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by Terry Heggy

August 5, 2017

Ideas for training sprinters, IMers, and distance swimmers at the same time

Swimmers come in many different flavors. There are sprinters, distance people, stroke specialists, triathletes, and even a few folks who seem to be able to do it all. Our coaching challenge is to provide the best possible training to help our athletes excel in their chosen specialty.

A great way to achieve that goal is to divide your team into separate workout groups that focus on sprint training, distance training, or stroke work. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the time or lane space to be able to do that, so we need to find other options for providing specialized training within our workouts.

Before we talk about flexible sets, though, let’s review some basics to keep in mind as we guide our swimmers toward their specific goals.


The idea behind specialization seems simple: Sprinters need to sprint, distance dudes needs to crank out those long swims, and IMers need to practice all the strokes and turns, etc. But there’s more to it than that:

  • Mold the metabolism—Regardless of specialty, all athletes need training and conditioning in aerobic fitness, sprint speed, lactate tolerance, core strength, and flexibility. Focus on specialties, but design your program to include these other elements, too.
  • Do your drills—Good technique is the key to swimming performance. You cannot overemphasize fundamentals of good form and feel for the water.
  • Sculpt your season—Start with a calendar of important competitions for your swimmers and craft a workout plan that ensures that they will have solid fitness and technique in place when it comes time to taper.
  • Probe the possibilities—Explore the options for workout flexibility. Be prepared to change your practice plan to accommodate conditions on any given day. Factors such as attendance, fatigue from previous workouts, water conditions (temperature, chemical imbalances) might necessitate some creativity in adapting the workout.

Specific Sets

When you have a diverse group with a range of training needs, seek out sets you can assign to the entire team while offering a different focus to each swimmer. Here are some suggestions:

The Brierton Set

Popularized by Illinois Masters swimmer Mark Brierton, this set includes a bit of everything. The beauty of it is that each swimmer can focus on one, two, or all three elements, depending on their training goals. The Brierton consists of repeats of a three-piece set, with each swim on the same sendoff:

  • 250 freestyle
  • 200 IM
  • 150 kick (no fins)

Each repeat equals 600 yards (or meters), so five times through would add up to 3000. On a consistent sendoff, most swimmers will get approximately the same amount of rest on each segment. Swimmers report that the set seems to go by quickly.

Variations include a Half Brierton (125 free, 100 IM, 75 kick) and a Double Brierton (500 free, 400 IM, 300 kick).

Mutt and Jeff

Combining a longer freestyle swim with a shorter choice swim allows everyone to do the same set while enabling flexibility of focus. For example, you might assign a set of five times through the following:

  • 300 freestyle
  • 50 choice

The idea is that each swimmer works only one half of the pair and recovers on the other, while taking very short rest intervals (10 seconds or less). Distance swimmers would work the 300 and recover during an easy 50, while sprinters and strokers would cruise the 300 and blast the 50 in their primary stroke.

Variants of this idea could include 400/100, 150/25, or any other combination of a longer/shorter distance. Allowing swimmers to choose which half they push encourages a personal commitment to work really hard on their chosen segment.

Telling Time

Designate a sendoff time for the group, but let the swimmers choose how far they each want to swim during that time. For example, if you select a 4-minute sendoff, some athletes may swim 300 yards and take 5 seconds rest, while others would swim an all-out 50 butterfly while taking more than 3 minutes of rest. Sprinters sprint, distance people crank out yards, and everyone works hard and goes home happy.

Coach’s Choice

Remember that you can give individual instructions to any athlete during any set. If the set is 10 x 500s, but you have a lone sprinter who is tuning up for a meet, you can ask that swimmer to only work the first and last 50 of each repeat. Ask swimmers who are injured, tired from a triathlon, or simply fatigued from overtraining to reduce their effort to allow for recovery. The workout you write on paper is always open to modification based on what you observe during the practice. Tailor your practices to ensure that each athlete gets the best training you can provide.


  • Technique and Training
  • Coaches Only


  • Coaches
  • Coaching
  • Sets