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Climbing the Ladder

Fighting the boredom of distance sets to gain their benefits

Matthew Edde | August 20, 2014

For many swimmers, distance sets can be dull as they seem to go on, and on, and on. For others though, a continuous swim can be manageable or even pleasurable. Regardless of your interest in long distance and tolerance for swimming long sets, ladder sets can be highly beneficial for all swimmers.

For Long Distance Swimmers

Many swimmers have told me that they’ve shattered their best times after using ladder sets with difficult intervals in practice. Ladders work in this way because they break down the event in a way that allows swimmers to focus on certain parts of their events. Creating this different mindset—understanding a long distance event as a series of smaller aspects rather than one big, long swim—can be a powerful tool for improvement.

For example, let’s use a broken 1500 with the goal of trying to hold pace. There are several ways to break down a 1500 ladder.

Climb the ladder

Instruct your swimmers to slow down during the front end of the set to allow them to continue holding their pace as each swim increases in distance and their bodies naturally grow more tired. Here are a couple examples:

  • 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, each with a 5-second rest interval between each segment.
  • 4 x 25, 4 x 50, 4 x 100, 4 x 200, with a set time send-off. Use the same interval relative to the distance, meaning that each 25 within the 1500 is swum with an equal amount of time, such as :25 for the 25s, :50 for the 50s, 1:40 for the 100s, and 3:20 for the 200s.

Descend the ladder

If you take the two 1500s above and flip them, you can have your swimmers focus on strong finishes. Here are two descending ladder sets you can try:

  • 5 x 100, 6 x 75, 7 x 50, 8 x 25, again using the same interval relative to distance as above.
  • 750, 400, 200, 100, 50, with a 5-second rest interval between each segment.

Build a pyramid

There are other ways to incorporate ladders into your training, and some would call these sets pyramids because the set increases and then decreases again. They can also be inverted, where you start at the peak, descend one side of the pyramid, and then ramp back up the other side. I like using the inverted ladder or pyramid to strengthen the middle portion of a swimmer’s event.

  • 1 x 50, 2 x 100, 2 x 150, 2 x 200, 2 x 150, 2 x 100, 1 x 50, using the same interval relative to distance as noted in the previous examples.
  • 300, 200, 100, 75, 3x50, 75, 100, 200, 300, using an interval that becomes more difficult as the distance shortens and then eases again as the distance increases.

For Other Swimmers

These ladders can be used to break up long, drawn-out swims for swimmers who don’t have the patience for long distance. Even though they’re broken up, these sets will give your swimmers more endurance for the events that they find more interesting. Even swimmers with an aptitude for distance can grow bored with long swims, and these sets can help alleviate that tedium.

These two 1650s will put some fun back into your club’s long-distance training:

  • 11 lengths, 10 lengths, 9 lengths, etc., all the way down to 1 length. Pause for a 5-second rest after each segment.
  • 3 x 25, 3 x 50, 2 x 75, 2 x 100, 4 x 125, 2 x 100, 2 x 75, 3 x 50, 3 x 25, using the same interval relative to distance as noted above.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Matthew Edde

Matthew Edde is a recognized USMS Coach with a Level 3 certification. He is currently coaching Blue Wave Aquatics swimmers. Edde is on the USMS Coaches Committee, has served as LMSC Coaches Chair, and has been a USA Swimming coach.

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