Swimmer Gone Rogue

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    Hello fellow coaches and swimmers!

    This is my first post so I thought I would introduce myself. I am currently swimming on a Power 5 conference, Division 1 team (I’d rather keep the specific team anonymous) and plan on becoming a coach when I am done swimming. I swam the 200 back and 1500 at Olympic Trials in 2016, and I’ve swum at a handful of Junior National and National meets as well. I do not say these things to brag, but after reading many posts in this forum I’ve noticed that the majority of people posting are either coaches or masters swimmers so I thought hearing things from a college swimmer’s perspective might be interesting and spark a conversation.

    My club team was definitely a high volume program (13km 3hr long course practice was about the worst of it), but that included a high volume of fast swimming. About 6-8 weeks before championships most practices were things like 30x100s free best average, 30x50s stroke, etc. I performed very well under this system, and realized early on that it was my performance on the above sets that would predict how well I would do in my races. They had the same “feel” (same type of pain) and I could see it in the similarity between times I was going in training and my races. When I came to college I didn’t know how to handle everything being so different. Everything was much lower in volume, fast swimming included, and I was not performing well. My first thought was that I need more long “aerobic” swimming so that my fitness would improve, like I had done with my club. After bouncing that around in my head for a while I realized that it wasn’t just more swimming that I needed, it was more FAST swimming that would simulate and transfer to my races. Lucky for me shortly after this realization we got a new coach who was doing strictly race pace with the sprinters. He introduced me to Dr. Rushall’s bulletin in the fall, and let’s just say I was blown away. Blown away that there was this much research on swimming compiled in one place (so cool!) and blown away that it was being ignored, ESPECIALLY for distance swimmers. It could be because I had seen the pattern in my own swimming already that making the leap to doing strictly race pace swimming wasn’t difficult, but it is shocking to me that coaches have not made these connections for their swimmers on their own (shouldn’t practice correlate to performance???). Fast forward to the spring after our conference meet, and I was fed up with working hard day in and day out and not seeing results (as swimmers should be). I decided to coach myself and swim on my own at our rec center. It was a train wreck at first. I was trying to do too much and was beating myself into the ground. It got to a point where I was struggling to go more than a couple 100s at mile pace. After re-evaluating, and some guidance from my coach who introduced me to this stuff, I reduced my training to 1-2 sets per workout, only doubling up if 1 was free and 1 was back. The remainder of the time I spent working on race skills, underwater kicking especially (mine was dismal to say the least). These past few weeks since adjusting, I have been swimming faster than I ever have, and have never felt more prepared for a championship meet.

    Here are the sets I did (scm or lcm):

    Freestyle. Training for 200, 400, 1500
    nx50s on 2:00 (1st 50 200. up to 10. made 10)
    nx50s on 1:00 (50s 2,3,4 200. up to 14. max I made was 12)
    nx50s on :50 (this one’s a guess. most likely first 1/2 400. up to 24. made 24)
    nx100s on 2:00 (also a guess. most likely back 1/2 400. up to 12. max I made was 7)
    nx100s on 1:30 (1500 pace. up to 30. max I made was 24)

    Backstroke. Training for the 100 and 200
    nx50s on 2:00 (1st 50 200. up to 10. made 10)
    nx50s on 1:00 (50s 2,3,4 200. up to 14. made 14)
    nx100s on 2:00 (feels like end of a 200, not sure if it correlates. up to 5. made 4)

    Here’s what a typical week might look like:

    Mon AM: 50s ba on 1:00, 50s fr on 2:00
    Mon PM: 100s fr on 1:30, long recovery
    Tues PM: 100s ba on 2:00, skill set
    Wednesday AM: 50s fr on :50, skill set
    Wednesday PM: 50s ba on 2:00, skill set
    Thursday PM: 100s fr on 2:00, 50s ba on 1:00
    Friday AM: 50s fr on 1:00, skill set
    Friday PM: 50s ba on 2:00, skill set
    Saturday AM: 100s fr on 1:30, long recovery

    I didn’t do a great job of staying organized and recording all of my sets because I’m pretty good at keeping the numbers in my head and it was only me, so I don’t have day to day data to share. I am, however, retesting all my sets this week and have made the following improvements (I don’t have a watch so I go by lo,mid,hi depending on what I see on the clock):

    50s on 2:00 ba
    Training Pace: 29hi
    Retest (4 rep avg): 28hi
    50s on 2:00 fr average
    Training Pace: 27hi
    Retest (4 rep avg): 27lo
    100s on 1:30 fr average
    Training pace: 1:04mid
    Retest (12 rep avg): 1:02mid

    I will continue to post my improvements as they come if people are interested, and will do the same for my results at my upcoming meet. I know this is a long post but I thought a detailed perspective from someone in my position would be a good addition to the already great conversation this forum has started. I welcome any questions or constructive criticisms!


