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How To Write A Set Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V


You may be without a coach permanently or temporarily, or you just may really enjoy doing your own thing. Regardless of your motivation to create, I’d like to provide you with some guidelines or strategies to help you design sets that effectively utilize the principles as well. More importantly, I want to make sure you can design sets that help you accomplish your goals.


Designing a Set


Designing a great set is the result of a series of simple decisions. At each step, you need to decide how to proceed. While each step is a simple decision, it is a critical decision. It helps to set the stage for the next decision and ensures that all of your decisions are in alignment. While this process may seem a little rigid at first, after running through it a few times, it becomes very fluid and intuitive.


It all starts with deciding what you want to accomplish during the set.


Decide what you want to accomplish


This is the most important step. You must have a clear objective as to what you are trying to accomplish. If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, you’re not going to accomplish much of anything. A rudderless ship and all that.


Get a clear objective in mind for designing your set. What skills do you want to improve? What are you struggling with right now? What’s going to help you in the long run? When you figure this out, the rest will come naturally. If you’re not clear on what you want to accomplish, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to write your set, and you much more likely to be displeased with the result.


Decide what tools you want to use to best accomplish the goal


Each tool is more or less effective at accomplishing a given objective. In prior chapters, I outlined the potential benefits associated with each tool, as well as the unique benefits associated with the combined use of multiple tools. Make sure you’re using the right tool for the job.


  • If you want to work on improving your feel for the water during stroke transitions, sculling is a great choice

  • If you want to work on how much water you can hold with your whole forearm during full stroke swimming, resistance work would be a great choice

  • If you want to work on your breathing, incorporating a snorkel makes sense

  • If you want to improve the sensitivity of your hands and forearms, manipulating the surface area of the hands is going to be a winner


Be honest with your choices. If you LOVE sculling and find yourself sculling to solve any problem you have, you might need to reflect on your motivations. If the purpose of the set is to enjoy sculling, that’s great. Just don’t tell yourself the purpose of sculling is to improve your breathing!


At the same time, keep in mind that my explanations are not dogma. You may find a use for a tool that I haven’t described. If you’re consistently getting the results you want, roll with it. As importantly, let me know so I can update my strategies as well!


Decide the context you want to work in


Are you just focused on skills? Do you want to improve your skills at speed? Do you want to improve the endurance of your skills? Do you want to improve your skills while racing? Determining what type of training you’re looking for will greatly influence the type of set you choose to design.


There is a common misconception that all ‘skill work’ is slow and easy. This is WRONG. Everything you do is skill work, for better or worse. Skill work is part of training. It can be long, it can be hard, and it can be fast. It SHOULD be long, hard, and fast. These types of sets will have a similar type of ‘skeleton’ or framework. The basic set up of a racing set is going to look very different than the basic set up for a skill-based set.


Level I- Skill. At level one, you’re not worried about how fast you’re swimming, how much work you’re doing, or how hard you’re working. You’re just focused on improving your skills, paying attention to what you’re feeling, and tuning in to the water.


Sample set structures

20x25 with 15 seconds rest

12x50 with 20 seconds rest

500 continuous


You can certainly increase or decrease the volume depending on how much time you want to spend on the given skill. Increasing the volume serves to allow for more practice, rather than improving ‘fitness’. There is no requirement for specific intervals because it doesn’t matter. Just take enough rest to reflect, regroup, and start the next repetition. You can include intervals if you it helps you stay organized.


In Part II, we'll explore more contexts...

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