How to Train for the 50 Free

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    I know that you use more rest than the strict USRPT protocol. I always swim fly and breast on the same day. I used to always do breast first and then fly. Over the past couple of months I have switched to doing fly first because I want to put more emphasis on fly and I want to be totally fresh for it. For whatever reason doing fly after breast wasn’t a big deal but doing breast second, I just can hold pace for very long. I remember that you posted some of the training sets in your sectional results thread from last year. I looked back at that to see how much rest you gave the breaststrokers and it looks like they were doing the 25’s on 50. With that much rest, how closely did the practice pace translate to the race?

    Also, the reason I’m posting this here is that you mentioned the flyer that went 1:02.4 at sectionals last year. I noticed in the sectionals thread that you said she was going 1:06-1:07’s for most of the year. If she is already going 1:01 this early, that is very promising for the end of the year. I’m curious if you are doing anything different with her this year compared to last year. What were her splits in the 101 swim? What kind of sets is she doing right now and what are her paces, reps made, and rest intervals right now?



    I’ll first speak about the flyer. As I said she improved a lot over the summer and swims for a very good club with very good coaches (even though they do traditional training. :)) She went a 1:02.3 with them at the USA short course state meet 4 months after our sections. So not much improvement there but she had some other good times. As I said her fly time over the summer from long course state converts to under 1:01 so most of the credit for where she is right now should go to her club coaches. She strikes me as a better long course swimmer though because she’s about 5’4″ and doesn’t have amazing turns. She also isn’t as good at dolphin kick as you would expect from a girl who goes 1:01. She’s okay but it isn’t her main strength.

    So far this year her fly time in meets has been 1:05.5, 1:04.1, 1:03.1 and 1:01.7. Has gotten faster each meet. The splits from her 1:01.7 were 28.7 and 33.0. I’m not sure she’ll be able to go much faster than mid-1:01 before we rest and put a tech suit on. At that point my goal is low 59. She wrote on her goal sheet that she wanted to break the school record (1:01.9) and her next goal was to break 1:00.0. It’s looking good so far.

    One other not on her improvement. When she went from 1:03.1 to 1:01.7 we did a technique change in between those times. I went to the Peter and Michael Andrew USRPT clinic and talked to the coach of the host club about her fly. He recommended a change and it seems to be helping.

    For fly sets she is typically doing 16×25 @:40 then we take a break and go 8×25 @1:00. This is M,W,F and I also count it as 200 IM training for her fly. She goes the same first 50 on her IM as her 100 fly. Once in a while we will do a test set where every swimmer has a stopwatch on them for every single 25 but we don’t usually record every number. I just try to keep them as honest as possible with my watch. When she’s swimming them on 1:00 we have just been saying “Faster than 100 pace” or “Overspeed.” We’re now saying it is “first 50 of 100 fly pace” like Doc has said. So 14.low for her.

    Honestly she hasn’t had many sets for fly that have looked great so far. We’re saying we want to hold under 15.0 so I let her know whenever I clock her at 15.1 or higher. At her best she is able to go 14.75-14.5 but is usually training at close to 15.0. So far she hasn’t made it to 16 without failing twice. I know we’re supposed to always go to 3rd fail but running practice is too hard if we do that every set of every day. We’ll start offering 20×25 soon.

    I’m sorry I can’t give more exact numbers. She definitely is swimming faster than a 1:01.7 pace in practice but we’re not quite holding 14.75 for 16 straight 25s to get that 59.0.

    I’ll get to breaststroke in the next post.

    "Most people have the will to win. Few have the will to prepare to win."


    I forgot to mention when she fails. She can get 8 on a good day before her first fail. Sits out 9-10 and get maybe 4-6 more. She usually sits out once on the 8×25 @1:00.

    Last year we transitioned a little more slowly from traditional training to USRPT. Now we are pretty close to being 100% USRPT almost right from the start of the season. Obviously our biggest difference is the longer rest intervals we use. We don’t do any kicking, pulling, etc. All of our sets are either race pace, underwater work or skill/recovery.

