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by Scott Bay

July 22, 2019

Adjusting the intensity in your workouts provides multiple benefits

If you’ve read any swimming articles recently, especially ones about adult athletes, you’re already well aware of a current philosophy in swim training: less is more.

And, as busy adults, who has time to log in tons of yardage every day anyway? So, the question becomes, how can you accomplish your fitness and/or competitive goals without spending hours in the pool every day?

For many, the answer is simple: intensity.

So Just Swim Faster, Right?

Wouldn’t it be great if it were just that simple? There’s a delicate balance between what you can handle aerobically, anaerobically, mentally, and strength-wise. All of these factors influence the others, so it’s a good idea to not tax all of those areas at the same time by just swimming faster.

Here are a couple of fun sets anyone can do to change the intensity.

  • Test sets—These are the greatest because they give you a lot of data that you can keep track of. The variables of interest are time and, well, time. The first is the time your swim takes, and the second is the length of rest you need. Start with fast, short swims and more rest before adjusting your distance or rest interval. Starting modestly helps you keep it together physically and mentally.
  • Fail sets—You learn a lot from failure. Swim a set that descends the time interval and see how far you get. One of my favorites is 2 x 100s on 1:45 followed by an easy 50, then 2 x 100s on 1:40 followed by an easy 50, and so forth. How low can you go? You can always push yourself to go lower when you try the set another time. Finding your limit one month and then going past it the next does wonders for you mentally. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, that’s a great step forward.
  • Best average—These are like test sets, but they’re more aggressive in that you’re trying to hold the best time you can, given the distance and interval. You can play around with both and do something longer on short rest, shorter and more intense on longer rest, or any other iteration. The key is to get some metrics and push a little further than where you were. My club has done the swimmer’s best time for a certain distance plus 10 percent on a long interval. For example, if you swim a 100 freestyle in one minute, you’d have to hold 1:06. Like test sets, you can experiment with the interval and the distance, but consistency is key.

Taking the Next Step

Aside from making you all tingly after each effort and giving you an adrenaline rush, these sets ramp up your metabolism and make your previous fast seem pedestrian. Studies have shown higher intensity training can be just as effective, if not more so, on increasing your fitness, and it takes less time if done correctly.

If you’d like to try some of these sets, your best bet is to find a knowledgeable coach. But if you don’t have any coaches in your area, there are plenty of resources available on the internet and daily high intensity workouts available exclusively for U.S. Masters Swimming members.


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