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by Terry Heggy

May 7, 2018

Long distance sets can be very valuable for many reasons

Even Starship captains are aware of the concept of long distance swimming, but some coaches think of it solely as a training regimen for athletes who intend to compete in longer events. Indeed, those folks do need to swim long sets at high intensities to prepare for their races, but they are not the only ones to benefit from LDS.


Exercising continuously for a long time strengthens your heart and lungs and provides a fitness base that benefits all athletes. recommends that a majority of training time be spent at a comfortable effort level, where easy conversation would be possible (if your face weren’t in the water). But we all have athletes who want to go as hard as they can all the time, so it takes creativity to get them to perform the long, slow sets they need.

Caveat: When you assign long sets, be careful not to sanction “junk” yardage. People who don’t do a lot of distance training tend to lose focus on long sets and can suffer lapses in form. Any sloppy swimming can become a habit and must therefore be prohibited. Remind swimmers that easy swimming is still performed with technical perfection. Each of these sets removes the pressure of the clock to enable concentration on technique and efficiency.

  • Turn Perfection—The base set is 10 minutes of continuous easy swimming, with special focus on performing excellent turns. Before starting your stopwatch, explain that each poor turn you witness will add 1 minute to the duration and that they can’t stop until they hear the whistle. Be visible and establish eye contact with swimmers as they approach the wall, so they’ll know you’re watching. The beauty is that no one knows how many unacceptable turns you see, so you can extend the set as much as you want. Chances are good, though, that the motivation to finish sooner will keep them focused on nailing all their turns.
  • Stroke Count—When swimmers are fresh, have them count their strokes for one length. With that stroke count as a target, have them swim continuously (10 to 30 minutes) with the restriction that they maintain their count within one (or two) of their target on each length. If they exceed their limit on any length, they must kick the rest of the way into the wall.
  • Drafting—For triathletes and open water swimmers, it’s fun to remove lane ropes and practice following teammates in a big loop around the pool for an extended time. Remind drafting swimmers to focus on stroke length and relaxation, while lead swimmers throw in a few breakaway attempts to keep it interesting.


Sometimes, swimmers just want to dial into a groove. Distance swims (such as Go the Distance and ePostal competitions) appeal to many folks who may not be interested in climbing the blocks for traditional swim meet competitions. If your pool has a sound system, you can assign swims that last through a playlist of inspiring music. Create your own compilation of rockin’ hits or borrow a set from the local spin class instructor. Tell swimmers how many songs the set will last and finish with something up-tempo and dynamic. My favorite is The Curly Shuffle, but others recommend the William Tell or 1812 Overtures.

People also tend to enjoy ladders and pyramids, which can make the time in a distance set pass by quickly. Changing lane leaders after each 200 can also or pool snakes (changing lanes after each length) make a long set seem shorter than it otherwise would. Allow your team to just have fun with long sets by emphasizing something other than speed and effort.


A low-intensity distance set is a good way to recover after a championship meet, a really tough sprint workout, or a session of killer drylands. Turn off the pace clock and instruct swimmers to focus attention on relaxation and body awareness for 15 minutes straight. During these long-duration recovery swims, encourage them to notice discomfort and act to relieve it. If their shoulders hurt, have them kick on their back with their arms at their sides. If their legs are exhausted, tell them to grab a pull buoy. Emphasize breathing comfortably, gliding, eliminating drag, and swimming smoothly.

Don’t forget that coaches sometimes need recovery, too. On those rare days you find yourself unable to bring your usual energy to the deck, an uninterrupted 30- or 60-minute swim will give you a chance to recharge and rest while your athletes benefit from aerobic yardage. A little bit of LDS can be good for everyone.


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