    Our normal day consists of 200 choice warm up, 8×25 @:40 (they mostly swim freestyle and we just use it as an encouragement to do some fast warm up… pretty much non of them swim actual race pace). Then we’ll do Race Pace set, Recovery/Skill work, Race Pace Set, Recovery/Skill Work, Race Pace Set, Cool Down. We don’t have many swimmers doing 3 big race pace sets on Tuesday/Thursday though.

    On the short rest intervals I believe one of the biggest justifications given by Rushall is there is less lactic acid buildup when you are in the 10-20 second rest range. My swimmers haven’t looked like that has been a problem when we have them going on 25-30 seconds rest so I don’t know that it is that big of an issue. I think Rushall might also talk about how it is good to be 10-20 seconds on rest so that the aerobic something something something. I haven’t read the papers in a while. It might be better to be in that lower rest range but I can’t get them to hit their paces with 10 seconds rest.

    "Most people have the will to win. Few have the will to prepare to win."


    I’m afraid my breaststrokers aren’t great examples but I can give you the data I have. They just aren’t very high level swimmers so I don’t know how much can be drawn from their results.

    They all swam their 25s @:50. Sometimes @1:00. Our top breaststroker got pneumonia the week of sections and wound up going 1:13.mid. She was trying to break 1:12 and was swimming mostly 18low and some mid-high 17. Overall still a decent correlation. Our second girl went 1:14.9 and was training 18.5-19 on her 25s. Good correlation. Our other two were 1:22.5 and were training 21.0. So they went a bit faster than their training pace. I don’t know that I would trust results from swimmers at these speeds though.

    I don’t have great data for any of this. I could try to dig some things up but I know I do a poor job tracking.

    Had a boy with club training 19.0 most of the season and started swimming 17.high a week before Regionals. He went 1:15.low. Had a club girl going 19.0-19.5 and went 1:16.6.

    And that is all the 100 breaststrokers I have had so far. I don’t have many swimmers…

    I will also add that our IMers last year trained 25s breast for the IM and none of them were close to their training pace. We’re now doing 50s breast for IM. We’ll see how it goes.

    I apologize if I have said a lot of this before in other posts.

    "Most people have the will to win. Few have the will to prepare to win."


    It looks like pace correlates even with the extra rest. I think I am going try doing 25’s on 50 for breast and see how it goes. I need to do something because I have been stuck on breast for a couple of months while I have made progress on free and fly. Right now I am on 18.5 25 meter pace or about 17.5 without the tempo trainer delay. That’s a 110scm or 103 in yards. I have done my breast on 15 seconds rest for a few weeks but I got tired so fast with only 15 seconds. For most of the time I have done a 1:1 ratio, so 18-19 rest. For the past couple of months I have been doing them on 23.15 rest and usually I can’t get more than 8 reps before the first fail. The best I’ve done is 13 before the first fail but some days I start failing on the first 6. The thing that frustrates me about breaststroke is that a lot of the times that I fail it is because of muscle fatigue rather than oxygen debt. It sort of like doing as many pull ups as you can. Heart rate is up and breathing is elevated but it not like you are totally winded. Even though I try as hard as I can to make as many reps as I can, I’m not even that tired on a fail sometimes. It’s the same with less rest too. I’m sure if I went a straight 20 reps trying to hold the best average, I would be winded like I am in fly or free.

    When I did my breaststroke before fly, I felt like I got very little reps on the actual race pace tempo. Coming in fresh, a lot of the reps would be long and easy but as soon as I would have to push it to make it, my kick power fades and I fail very soon after. If I started off the set at my race tempo, I would be way under the interval. I don’t know my exact race tempo or if this math adds up but if my race tempo is 1.15 and I did a USRPT set and my first fail was at 14, reps 1-4 would be a tempo of like 1.4, 5-8 1.3, 9-12 1.2, 13-14 1.15. I would hit 18.5 each lap, but I am only at my race tempo for a couple of laps. If I swam at a 1.15 right off the bat I would be way under the interval. Doing breast after the fly kills my easy speed but I get more reps at actual tempo but at the same time I haven’t progressed with this.

