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Tuesday 19 March 2013

...A Different Style of Workout

I've been thinking about how we, as coaches, think about training.  Too often we come up with a list of items for an athlete to do (any basic set or group of sets), and although maybe we recommend that the athletes hit a certain pace average/heart rate or something like that -- we generally take what the athlete gives on the set -- and move on to the next day.

So, this week I wanted to try something with my Senior athletes that I have tinkered with -- but really haven't made the focus of the entire workout.  The goal was simple: I wanted to see 50s freestyle at 26 seconds, in 26 strokes or less (SCY).....and I wanted to see it 250 times.  I decided that the 9 athletes I had on this particular day were going to accomplish this task, and then warm down.

I figured if 9 athletes were perfect 9 for 9 on 10 50s in a row, they would be at 90 50s.  Then there's only 110 more to accomplish!  I did give extra points for higher level efforts (5 points for 25 seconds in 25 strokes or less, and 20 points for 24 seconds in 24 strokes or less).

The workout was great.  We did a little less yardage than usual, but we swam with super effective strokes! 

I actually offered some extra incentive sets along the way during the warmup, to knock down the total number of 50s from 250 to 200....which was well-worth it.

Here's the actual practice:

A.  Warmup:  

6x400 (530) -- odds Free IM cruise; evens Free negative split + descend

Once we were finished with the first 3x400, I asked for my lane leaders to average 355 or better, all negative split -- to qualify for an "incentive".  They were 348-352-355-356, all negative split.  We were off to a great start.

After the 5th 400, I asked my lane leaders to be "at least as fast" on their average, while the 'slowest' 4 athletes had to achieve goal times I had put out for them (Some had to break 415, some had to break 405 -- all negative split).  I offered incentive: if the athletes could hit the times I asked for, negative split, then we would take the amount of 50s we were planning to do (later in the practice) from 250 to 235. We had a few great swims from these athletes to finish the warmup!  Our lane leaders continued to go faster as well....we had a 15 year old boy go 345 (154-151), while the others were 348-353-355.....all negative split.

...We moved on.....

B. Pre-Set:

5 rounds: -- 75 Free (1) -- breathe every 5th at 43-45 seconds
                   50 easy (50)
                   25 Fly (40) -- at 12-13 seconds in 6 strokes

All 75s had to be at the prescribed time, and all 75s had to be "every 5th".  If it wasn't right on the money, I gave them a "whammy".

All 25s had to be at the prescribed time, at the prescribed stroke count.  Not on the money?  Whammy.

I timed the final 3 rounds, and allowed for 14 "whammies" from the combination of all 9 athletes.  I think we got to 10 whammies, but were overall pretty good. 

The "offer" was: accomplish the goals, with 14 "whammies" or less, and I'll take the amount of 50s from 235 to 200.  The group was motivated to make this happen, and after 50 minutes of practice we had really accomplished some great stuff! 

C. Main Set:

50s SCY -- at 26 strokes and 26 seconds.  Each 50 done at 26/26 counted for one point.  Any 50s at 25 strokes in 25 seconds counted as 5 points.  Any 50s at 24 strokes in 24 seconds counted as 20 points (we almost got this one a few times, but not quite).

We left every 1:15 or so and counted points until we got to 200 total points. 

D. Swim Down 4x200 (R30) alternating pull and IM drill.

........The workout was a good workout because I "came at it" from a different angle when accessing its effectiveness.  There were a certain amount of "things" I wanted to see.  I imagine each practice repeat as having a certain value (like FINA points) -- and each time an athlete pushes off the wall, to me, is a chance to earn some points.  This is how I imagine practice going each day.  Everything counts, and the higher level performance counts for "more" to me (24 strokes in 24 seconds beats 26 strokes in 26 seconds any day).

I think we have to spend time as much time as possible in this particular mode when training.  The key is: you have to be able to work in this way when doing "pace" type training (like the practice above), and you have to be able to do it when training aerobically (Jon Urbanchek's color pace chart is a great tool to use), and you have to be able to do it when training components (Kicking, Pulling, Underwater work)....you have to figure out HOW to do what Talent Code author Daniel Coyle calls "Deep Training" -- and you have to do it all of the time!

Find our more about Daniel Coyle's writing here: http://thetalentcode.com/


  1. What is your rationale behind the number of strokes for each individual?

  2. Thanks for sharing this Paul...really interesting to hear about your approach. I have heard so much about the book and finally bought it and started reading...so I will revisit this post later to fully benefit from your insight.

