- Coaches Only
10 Ways to Create Interesting Sets
There are many fun and creative ways to mix up your swimming workouts
All coaches have their favorite sets. (Mine happens to be 10 x 100 on FSYCH.) Swimmers have their favorites, too, and there’s certainly no harm in repeating what we enjoy. We also benefit from standardized test sets (a timed 1000 on the first Monday of the month, for example, or 13 x 200s with 10 seconds rest every Friday the 13th.) At the same time, we don’t want to bore our swimmers by becoming too predictable.
Here are some ideas for keeping workouts interesting.
- Odd lengths. Instead of repeating standard distances such as 50s or 100s, throw in a set of 125s or 275s. Or 35s. There’s nothing wrong with starting and stopping in the middle of the pool, and the oddball intervals can force swimmers to engage their brains in new ways.
- Texas 50s. Add turns to the beginning and end of 50s for three turns total. Have the swimmers start just outside the backstroke flags, swim into the wall for a turn, swim a 50, and finish with another turn at the first wall, stopping where they started, just outside the flags.
- Fargos (as far as you can go). Set sendoff times (rather than a specified distance), and challenge the swimmers to be at a wall to get at least 5 seconds of rest before each sendoff. For example, if the sendoff is 3 minutes, some swimmers will swim 250, some will swim 225, some 200, and so on. If you do a descending interval (e.g., 3:10, 3:05, 3:00, etc.) swimmers will have to drop a 25 from their distance every fourth swim or so. A descending interval set that starts at 3:10 and goes down by 5 seconds until you reach :35 will cover a lot of yardage and will take an hour but seem much shorter.
- Sideways. Have them swim widths of the pool rather than lengths. Or swim down one lane, duck under the lane line, and swim back in the next lane (also known as swimming “snakes”).
- Countdown 50s. Count down from 1:30 and have the swimmers leave when they hear you yell out the time they think they can go for a 50. If everyone leaves at the right moment, the entire group will touch the wall at the same time. Most people leave too early because they get caught up in racing and go faster than they thought they would so repeat it until everyone touches together. (Note: This works best when there are only two people per lane.]
- Race from opposite ends. Start swimmers of similar ability from opposite ends of the pool and challenge them to swim a 100 before their rival can finish. Because they’re not directly beside the person they’re racing, they must go all-out if they want to win. You can handicap each rivalry by starting one person earlier than the other or making one swim farther, as appropriate.
- Fin Fartleks. During long, continuous kick sets, blow a whistle to signal an all-out sprint until the next whistle blows. Between speed sections, the swimmers kick at a moderate pace to recover so they can really work the next sprint. Vary the length of time for both the sprint and recovery segments. Keep them on edge, ready to take blast into sprint mode at any moment.
- Name that tune. Engage the swimmers by having each one choose the stroke, speed, drill, or tool (pull buoy, snorkel, fins) for a 25 or 50.
- Rewards. When swimmers demonstrate excellence in practice, reward them by letting them choose the stroke (or distance) for the next set. Variations might include rewarding the swimmer of the day with a “golden kickboard”, a trophy that remains in their lane for the workout, or a new USMS cap, etc.
- Get-out swims. Challenge one or more swimmers to hit a designated goal that will let everyone get out early. The goal could be a PR time, a performance challenge (such as a completely legal 400 IM or 200 fly), or a relay time target. Since Masters swimmers generally want to be at practice, getting out early might not be desired, so have another reward in mind for meeting the challenge successfully.
A Culture of Creativity
Keeping an eye open for opportunities gives swimmers a break from boredom. There are endless possibilities for variety and modification while still providing a great workout that supports training goals. Network with other coaches, solicit ideas from your swimmers, and keep reading Streamlines for Coaches!