    Just some background. I’m the Director of Performance for a DI program and write all the workouts for Sprint, Mid-Dist, Dist. groups and track all practice and meet performances data. We have 42 swimmers and 2 guys that had NCAA DI “A” cuts this past season.

    Just some thoughts, which can actually be backed up by data. Your n x 50 on :50″ will be very close to “n x 50 on 1:00” so while you can do them. I’d ask why? Just pick one. The “n x 100 on 2:00” freestyle should line up very close to back 1/2 200 pace (look at some of your race splits and see). The same goes for your work in stroke. “n x 100 on 2:00” has a .975 correlation from training pace to race speed.

    Your sequencing of work looks good. Just remember that adaptation takes place not during the stimulus (training) but at rest (sleep). I’ve found that most swimmers place sleep at the end of their list of priorities which is a very bad mistake! I’ve ask them to plan 8 hours of sleep into their day and “plug” everything else in and the results where amazing.

    Timing yourself issue. Get a Tempo Trainer (Swim outlet is about the cheapest). Use setting 1 and you can plug in your exact training pace. I’d add .30, just because you have to drop under when you hear the “beep” May have to play with this. We call this “beat the beep” or “btb” You have to get there before the beep goes off again. Example: pace time for your “n x 50fr on 2:00” is 27hi (I used 27.7), then plug in 28, includes .3, for drop under. You have to be at the other end before you hear the second beep. “Beat the beep”. Ok now how do you manage the rest interval? Easy. say you are doing a set of “n x 50 on 2:00” with a pace time of 28s, then you would use 2-3 beeps rest. Which get you very close to 2:00 interval. Again, play with it. I have over 10 international swimmers that train by themselves because they don’t want to do the 10 x 400 on 5:00 BS! at their clubs. I send workouts to them each day and they all have tempo trainers (TT) and train from 100s to 1500 using them.

    You want to shorten the rest? Then divide pace time in half. Your 28s become 14s and you will hear 3 beeps (start, 1/2 way and finish), have to be there before 3rd beep (finish) and rest 1 beep and go. You only got 14 seconds rest ๐Ÿ™‚ Gets pretty damn hurtful. I can tell you this NOT one of my distance swimmers enjoy those sets. On pace with 1/2 the rest at 100/200 repeats. I think you get the idea ๐Ÿ™‚

    100s: The tempo trainer can handle 1:04 as a straight swim. But I’ll use your 1:04, that’s 32 per 50 and 16 per 25 (roughly). You could do “n x 100s on 2:00” and set TT at 32 and know that you should be roughly at the 50 by the second beep (this helps with “pacing”) and from the feedback I get from the swimmers is it’s VERY stressful. By setting it at 1/2 or 1/4 you can play with the rest interval.

    Disclaimer ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t get a dime for selling tempo trainers. Its that it’s a really cheap way for swimmers to train themselves and still get more accurate times.

    Just an FYI. There is a new device called “Firebelly” and it will actually tell you your splits, cycles and tempo (It can actually do more). Yes, it talks to you while you’re swimming. I tried it with one of my distance (500/1000/1650) guys before he left for home and he was all excited about the possibilities next season. For a college kid training on his/her own it can be expensive $229, the app is free and will download to a phone and keep record of each workout. Again a disclaimer. I don’t receive a dime from these products. I just stretch them to their MAX capabilities and according to the software guys beyond.

    Just food for thought

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    Thanks for so many suggestions! I will be sure to check out all of those options you listed for self timing. I do my best to leave on 0s and judge what was under pace and what was over, but it’s really too much variance. As far as your first few thoughts, let me explain my logic behind my choices and see if you can poke holes in it (which I would love).