  3. This is pretty cool. Reminds me of a "Perfect Practice" I did once, where every kid needed to do three dolphin kids and two strokes off every wall before breathing, no breathing on the finishes, and each kid had a personal stroke count per lap based on ability. If anyone at any point missed it, we started the entire practice over. Yep - the whole practice from the beginning. It actually took them about three screw-ups during the first couple hundred yards to get it right - once they started streaking the encouragement was great - we got to 4000 yards or so of Perfect Swimming.

  4. John,I'd like the athlete to match their stroke count to their time for SCY freestyle. So if they go a 30, I'd like to see 15 down and 15 back. Ideally they can split 15-15 as well. Most athletes I've seen who have worked on this concept will swim a "matching stroke count" 50 at half their 100 time. I have a few athletes who are 54 in the 100 free, and they all do 27 seconds in 27 strokes from a push, SCY. But they can't go 26/26...they end up taking two-three fewer kicks of the wall, and although the may go 26 seconds, they end up at 27 strokes -- or they may extend the underwaters a little bit to make sure they do 26 strokes,but because they are slow underwater they go to 27.1 instead of 26.8.

    So to answer your question, I ask for a match on free, and I ask for the count to be half the time for Breast and Fly. Backstroke is different because I think oftentimes we prepare for a big underwater kick...so we don't do a lot of stroke counting during SCY backstroke. So my rationale for each individual? I'd pick the stroke count number that is around 200 pace, or maybe the back half of a 100. See if they can do those strokes, then see if they can do the strokes and the time as well.

    On Breast, Fly, and Free the "stroke technique" used in stroke count 50s is not racing technique (often the stroke rates are slower than the racing stroke rate), and it's not an aerobic "maintainance" stroke either. I like to think of it as a drill.

    There are some other "Counting Rules" that I have heard of through Bob Bowman and Paul Bergen. The rules for the strokes, LCM, is: Free (match your count); Back (count = minus two); Breast (Count = minus 20); Fly (Count = minus ten). We do plenty of LCM stroke count training!

    If you decide to try stroke count 50s in practice, I'd put the interval on 1:05-1:10 for SCY so they have enough time to process the set.

  5. @ Paul, thanks for the thorough explanation. I love stroke counts and feel they provide great feedback on stroke technique. However, I have a few concerns with your methods, once again concerns, not problems:
    1) Anthropometrics: the different size of the athlete should result in a different distance per stroke and theoretically different stroke count. I can not see a 5' and a 5'10" female having the same stroke count.

    2) First Lap: on the first lap, the athlete is fresh and will likely take less strokes.

    3) Underwater: with the continued progression of underwater kicking (most notably in SC), I see this strategy limiting an opportunity to practice underwater dolphin kicking. You note this is why this doesn't work in backstroke, but I feel it is/will become more applicable for fly and eventually freestyle.

    Great post, I love the points system and can see how this practice is extremely motivating. In your group of swimmers, what pace do these times correlate with (200 pace, 500 pace)?

  6. Hi John, The pace correlates with the 200. Maybe the back half of a 100, or slighter lighter than the back half of a 100.

    I appreciate the points you've brought up. The size of the athlete will affect the stroke count, for sure; but as a general rule I think the shorter people should kick more off the wall, and if they do it sort of evens things out for them.

    As you are, I am concerned with "limiting underwater work" for the sake of a certain stroke count...so I allow an athlete to be under the time -- just not over it. For instance, two of my younger female athletes can take 26/26 one step further, and they go 26 seconds in 23 strokes 11/12 per 25). I'd prefer them to be at 11/11 (so it's even), but to me 26/23 (49 added up) beats 26/26 (52 addup) any day.

    The "Stroke Count" set SCY really ends up being a test of how far and well an athlete can work off the wall. Most of my athletes have to be much better than they normally are if they want to meet the "stroke count" goals! The people who are pretty good underwater will go a stroke or two under their time. I do Stroke Count LCM as well, and I regulate how long they can stay underwater (5.0-6.5 seconds)....so it's a little different for LCM, and more "stroke rate" based. We are doing a lot of SCY stroke count right now, but in years past we've done stroke count work LCM much more than SCY.

    Your 2nd point: yes, you are right. I generally ask them to "kick well off the first wall and really well off the second." Often, to do an even number of strokes per 25 the athlete will need to take more kicks off the turn wall than the initial pushoff. So, I may see 5 kicks and 13 strokes going down, and 7 kicks and 13 coming back. The "Stroke Count" set becomes a "Kicks + Stroke Count" set for the highest level athletes.

    Thanks for the comments. The questions you've asked are the same questions I've asked myself in coming up with all that is in the above paragraphs! I think I'll do a blogpost at some point addressing the LCM stroke count stuff.

  7. Paul, thanks for the detailed response. Love the posts, keep it up!

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