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Speed in Your Swimming Workouts

A progressive swimming workout that will help you become a faster swimmer

One of the goals of competitive swimming is to get faster. That's obvious. There are thousands of ways to swim faster, and every swim coach and swimmer has great ideas. One idea to improve swimming speed that I have tried with my swimmers is based on an idea called sustained speed (ss).

I stole this idea from a triathlon site article by Francois Modave titled "vV02max and tlimVO2max: Practical Considerations for Triathletes in Quest for Speed" - whew - that's a mouthful, Francois! His ideas are based on research by the physiologist Veronique Billat from France. He summarizes the main thread as "specific training at a specific intensity for a specific time will help improve economy, threshold, and VO2max factors" in athletes.

Done right, you can get a lot done within a single workout!  

One of the main ideas is that each session is individualized for each athlete, allowing them to work within zones that will benefit them the most. This is important to maximize the benefit of this type of work. However, I have modified it to work with a large group of swimmers, and it seems to work that way, too. It would be more effective if individualized, but we don't always have that luxury - if you do, then I'd recommend doing this work custom-tailored, athlete to athlete.

The Basics

  • A four week cycle, with this type of workout done once each week
  • Establish a base pace for each "ss" workout
  • Focus on holding the base pace - no faster or slower - during the "ss" set
  • Adequate rest between repeats to allow holding the base pace
  • Encourage active recovery, for those that are fast enough, when done as a group set

An Example

  1. Warm-up adequately.
  2. Swim 4 x 25 on :30 to :45 seconds rest to prepare for a fast effort.
  3. Establish a base pace by swim a distance that takes approximately 4:30 to complete at your fastest possible effort. For example, if you think you can do a 300 in 4:30 (1:30 per 100 average) then do it! You can adjust the distance the next week if needed.
  4. Calculate your pace per 100 by dividing your time by the distance you covered.
  5. Swim easy for 5:00 to 10:00 (work on technique) to recover from the fast swim.
  6. Complete a set of 3 x 100 holding the base pace; work to rest should be equal. For example, if your base pace for the set is 1:30 per 100, then you should also rest for 1:30 per repeat - 3 x 100 on 3:00 with a goal time of 1:30. You may do some easy swimming during the rest period.
  7. Swim easy for 5:00 (work on technique) to recover from the first set.
  8. Repeat the set of 3 x 100's.
  9. Cool-down.

We do this type of set once per week with both our youth and adult group, modifying the base pace distance by ability, but keep the "ss" distance the same for most swimmers; this keeps the group together. Although it does not allow the full benefits of the set to be realized by everyone, practical experience has shown that the swimmers are improving and enjoy the concrete challenge of meeting the goal time during each repeat.

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