Cramping between sets (45 Y.O. Master)

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    Gary P

    I’m a 45 year old who swam at a fairly high level in high school, gave up the sport for 25 years, then recently decided to start swimming again. To me, “swimming” means “competing,” so I’m training for Masters meets. While surfing the web looking for some workout guidance, I stumbled across USPRT. The efficiency of USPRT was very appealing to me since I knew I would not have time for the mega-yardage training I used to do as teen (+/- 60k yards a week). I started training using USRPT as my exclusive training method in September. I’ve seen steady progression in my speed since, but have not been able to get past a particular issue: I have yet to be able to make meaningful progress into a second USRPT set in the same workout because I’m experiencing cramping in my toes/calves. Sometimes I feel the cramping coming on as I fatigue late in the first set, but it’s often the push-off for the very first repetition of the second set which instigates the cramping.

    I’ve tried various things to address the issue: ensuring proper hydration, eating a banana an hour before the workout, drinking tonic water with quinine, stretching, massaging, pushing off easy, etc. I have yet to be able to get a second USRPT set into a workout where I didn’t “fail” prematurely for cramping.

    Some pertinent background information: I didn’t come into USRPT with much conditioning under my belt. I had let myself get really out of shape when, in April of this year, I decided to improve my diet and fitness. I started with cycling 3-5 times a week and lost 20 lbs by summer. In June I started swimming an hour twice a week at the local outdoor pool. At first even a 50 was fatiguing. By the end of summer, I had dropped a total of 40 lbs and was able to do +/-1800 meters in that time. When the outdoor pool closed, I joined the Y and started swimming 3-4 times a week. Because of weather/time issues, I’ve stopped cycling; it’s exclusively swimming for me right now. I have continued to lose weight at a modest pace, down 10 more pounds since the end of summer (total of 50). I’m 5’11 and currently weigh in at 182.

    Since mid September, I’ve been alternating between the two following USRPT sets:
    -30X50M free on 1 min, (target time started at 40, now down to 37; training for 200 free)
    -30X25M free on 30 seconds, (target time started at 19, now down to 17.5; training for 100 free)
    I follow the “miss one, sit out a minute, then resume; set failed at three misses or two consecutive misses” doctrine faithfully. If I complete a set, or get into the upper 20’s before failing, I’ve decreased the target time on subsequent workouts. On the decreased target times, I’m usually able to get into the upper teens before failing so I’m still getting at least 4-times race distance. I do the prescribed recovery protocol (300 easy swim, 5 minutes of rest), then try to get another set in but the cramping always cut me short.

    Is this perhaps just a matter of me trying to do too much without a sufficient baseline of fitness? I know I need to be able to get a second and, eventually, third set into a practice to get the full effect of USPRT. Should I back off the intensity of my workouts, build up some endurance, then go back to USPRT?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.


    First of all, good for you for getting back to swimming!

    Sounds to me like you understand how to work USRPT sets. I am guessing however, that with your quick weight loss of 50 pounds, your body still needs to adjust. That is a lot of weight to lose in a very short period of time. It also sounds like you have gone at this with full guns blazing!

    I understand that, because I tend to do the same and I have been swimming Masters for 35 years. However, although 45 is very young to my 65, I think you have gotten ahead of your body. Back off a little. Don’t worry about the second set right now. Let your body adjust to race pace work, and if that means one set, so be it. You can gradually work into two sets once, then twice a week and maybe eventually 5 times a week.

    I have been doing USRPT exclusively for slightly over a year with very good results. This past week, for the first time, I did two sets of 30 x 50 everyday. I did a total of 10,000 yards at race pace this week! A year ago I was doing half that in a week.

    If you are committed to USRPT, and it sounds like you are, it will work, don’t be concerned about that. You will hit the times you are training for. But give your 45 year old body a chance to adjust and it will.

    Good luck.

    Glenn Gruber


    I am a Masters swimmer. I am a big fan of one set per workout. You could try one set a workout, seven days a week.

    Gary P

    Thought I’d post with an update. I took the advice and am keeping the workouts to one USRPT set for the time being. I did increase my frequency from 3-4 times a week to 5. I still have some issues with cramping towards the end of a set or on the cool-down exercise, but it is diminishing in frequency and intensity. I’ve also had some success at recognizing an oncoming cramp and “swimming out” of it by relaxing my foot, reducing the kick intensity slightly, and easing up a bit on any push offs.

    I swam a SCM meet in early October, went 1:10 in the 100 free, and 2:47 in the 200 free. After 8 weeks of USRPT training, I did a “mock race 200” AFTER my regular workout and swam a 2:23 200 SCM Free….from an in-pool start…with the onset of a cramp in the 2nd 50 that I successfully swam out of.

    That time correlated almost perfectly with my then-current USRPT 200 training pace times (50’s @ 36.0 on :55 interval and 75’s @ 55.0 on 1:20 interval).

    I can’t believe how much progress I’ve made in this short a time swimming just 5-6 hours a week. Today, I dropped my 200 practice pace another second per 50 and made it to rep 19 before failing the set. My original goal was to get to 2:20 for the 200M free by Masters Long Course Nationals in August, 2015. Looks I’m gonna make it 8 months early and have to seriously recalibrate. I know there will eventually be some flattening of the progression, but so far the time keeps coming off in chunks. Can I get under 2:10 in the LCM 200 Free by August? That would be a “Top 10” time in the 45-49 age group most years. Jeez, this beats the hell out of the “swim until you’re exhausted, then swim about another 5000 yards; repeat daily” regimen I was on in high school.

    Gary P

    Another update. I started taking a magnesium supplement. Maybe that did it, or maybe my conditioning finally caught up to my ambition, but cramping issues aren’t really a problem anymore. Time permitting, I’m now able able to do two USRPT sets in a single practice.

    As for my progress with USRPT…..I was quite demoralized and embarrassed to find out I was training in a 25 yard pool, not a 25 meter pool. God, what a dope! I should have known that even USPRT can’t turn a fat, out-of-shape old guy into a Masters Nationals Qualifier in just a couple months. I’m just now, 2 1/2 months later, getting to USRPT set paces that suggest I’m on the verge of posting NQT’s in a meet.

    Because of the schedule of events at summer Nationals, I decided to drop training for the 200 free and pick up the 400/500 free.

    My personal experience has been that USPRT sets of 50’s aren’t a good predictor of performance at that longer distance; I could complete a set of 40 50’s at :34 on a :54 interval, but couldn’t come close to holding that pace for a full 500 yards. I switched to 75’s and have found a much closer correlation to actual race (time trial, actually) pace.

    Have my first meet since early October in a couple weeks. Will be swimming the 200, 500, and 50 free.

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