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by David Grilli

November 1, 2002

Start with an emphasis on aerobic conditioning

This is the time of year when a swimmer can begin anew. Perhaps your past training efforts have not been effective. You thought you were in pretty good shape, went to a meet and bombed. Don't worry. It happens to everyone including world class swimmers.

Perhaps you need to consider putting your training plan on a cycle to optimize your swimming in preparation for a championship meet. This is what the elite swimmers do.

A proper cycle includes the conditioning phase, a speed working component, a degree of maintenance, and a tapering phase. These components have to be blended properly. You don't want to get bored with your training, but at the same time, the boring sets are usually the more productive ones.

The cycle should start with an emphasis on aerobic conditioning. About 60% - 75% of the workout should be sets like, 5 x 300s, 10 x 100s or even 20 x 50s. All are good examples of aerobic conditioning sets. These sets can be done on an interval that allows for a short amount of rest or on a rest interval. I prefer and recommend using a definite interval. Choose one that allows 10-15 seconds rest between swims. As your conditioning improves, you should be getting more rest. Once the rest is more than 15 seconds, shorten the interval by 5 seconds. Eventually you will get to an interval that will be hard work to maintain. At this time consider expanding the set. Instead of 10 x 100, do 12 x 100 on your hardworking interval.

The remaining part of your early cycle workouts should focus on speed and technique.

These sets are to be swum at 80% - 90% race pace. Allow more rest between repeat swims. A good set for this phase is the "broken set."; A broken set, has stops or breaks during the repeated swim. Say it's a broken 200. You swim 50, rest 10 seconds, swim a 100, and rest 10 seconds, and swim a 50 for a total of 200. You repeat this type of swimming on an interval that allows a minute or more of rest between repeat swims.

The key is to swim fast and use the breaks and the long rest period to recover. Look at your overall time to swim the 200. Subtract your break time and get your swim time. As the cycle progresses, measure improvement by a decrease in your swim time.

After 4 to 6 weeks of this blend, work into the speed building phase of your cycle. Scale back the aerobic yardage and increase the speed yardage. Have your aerobic yardage be no more than 50% of your total workout yardage. Your speed workouts now need to get more intense. You can continue to do broken sets. Give yourself a little more rest between repeats and increase the break time. But make sure your swim time is faster.

You can do these sets with any combination of freestyle or stroke. I also suggest alternating the sets within a workout so you can do an aerobic set, then a speed set, followed by another aerobic set, and so on.

When you are two weeks away from your big meet, you should begin to taper. Drop dead sprinters can taper a little longer and distance swimmers need not taper as much.

There are numerous little tricks to tapering but the concept is to do less yards with more rest. This process allows your muscles to recover so that come race day, you will be stoked.

This month's article is by David Grilli, formerly Fitness Chairman of the New England LMSC and past chair of the USMS Fitness Committee. This article is from David's Self-Coached Swimmer and Workout series, which is published monthly in the New England Masters Newsletter. This article is reprinted with permission from the author. To read other columns by David Grilli, please visit the New England Masters web site at: Editor’s Note: Although this article was originally written within a competitive swim training framework, all swimmers can benefit from training in cycles. Even though you may not be training for a swim meet, varying your training cycles can help you improve your speed, endurance, and recovery time.


  • Technique and Training