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by Terry Heggy

September 3, 2019

Things to think about on each length of a short-course 100

I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon, Coach, there’s no need to break down a 100. It’s an all-out sprint! Stomp the pedal to the metal and don’t let up until you smack the touchpad.”

Yes, I hear what you’re saying. A 100 is an intense effort of brief duration, so you can’t waste time pondering the mysteries of the cosmos as you swim. But although strategies for longer races may not translate directly to sprints, it doesn’t mean your brain is worthless during a short race.

  • All-out sprinting taps into your anaerobic metabolism, which uses the finite supply of energy stored within your muscles without requiring new oxygen. Super-fast swimmers may be able to complete an entire 100 anaerobically, but most of us will feel the proverbial piano land on our backs if we deplete this fuel supply before we get to the final wall.
  • Without good technique, much of your hard work is wasted in overcoming resistance created by sloppy form.
  • Thinking about your race length by length helps focus your training.

Breaking a 100 into quarters is a way to ensure focus on critical elements of your race. It can also help you train for each component of a perfect swim, regardless of stroke. Here are some suggestions for dividing to conquer.

Length 1: Start

That fastest you move during the entire race is at the start.

  • Reaction—Establish your position on the blocks so that the stored energy of muscular tension and gravity is released the instant you hear the horn. Visualize the way your arms cradle the back of your head as your hands lie atop each other for a perfect streamline as you fly through the air.
  • Entry—Your fingertips poke a small hole in the water and your entire body follows your fingers through that hole. Focus on keeping your hands and arms squeezed together with biceps behind your head throughout the entry and glide.
  • Underwater speed—Implement the plan derived from your science data. Your goal is to begin your surface stroke at the instant you’ve slowed down to your swimming speed. If your underwater propulsion isn’t moving you faster than you can swim on top, surface sooner.
  • Breakout and breathing—The breakout stroke should transition to the surface with speed and power, not merely to rotate you for your first breath. Establish your arm and leg tempo while sticking to your planned breathing pattern as you prepare to enter your first turn.

Practice starts regularly to ensure that you instantly begin each swim with maximum velocity. Remember that the underwater propulsion and breakout stroke are elements of starts and turns and should be practiced at race tempo every time you leave a wall.

Length 2: Efficiency

The second length is where you solidify the form that will carry you to the finish line.

  • Turn—Depending on the efficiency of your kick and your anaerobic reserves, you may or may not have the same underwater strategy (wall departure depth, number of kicks) as you did on the start. Resist the circle-swim habit; come off the wall directly over the lane stripe and execute your breakout with your predetermined breathing strategy.
  • Position—Unless you’re intentionally pulling over to take advantage of a draft, concentrate on swimming straight, with a tight core and great alignment.
  • Stride—Monitor your distance per stroke as you maintain your initial race cadence. Assess your drag profile and modify your form as necessary to maintain your streamline.

Include efficiency practice regularly during your training. Develop the habit of continuously monitoring your form and body position.

Length 3: Power

As you come off the wall on the third length, think about how your training has prepared you to generate thrust for the final 50.

  • Accelerate—Feel your grip on the water and embrace the effort it takes to move your hands faster as you accelerate from the catch to the end of each stroke. Visualize how your hands provide a great pulling surface as your muscles engage the water for each stroke’s forward surge.
  • Kick—It’s time to turn the legs loose. Increase the energy applied to your kick as you prepare for your final turn.

Train yourself to focus on power during the third length by paying attention to your acceleration and kick during the late stages of hard sprint sets. In ultrashort race-pace training, for example, be especially aware of muscular effort in the two or three repeats immediately preceding your interval failure.

Length 4: Determination

There’s no reason to hold anything back on the last length. Maintain your form, of course, but release your inner tiger to bring it home.

  • Be tough—Some of your competitors will pop up immediately on the final turn, giving you a huge opportunity to get ahead if you can nail your underwater surge off the wall.
  • Cadence—Maintain your distance per stroke while increasing tempo. Think how your favorite rock song (Free Bird? Stairway?) gets faster toward the end. Tap into that energy and spin it up!
  • Breathing—Keep your head down and exhale fully if you breathe late in a race. A high cadence makes it tempting to lift up for short shallow breaths, but focus on exhaling provides synergy with pulling power, resulting in greater velocity.
  • Finish—Don’t reach over the top of the gutter on your finish as slackers do in practice. Touch the closest part of the pad as quickly as possible. Always notice your final stroke in practice to get a feel for whether a short-stroke or glide-and-kick finish will get you to the wall the fastest.

It’s hard to find time to do all-out 100s with adequate rest in practice. But you must learn what it feels like to do that final 50 when your body is under duress. Try doing push-ups, planks, or briefly holding your breath immediately before sprinting to simulate those feelings. Focus on each of your four one-length strategies during regular sets of 25s, and your 100s will come together for your best performance on race day.


  • Technique and Training


  • Races
  • Racing