    If I was to have a side by side video of the third lap of my 100 free/fly/breast with a USRPT set of each stroke, most of the reps on free and fly except for the first 2-4 would look identical to the race footage. The breaststroke would only synch up with a couple of the repetitions closer to failure. Most of the USRPT breast reps would have slower tempo and longer distance per stroke even though the time would be the same. I am afraid with extra rest it is going to force me into a slower than race tempo. I am having trouble figuring out how I get over this and the failure due to muscle fatigue.


    I’m sure there must be a limit on the amount of rest you can have and still expect a good correlation. Our team is a very small sample size.

    Take everything I say with many grains of salt because I’m a fairly new coach (just started 5th year) and have only been doing USRPT for a year and a half.

    How often do you do training that is faster than race pace? I don’t think there would be anything wrong with swimming 25s @:50 and letting yourself go quite a bit faster than race pace for a while.

    I’ll often have swimmers swim way faster than race pace on the first few reps and I’ll say “These aren’t sprint” and they’ll respond “I don’t even feel like I’m trying right now.” If they feel like they are swimming 14.0 but wind up going 13.5 for the first 4 reps I’m okay with it. I think it can only help. Everyone eventually settles into their pace… or dies and has to rest.

    "Most people have the will to win. Few have the will to prepare to win."


    I do some all out 25 sprints to prepare for the 50 but I never do anything in between 100 pace and all out speed.

    I looked back at the papers. Another reason for the short rest is that the aerobic system continues to operate maximally while the stored oxygen and phosphates replenish during the rest period. Since the next repetition begins while the aerobic system is still operating at maximum “some systems don’t have to be reawakened.” This makes sense to me because a lot of times my first few strokes after a failed rest period feel kind of awkward. With the aerobic system operating at maximum, the body learns how to utilize energy better at a particular velocity.

    My problem with breaststroke is that I don’t think I ever reach maximum aerobic capacity in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still tired on the fails and breathing a little bit hard but I’m definitely not at maximum aerobic capacity like I am on free or fly. I fail to reach the 18.5 pace more for anaerobic reasons than aerobic. At the same time, going on more rest is going to be using different systems than the actual race. With 30 seconds rest, more recovery to the aerobic system is going to be paid back and you will be using way more atp longer into the set and systems that just aren’t going to be there after the first lap of the race. I’m worried about the technique adaptation. I think there is some crossover between work done on other strokes. I’m still getting maximum aerobic work done on free and fly so I don’t think I am totally going to kill my aerobic level right now by going on extra rest. I never swim backstroke but I bet if I had done a 100 back time trail each month I would have seen a steady drop in time. Not as good as it could have been if I trained for it because of technique, but there has to been some kind of cross over from the increased cardio ability I gained from the other strokes. I’m just worried about the technique carry over to the second half of a 100 breast while using a little bit different energy system in practice.

    Rushall does mention that in rare cases as much as 30 seconds rest should be tried so that the swimmer can get enough reps in for a training effect to take place. He refers to the drop dead sprinters for this extra rest. This seems geared more towards swimmers that get aerobically tired really fast. From a general physical fitness standpoint, I feel like I am in really good shape right now. Out of curiosity I took my resting heart rate about a month ago and it was in the 40’s. I was concerned at how low it was so I bought a blood pressure cuff to make sure my blood pressure wasn’t too low. Usually my resting heart rate is about 43 and I hit 39 a week ago. I read that as long as you aren’t dizzy or tired all of the time you are probably good. I’ve been doing USRPT for a year, only a bunch of 25’s for 100’s and occasional 25 sprints. I thought you had to be a marathon runner or a cyclist doing hours of aerobic work per day to pull off a sub 40 heart rate.


