Swimming Sets Correctly

triathletes swimming in the open water
January 24, 2010

Mike Ricci


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When swimming a particular workout, remember that every swim set has a distinct purpose. Swimming is different then biking or running in that you can hammer every day without tearing up you ligaments and joints. Since you don’t feel the same type of soreness as in running and biking, swimming leads many of us to think that we didn’t swim hard enough. Beware! Swimming hard hard every day eventually will wear you down and something is going to give; like your shoulder, back, or your motivation. Swim with a plan: Each time you get in the water the swim set should have a set purpose.

Drill Sets: The purpose of a drill session is practice technique and improve your efficiency. It’s NOT to see how fast you can swim a 100 yards while doing the finger tip drag drill.

Speed sets: These sets are designed to teach you how to become efficient at going fast and to break the habit of the same old pace that many of us swim day after day. These sets are NOT designed to see you swim 35 seconds for 50 yards and then swim 45 seconds for the rest. Pick a speed you can handle for the duration of the set. Typically, when I have a set of 10×50 yards, I start out at 40 seconds and work my way under 35. Not vice versa. Your fastest swim should be your last swim. Learn to swim fast when you are tired.

Endurance Sets: These sets are designed to create a nice big aerobic engine that will let you swim at race pace for as long as you need to. These sets include 200 yard, 500 yard and up repeats. You may have to swim a set of 3×500 yards. Just as when you are swimming the Speed Sets, swim your fastest repeat last. If you start out at 8:00 for your first 500, and then swim 8:30, and then 9:00 you just blew your whole workout. Remember swim your fastest repeat last.

The goal of any swim set, be it 50 yard sprints or 800 yard repeats, is to swim each repeat faster. The more you start incorporating this into your practices, the faster you will become.

Summary: The point of this writing is to teach you to understand the important of pacing while in the pool. Take it out easy during the first few sets and repeats when you swim. As you warm up increase your pace and finish with your fastest sets being the ones you do toward the end of your workout. Do you ever wonder why people start out so fast in a race or in a workout only to fade in the middle or at the end? Well, proper pacing can help you avoid that! Practice the way you are going to race and it will all become second nature. You want to be the athlete doing the passing at the end of the race, not the one being passed! Start slow, and finish strong!

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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