When developing race read skills, the overriding goal is to learn to execute your skills in progressively more difficult situations, particularly situations that are relevant to the races you’d like to compete in. To do so, you need to put a premium on skillful swimming that is performed with high quality. With that in mind, simply design progressively more difficult training sets that resemble what you’ll need to do in a race.
Here are three more rules for doing so.
Progress one aspect at a time. Avoid swimming faster, using longer repetitions, adding more repetitions, and reducing rest periods all at the same time. Early in the process, it’s very easy to get excited about making progress that typically comes relatively easily. This is particularly true if you’ve done a great job in the previous phases. It can be tempting to aggressively increase your workloads.
While this can work at first, it typically causes problems sooner than later. Instead, increase the challenge slowly over time, only manipulating one variable at a time. While this might seem too easy, remember that progress is progress, and if you can make progress relatively easily, that’s a good problem to have. If you’re too aggressive, you may find that your improvement suddenly grinds to a halt, exactly what you don’t want.
•15x100 ➡️ 8x200 ➡️ 5x400 ➡️ 3x800
•4x200 ➡️ 6x200 ➡️ 8x200
•6x200 ➡️ 6x200+4x100 ➡️ 6x200+4x100+8x50
•6x200@45 seconds rest ➡️ 6x200@30 seconds rest ➡️ 6x200@15 seconds rest
Keep rest periods as short as possible. As the goal is to generate fatigue to facilitate learning, you’ll want to keep the rest periods relatively short to allow for fatigue to build. However, the key piece here is ‘as possible’. You want the rest periods as short as possible, while still allowing for excellent execution. If the rest periods are too short, you’ll see your performance and skills fall apart. You want the rest periods short to provide a challenge, yet long enough to allow for skillful execution. It is a fine balance.
Finish what you start. Your sets should be designed and executed so that you can finish at a very similar standard of performance. Your skills should be at a similar level during the last part of the last repetition as they were when your started. Similarly, your speed should be relatively consistent between repetitions, and even within repetitions. While there are some exceptions, more often than not, focus on finishing well. Doing so will set you up for long-term success.
This comes down to design and execution. If you design a set that is too long, too fast, or with rest periods that are too short, you simply won’t be able to sustain your skills and your speed. For instance, let’s say your goal is to swim 10x400m at 1500m race pace with 10 seconds between each 400. While it’s possible that you’ll completely the first 400m, I’m willing to bet the last one won’t be to the same standard. That’s a design issue.
Likewise, let’s say you design a reasonable set, say 15x100m at 1500m pace w/ 20 seconds between each swim. However, you swim each of the first 3 repetitions 5 seconds faster than your pace. That’s probably not sustainable, and your last repetitions won’t come close to matching your initial goal. In this case, it’s an execution issue rather than a design issue. While making mistakes is part of the learning process, make sure you learn from those mistakes. Be appropriately conservative so that you can finish what you start.
Your training should be focused around your goals. You should be slowly working towards race speeds and race distances over time. You’ll make the most progress by spending most of your time in areas that are relevant to your goals. If you want to complete an Ironman, short sprints won’t cut it. Likewise, 1000-m repeats won’t help your 50-m races very much. Over time, slowly move closer and closer to your goals by adjusting the speed, the distances, the volume, and the rest periods, all the while paying close attention to the quality of the work, and superb skills.
Get to Work
Working on swimming faster AND longer is work. Its’s all about learning how to sustain your skills under physical pressure. Previously, you focused on swimming with great skills at faster speeds or over longer distances. Now, it’s time to put everything together and focus on executing your skills in more challenging situation. While doing so, it’s important to prioritize swimming with excellent skills rather than just swimming with a lot of effort. This will ensure that the skills you’ve learned previously are retained and start to show up where it matters most, in competition.
By hardening skills under racing fatigue, you’re ensuring that those skills are able to withstand the pressures of racing, while simultaneously developing the physical capacities to do so. It’s important that skilled execution is driving the progression process. If you can’t consistently execute your skills to a reasonable standard, it’s likely that the challenge is too great, and it’s time to take a step back.