Reply To: One set per session, slower swimmer

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Gary P

I’m a 47 year old Masters swimmer, and have been self training with USRPT for about a year and a half. I’m primarily a “utility freestyler,” willing to race anything from a 50 sprint to a 2 mile open water event. Last year I focused sharply on maximizing my potential at distances from 100-500. More recently, I’ve been working on the longer distance stuff. Here are my thoughts.

-I agree with Marlin that an hour long workout, including warm up and recovery, means you probably don’t have the time to optimize the 1650, and that you should focus more on the 500. That doesn’t mean you can’t do some training for, and actually race, a 1650. Your objective, however, will be more about learning to control your pace than capacity building specifically for that event.

-Speaking of controlling pace, that’s pretty key for for the 500, too. While I see some value in occasional over-speed training, I think it’s a gamble to do regularly with distance events as it can lure you into going out too fast in an actual race. If you want to get to failure sooner to compress the time, go with longer distance intervals instead (see next two bullet points).

-For the 500, I would start at 50’s, but strongly suggest moving to 75’s once you’ve adapted to USRPT work. I found that the pace I could maintain doing 50’s on 20 seconds rest was not representative of what I could hold in an actual 500 race. I saw a much closer practice-to-race speed correlation when I switched to 75’s.

-I’ve also found that 25 x 100 at 1650 race pace doesn’t really duplicate the demand of a 1650 race. With 20 seconds of rest every 100, I can hit all 25 at actual race pace with relative ease. I think you have to go much longer to really build capacity for that race, offering something like 30 x 150 with the expectation that you’ll fail out somewhere in the low 20’s, or 24 X 200 with the expectation of failing out in the mid-upper teens. Either way, you can’t count on doing the set in less than an hour at your current speed. You can work on ingraining the right pace, though, with shorter sets. Whether you do 100’s, 150’s or 200’s, they need to be evenly split. Doing a 150 targeting 2:40 at 52/53/55 by 50 isn’t gonna help you. Do you have a 1650 time to work with? If not, you can extrapolate from your 500 pace (110% is a reasonable guess), and work on ingraining that pace. You can then drop your 1650 training pace without the usual “set accomplished before failure” cue by adjusting it proportionally to any changes in your 500 pace.

-Even though you’re not targeting sprint events, I think there’d be value for you in doing some sets of 25’s at 100 race pace. Knowing how to keep your stroke together at higher turnover rates can help you close out a 500 stronger. It’s also something you can go to when you have ~15 minutes left in a practice and you want to do something productive.

-Consider some other stroke sets to compliment your freestyle training. The muscle groups recruited for breaststroke, in particular, are quite different than those recruited for freestyle. When the muscle groups you need for freestyle are too shot to do any more productive freestyle work, but you want to do something to continue building your general aerobic capacity, pull out a breaststroke set. A potential byproduct is that you might actually get good at breaststroke!

-My progression curve really started to flatten out after about 4-5 months of 4-5 ~1 hour workouts a week. The gains in my main races (100, 200, 400/500 free) have been small and infrequent. I started to get frustrated, but decided to diversify instead. I’m working on 1000, 1650, even 2 mile stuff now. I’m doing some 100 and 200 breaststroke sets. I even spent ~6 weeks working on the 50 fly and swam it at Masters State. I’m finding the gains in the other places are keeping me motivated even when I don’t see much progress in the “main” events.

-One area that’s hard, if not impossible, to self coach with USRPT is technique. I do a “traditional” workout a week with the local masters team, just to get some regular technique feedback. I’d recommend you consider doing the same if you’re not already.