    The 50s on :50 were originally from a presentation about parametric training from former Michigan coach Jim Richardson that I’m happy to email to you if you’d like to see it (file’s too big). He used nx50s on :45 (scy) for 500 pace -1, and that was the best data I had at the time. I adapted it to meters and made them on :50 instead of :45. Admittedly, I think nx75s on 1:10 would be a better set for the 400/500, but I was doing long course with the exception of 2-3 workouts/week so sticking with 50s and 100s seemed best. It’s funny that you should mention the 50s on :50 and 1:00 being essentially the same because that’s the thought I had originally. For the first couple months I wasn’t doing 50s on 1:00 because it seemed pointless while doing 50s on :50. Then around mid June I stopped doing 50s on 2:00 and started doing 50s on 1:00 instead. Why? Well two main reason: 50s on 2:00 were more fatiguing than they were worth (100 and 200 free aren’t a big focus) and I was mostly doing 50s on 2:00 to increase my speed reserve but my speed reserve is so low that 50s on 1:00 seemed to be enough. I know they look very similar on paper but cutting the reps in half and adding the extra bit of rest gave me TPs that were ~1.5 seconds different. My 50s on :50 improved substantially once I started doing the 50s on 1:00, but I changed other things as well so I can’t pinpoint that as the reason. I would love to hear your thoughts on this and have you point out any flaws in my thinking if you see them.

    The 100s on 2:00. I should preface this by saying I train at roughly 4,500 ft altitude. I know that shouldn’t change how training paces transfer from practice to meets, but I think it changes the rest intervals. I know 100s on 2:00 are supposed to be for back 1/2 200, but maybe at my altitude it would more like a 1:30/1:40 type interval at sea level? That’s based on nothing more than personal experience and the differences I’ve noticed training at altitude and not. Any type of high intensity type stuff like this becomes much easier on the same rest intervals when doing them at sea level. Maybe I should have been doing my 100s back on 2:30 to compensate for this? Same as above, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

    Sleep. You could say I’m famous (infamous?) among my friends for sleeping a lot. Seems like a no brainer to me since it’s the easiest thing to do to get better. I can also see the confusion with how I wrote out my schedule. My “AM” workouts were at 11, and my “PM” workouts were usually around 5. I was swimming on my own so hours were very flexible and didn’t have to wake up super early. My MINIMUM is 8 hours, I strive for 10, but usually fall in the middle around 9.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond


    I kinda wondered when you talked about Dr. Rushall’s USRPT (principles of physiology do hold true regardless) and then used sets like “n x 50 on 1:00”, that’s not USRPT. Some more background. I’m a practioner of the Parametric System. My mentors were Dr. Genadijus Sokolovas, I have his book that’s in Lithuanian and includes all the algorithms for using the system from why you do time trials to progression of numbers thru the cycle and Alex Nikitin, student of Dr. Sergei Gordon (developer of the Parametric System) and one of the smartest coaches I know. I’ve practiced this system for over 20 years and have keep data on training pace vs. race speeds for that length of time. Something the Russians didn’t even do. It has to correlate, training pace to race pace or you are wasting your time.

    I’d like to see what Richardson presented about the system. You can send it to: oldrecondoc@gmail.com

    On to some of your thoughts. “n x 50 on 1:00” is really best suited for 200s either free or stroke. I’ve experimented with “n x 75 on 1:30” with sprinters that have to swim the 200 on the 800fr relay and it works very well. We also have some sprint kids that swim 200s of the stroke and they will hold better speed and skill/technique than doing 100s. SPRINTERS! the mind games you have to play ๐Ÿ™‚

    Not sure why you quit the “n x 50 on 2:00” You were on the right track with increasing speed reserve. I don’t care what distance you swim. Every swimmer needs speed. The Russians call it “the head and the tail” Just as an example I had a female swimmer go “16 x 50 on 2:00” this morning and she had a faster average and better standard deviation from a week ago when she went 14. 30.05/.55 to 29.94/.22.

    “I can’t pinpoint” Paul Bergen once told me “if you change more than 10% of your program you have no clue what worked or didn’t work, seems you have the same problem. I’ve lived by that for 17+ years. I get it’s a slow process and the majority of coaches aren’t even going to come close to that. They go to a clinic and hear some “big” name coach present a couple of workouts and never mind that it’s one workout from September, one from December and then one from February, they go back and see if their kids can do them. No thought put into the sequence or why did they do it? And they want to be perceived as professionals? Sorry, got on my soap box there.