    I agree that there is some crossover with aerobic work in other strokes. All of our swimmers have been doing 200 free training so far this year and I’m hoping that has some carryover for the swimmers who aren’t getting as much aerobic work on their stroke sets.

    How much does the aerobic system come into play when the race is under 1 minute? I read about this a while back but I don’t remember exactly. I think it matters but I’m not sure to what extent.

    That is an amazing resting heart rate! I need to workout more.

    "Most people have the will to win. Few have the will to prepare to win."


    You said a big solution to your problems right here:

    “She strikes me as a better long course swimmer though because she’s about 5’4″ and doesn’t have amazing turns. She also isn’t as good at dolphin kick as you would expect from a girl who goes 1:01. She’s okay but it isn’t her main strength.”

    I really appreciate all the lengthy discussions in this thread about specifics of conditioning, but Rushall is very emphatic when he says that most of short course racing is skills (starts, UW’s, turns, breakouts & finishes). It’s really easy to get caught up in the sets and fret about paces not improving quickly enough, or questioning the conditioning of the athletes and whatnot. It’s another thing entirely to slow down and focus on the fundamentals of swimming fast and focus on teaching them to be better!

    Don’t knock yourself for being a new-ish coach either! I’ve only been coaching for 7 years, but have had a LOT of success (I’m only 26). Many under-14 Sectional qualifiers, LSC recordbreakers, State Champions, etc. People will always judge you on your experience/age, but you can erase all doubts with top-notch coaching!

    Try starting your sessions with focused skill work. If your girl has rough turns, then clean them up. It’s low-hanging fruit, and really easy to make big improvements with small investments of time (possibly 20 mins a day, as your very first “set”). Rushall suggests doing this type of work often – possibly EVERY day. Most swimmers – probably over 95% – are terrible on their turns. I think everyone on this blog will agree with me on that point 🙂

    If you aren’t sure how your kids’ turns need to be improved, just do a little research. There is a lot of decent stuff even on YouTube! I personally like the Dave Marsh material on Turns a lot – he really goes in depth.

    Same thing goes for the dolphin kicking. Start off with a round of 15m UW work. If the pool doesn’t accommodate easily, just have them swim the last ~10 yards in easy, then include that in their interval. So if she’s swimming ~8s UW’s, just make them into “25’s” on :25. And don’t be too antsy about the swim times midpool, just focus on the fundamentals of good UW’s. Better streamlining (on arms/hands AND legs/feet). Push-off mechanics (feet, hips, body, streamline in alignment). Depth of UW (6 feet depth is ideal, per Rushall, with 40% less drag than surface swimming). Starting the UW kicking pretty much immediately after push-off (so you don’t lose momentum). Keeping the head in line with the body as the swimmer ascends to the Breakout. I could go on and on and on, but the best thing you can do as a coach is to go DEEPER into the basic, fundamental skills with your kids. It will pay HUGE dividends when they begin to “get it.”

    These types of improvements to racing skills make a fast and big difference in swimmers’ performance in sets and in racing. It is much quicker to change and improve than something in their stroke, since they perform so many more executions of strokes, and are much more “ingrained” with their neurological patternings. Rushall estimates it takes 50,000 to 100,000 reps to fully incorporate a technical change into a stroke! It’s just a lot easier to work out those racing skills! Plus, the kids will really notice a positive difference when they race (and not just in the times they drop either).


    Take your time, work the fundamental racing skills, be thorough with your teachings, and make your athletes better (not just better-conditioned).


    Thanks KT! I have been disappointed with most swim technique DVDs I have purchased in the past. I’ll give the David Marsh DVD a shot though. 🙂 I definitely need to spend more time on turns and underwaters.

    "Most people have the will to win. Few have the will to prepare to win."

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