gap. And I don’t think it takes a huge amount of yardage to maintain the gap.


    It’s called “speed reserve” the difference between top end speed and shall we say “going out” speed. I believe its one of the most over looked or even more, a complete lack of knowledge that it even exists for most coaches and especially in the training of “distance swimmers” Along with the lack of knowledge and understanding of PHV (Peak Height Velocity) has been the demise of many a young distance swimmer.

    In cyclic sports you can use the following and this will vary depending on the distance used. Its probably the easiest way.

    SR=(Td / n) -Ts
    SR = Speed Reserve
    Td = time on controlled distance
    Ts = best time on a standard distance
    n = number indicating by what factor the control distance is longer than the standard.
    Hint: higher the number the better 🙂

    You get to work on it and we’ll see what you come up with 🙂

    Resources used are:
    Theory & Methodology by Dr. Tudor Bompa, Should be in the third edition?
    Science of Sport by Thomas Kurz, should still be available
    Sports Training Principles by Dr. Frank Dick, should still be available
    Dr. Dietrich Hare (Former East German researcher), If you can find his book BUY IT!

    While I do admire Dr. Rushall for all the work he has put forward to help coaches there is a bit more that coaches need to have and that’s at least a basic knowledge of human physiology, so when they run into issues they have a fundamental base in which to work off. What do you do when the wheels start to come off the wagon?

    Just playing around,


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    @doc: a bit off-topic: what protocol sets do you do for distance swimmers (400m-800m-1500m) and on what weekly frequency? I recon an nx100 set for 800 pace is more taxing than an nx25 for 100 pace, so swimmers need more rest/can handle less weekly exposures to such sets?

    As an example, would this be viable:

    – 3x/w 50’s for 400 pace
    – 3x/w 100’s for 800 pace
    – 2-3x/w 200’s for 1500 pace

    This seems really hard, haven’t tried it, but you may have more experience with this.


    I’m currently using 75’s, 100’s and 150’s. The 75s for 400/500 and set pace using the average of the last two 100s. Then break it down to m/s, then into 75 time at 3% to 5% over race speed. In fact we just did 14 x 75 on 1:10 tonight @ 500 pace, that’s 1050 yds at 500 pace and of the 5 kids that did that set 4 made all 14, 5th made 11. 100s I’ll use them “universally” sometime I’ll use them for the 500, 1000 and occasionally the 1650. 150s, I’ll use for the true 1650 kid. I think they hold better speed and technical skill. There’s just something about repeat 200s that just buggers them. Not sure why.

    The cycling of these gets tricky. Just because they also swim 100/200s of stroke and 4IM and you have to make sure they get enough stimulus each week. Right now we do 2 mornings (LCM) and that is strictly dedicated to 400/800/1500. During the week I’ll try and get in one more set in the afternoon. So 3 x per week of pure distance free work. It’s a real pain because they still have 25s fr & stk, 50s 2′ fr & stk, 50s 1′ fr & stk. They are holding up really well.

    Sample set: THEY STOP AND REST IF THEY MISS PACE. RULES APPLY! I think this is where A LOT of coaches make the mistake and really wear down swimmers and then wonder why the kids get slower. Volume will not make them faster.
    8 x 100 on 1:20/1:30 @ 800 pace
    12 x 50 on :50/1:00 @ 400 pace with tempo trainer set at 400 tempo.
    They will do 2 rounds. Thought process was to get them to be able to “shift” gears at the end of a race. It’s not a lot of fun. But they do a real good job on that set.

    Your sets are viable. IF YOU LET THEM STOP WHEN THEY CAN’T HOLD PACE. You have 3 workouts already done. Just some thoughts here.

    150s/200s at 1650 pace
    Technical skill/recovery
    50s at 500 pace
    Technical skill/recovery
    25s on 1′ stk

    50s/75s at 500 pace
    Technical skill/recovery
    100s at 1000 pace
    Technical skill/recovery
    50s on 1′ stroke

    I always try and rotate the first set so that they have a chance to improve on the numbers done.
    Remember they are distance swimmers. They are use to “boredom” and don’t have to be “entertained” like sprinters 🙂

    An interesting article I’ve been rereading is ” Interval Training for Performance: A Scientific and Empirical Practice. It’s by Dr. Billat, about training middle distance runners. (Use Google Scholar) But if you understand physiology you can get some insight and makes you think.

    Hope this helps,

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    @doc: I was wondering if you would be willing to talk via phone about training?


    I have done it in the past with coaches either by Skype or phone. I also have done a webinar and Coaches Corner on Ritter Sports Performance.

    If you send me an email to with your phone number and best time to call. I will try and call you. The best times for me is on a weekend as I’m pretty busy with the college team during the week.


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