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by Scott Bay

May 31, 2017

The transition from short-course yards to long-course meters can be a difficult one

Spring Nationals is over and many swimmers are turning their attention to long-course season. One way to make a successful transition, whether you want to compete in Summer Nationals or other meets or just keep swimming, is to remember a story that management expert and bestselling author Stephen Covey liked to share about a guest speaker teaching a class about priorities.

The speaker set a mason jar in front of some students and put a few large rocks in it and asked the class if it was full. They all agreed it was. Then he poured some gravel in and it filled in around the large rocks and he again asked if the jar was full. Most agreed it was. He then poured some sand into the jar and it filled in around the rocks and the gravel, and so on.

The moral of the story is that if the speaker had put the things in the jar in a different order, they wouldn’t have fit. How can you apply this simple lesson to your long-course training plan?

A Look at Time and Space

No, it’s not theoretical physics—but rather the time you have between competitive events and how much space you have in the pool.

Not everyone has access to a long-course pool and if you don’t, just how hard is it to train for long-course racing? The key here is to take a moment while recovering a bit from a great short-course season and sit down with a calendar to do some introspection and creative thinking as far as what constitutes your large rocks, your gravel, and your sand.

The Large Rocks: Technique and Volume

This is typically easier for competitive swimmers who have access to a long-course pool. One of the big rocks is volume. Not mindless meters, but rather thoughtful swimming with solid technique.

Long course allows you to focus on the details of stroke and make sure you hold it together for far more than 25 yards, something that might require you to tweak your stroke. The advantage is that the repetitive practice of a new movement pays big dividends in the long run since you’re probably going to be doing longer workouts especially when doing stroke work.

If you’re in a short-course pool there’s a big challenge in making this happen. One way to mimic long-course training in a short-course pool is to increase your yardage for stroke sets. Longer stroke sets help simulate the long pool and develop the mental toughness (think of that last turn in the 200-meter fly) that’s required for swimming events in the long-course pool.

The Gravel: Build, Maintain, and Finish

The gravel when you’re training in a long-course pool is ensuring you don’t back off in the middle of the pool and making sure you build to a finish. Although this seems like race technique, it’s all about making sure you take advantages of the improvements you’ve made to your stroke (the large rocks) by not slowing down so far away from another turn and being able to finish strong in the longer pool. This can be difficult at the beginning of the season when the other end seems so far away.

If you’re training in a short-course pool, then your build and strong finish will start much earlier—right when you leave the wall for the last length of a repeat.

The Sand: Starts, Turns, and Breakouts

Your sand is the most basic stuff of swimming, regardless of course: starts, turns, and breakouts. You might think there should be less emphasis on these elements because the longer pool gives you more of a chance to make up for mistakes, but it’s a great idea to continue focusing on them for all your racing.

The fastest you’re going to go through the water is off the dive and off the walls. The rest of the swim is simply managing how much you slow down until you get to the next wall. Better to carry as much speed off the start and walls because maintaining it is easier than building up to it in the middle of the pool.

In this case, the advantage goes to the short pool. But if you’re training in a long-course pool you can do two-turn 100-meter swims from the middle of the pool and double your turning practice. Not to mention sneak some V kicking in between repeats.

Going back to the speaker and his mason jar: The transition from short course to long course isn’t all that different. To get the most out of your workouts, it’s always good to have a plan and make sure to put the large rocks in first.

Even without access to a long course pool, you can get creative with your short-course volume. If possible, try to incorporate some open water swims to work on your large rocks of technique and volume. The gravel of mental toughness and building speed over distance can be worked on the same way. Finally, keep the basics from the short course—those become the sand that fills in the spaces and makes for some solid racing in a long course pool.


  • Technique and Training


  • Stroke Technique
  • Long Course