    100s and altitude. We train at 1,200ft and we get an adjustment for going up. You didn’t get anything for going down ๐Ÿ™‚ You have adapted to the O2 level at 4,500ft, so why are you adjusting the rest interval? 2:00 at 4,500ft and 2:00 at sea level. I think you are making this way to complicated.

    I’ve attached a file about thoughts on speed for distance swimming from a track perspective.

    Again, just somethings to think about.

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    I emailed the presentation to you, let me know if you get it.

    Thanks for the attachment. I knew when I switched my training over to exclusively race pace that I was committing to “endurance through speed”, but it’s a tough mental hurdle to truly convert from how I’ve been coached for my entire swim career. After doing it for a season, it will be much easier to fully commit to staying on track and not deviate from here on out.

    I’m actually from Oregon and I have a fond memory of talking with Alex on an age group zone trip. Very smart guy.

    As far as the 10% change rule, I was in a tight spot. I had pretty much run myself into the ground and on a lot of sets wasn’t able to match previous bests, so I needed to make changes. The first thing to go was 50s on 2. It wasn’t ideal, but I figured it was better to do fewer sets and do well than run myself into the ground. I’ve seen in some of your posts you talk about how it doesn’t seem to take much to create adaptation, and even doing just 1, maybe 2, sets per workout I’ve seen steady improvements. I definitely changed more than 10 percent which was bad for the coach side of me, but it was day and night for the swimmer side of me. Looking back I think my sequencing of sets was the part that wasn’t ideal and not the number or which sets I was doing. Definitely a good learning experience.

    The altitude thing was more of a thought experiment than anything and I wanted your take on it. It was based mostly on how it “feels” harder to do sets at similar intervals compared to swimming at sea level (not the most scientific of data). Guess it doesn’t matter. Always seems like it should be more complicated than it is. I guess that’s why so many coaches struggle with this stuff. The 100s on 2 for 400 pace came about before I was even thinking about the altitude, but I explain that in more detail in the email I sent.

    Don’t apologize for getting on your soap box, you’re speaking truth. Truth I wish more people would take to heart. How can anyone argue with a .995 correlation from nx50s on 1 to 50s 2,3,4 of a 200??? It’s absurd if you ask me. I was a firm believer in “traditional” training, but as soon as I saw the research and the data I jumped ship and didn’t look back. Coaches are too caught up in “what works” (hint: it doesn’t for 60-70%) to make the changes that would be best for the swimmers.

    Sorry for my long winded responses. I’m new, excited, have a lot to say, and a lot of questions to ask. I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions with such detail.


    I’m a masters swimmer but I do swim on my own. The best advice I can give is to not swim reps at a slower pace just because you want to do more. It’s easy to fall into the mentality of “that rep was off the pace but I can get back on, on the next one” then you proceed to repeat reps at a slower pace and not get back on race pace like you thought you could. Doing this will hurt you in the end. When I started race pace training, I found it hard and frustrating to walk away when I had a bad day. But I can do it now no problem. You just have to accept it, come back fresh the next day, and have a good practice.

    For self timing, I use a sportcount finger stopwatch. It works pretty good and it’s nice to have a real time instead of trying to judge by the digital pace clock. https://www.sportcount.com/products.php?category_id=1 I use the yellow one.


    @distance_usrpt could you share that presentation on the forum as well?


    Thanks for the advice Marlin. I definitely struggled with the same thing for the first few weeks, and I ended up getting extremely broken down. I hard to learn it the hard way, but it’s definitely much better to just walk away if things aren’t going well. I’ll be sure to check out that finger stopwatch too, sounds like a cool idea.

    I’d like to share the presentation on the forum, Kevin, but the file is too big. I’m happy to email it to you if you’d like, just drop your email and I’ll send it.


    Ok, great, it’s kevin.pinte@telenet.be Thanks!

    Gary P

    For self timing, I use a sportcount finger stopwatch. It works pretty good and itโ€™s nice to have a real time instead of trying to judge by the digital pace clock. https://www.sportcount.com/products.php?category_id=1 I use the yellow one.

    I use the same. Perfect for self-timing to the high level of accuracy you need with USRPT.

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