Training and Technique Tips

Practice with a purpose

Practice with a Purpose


Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect…


            Did you ever notice that a lot of swimming workouts posted on the internet seem to be more about variety as opposed to specificity? From the warm-up to the main set (if there is one) to the warm-down (ending set) it appears to be a workout with the goal of not getting bored or just to get through the distance. Sure there are some physiological benefits but is this really how you want to use your time?

Has this been posted on the whiteboard for masters/triathlete swim practice at your pool?

Warm up for ALL groups: 
400 swim
-300 pull
-200 kick
-100 drill

Does this get you warmed up? Probably not. When do you feel ready in your workout? Usually after you do specific intervals and drills to prepare you for the main set. The only thing these types of warm-ups prepare you for is to swim slowly…. You need to warm-up the same way you workout. If the warm-up is 1000 - 1500 yds, maybe it should look like this:


The Warm-up


Group #1

6 x 50 on 1:00 hypoxic 3-5-7 by 50’s

4 x 100 K-R-L-CU drill by 25’s on 2:15

            (K= kick & roll – R= right arm only – L= left arm only – CU= catch-up drill)

4 x 100 Pull w/ Pull Buoy and Paddles on 2:00

4 x 50 Kick on 1:15 w/ Board

4 x 25 on :45 Accelerate                      total warm-up 1400yds.  Total time- 31 minutes


If I have 3 different training groups in the pool the warm-up groups #2 and 3 would look like this:

Group #2

4 x 50 on 1:15 hypoxic 3-5 by 50’s

3 x 100 K-R-L-CU drill by 25’s on 3:00

            (K= kick – R= right arm only – L= left arm only – CU= catch-up drill)

3 x 100 Pull w/ P.B. and Paddles on 2:40

4 x 50 Kick on 1:30 w/ Board

4 x 25 on :45 Accelerate                      total warm-up 1100yds.  Total time- 31 minutes


Group #2

3 x 50 on 1:30 hypoxic 3-5 by 50’s

3 x 100 K-R-L-CU drill by 25’s on 3:30

            (K= kick – R= right arm only – L= left arm only – CU= catch-up drill)

2 x 100 Pull w/ P.B. and Paddles on 3:00

3 x 50 Kick on 1:40 w/ Board

4 x 25 on 1:00 Accelerate                    total warm-up 1000yds.  Total time- 30 minutes


Now we would begin the main set!




Warm-ups need not be the same day in and day out in your practice routine but they should follow a similar pattern. Even when you are racing you want to follow the same pattern of warm-up. This goes for running as well as cycling. If you just go out and run 10-15 minutes to warm-up then sit on your butt to stretch – all you have warmed-upped for is to run slow and touch your toes. I have yet to see a race where there is an award category and podium position for running slow and touching your toes. You must look at your warm-up systematically and always move towards the energy systems and movement patterns that you will require your body to do in a race or even a workout. As such, warm-ups are very individual in nature. You should learn in your own training what it takes to get you ready to perform.

            As a Coach, here is how learning occurs. In the late 1980’s as our Cross Country runners prepared to do a race pace workout on the track (I would call this their Redline Workout), we would do a very involved dynamic warm-up after running from 1-2 miles. The dynamic drills would take roughly 20 minutes. We then would begin 12-20 x 400m on a controlled send off determined by their ability and their goal times. For example for the 17:00 5K runner with a goal time of 16:30 – he or she would do 16 x 400 on 2:00 holding 1:20 per 400m or 5:20 per mile pace. Most every runner would say that either number 3-4 would be by far the easiest. Why? Because they were finally warmed – up. I learned that in order to get my athletes prepared to train properly and race effectively we needed to add something. What we did was after our dynamic drills we would immediately do 2 minutes at threshold pace. This was enough to open all those capillary beds in their legs without causing fatigue. Then we would change shoes and continue to do strides and keep moving as much as possible till the gun went off or the workout began. (It is even more important at altitude to not let your heart rate drop back to resting state)

            What about the shakeout run, swim or bike the day of a meet or race? As a collegiate swimmer we swam every morning. So Meet days we always went down to the pool to do a short morning workout. In actuality that workout made it feel like you had an extra day recovery prior to the meet. As a Triathlete on race day I would always get up and go for a short easy run early in the morning. Not only would it wake me up and trick my body into thinking the race was later in the day (almost everyone performs better later in the day – that is why NCAA Swimming and Track Finals are always in the late afternoon and evening) it also made me feel more rested. As a swimming coach we always went to the pool early in the morning and did our warm-up the day of a meet. If we didn’t, everyone had off performances. Every top Cross Country team in the nation is out the door early in the morning doing a shakeout run before an important competition. It all becomes part of your routine. As a coach and an athlete routines before competition are extremely important.


Purpose of drills in practice


When doing drills in a practice (workout) they need to follow a progression and have a specific purpose in what they are trying to teach you. Not that drills cannot be part of the training and/or conditioning. As a Track and Field coach my dynamic warm-up is so long and involved that it becomes the endurance workout for the throwers, jumpers and sprinters as well as teaching them movement patterns and running and / or sprint mechanics. I do not even refer to it as a warm-up but rather “Building a better athlete from the ground up”.

            Drills should have the purpose of providing a way to learn certain skills by isolating certain movements. In swimming, as long as you know the purpose of the drill, what you are trying to feel, have a picture in your mind of what it should look like and are able to get feedback from your own kinesthetic sense and hopefully a coach’s input, you can really increase the learning curve. I prefer drills that are put together in a progression that lead to doing the whole stroke. You want to break the stroke into parts but then you must put it back together again to enhance learning. “It is the accumulation of little things that make BIG things happen”..



            Samples of Freestyle drills:

Kick & Roll – Right arm – Left Arm – Catch-up – Swim Whole Stroke

It could look like this in a workout:

4 x 150 (K-R-L-CU-50 Swim) on 3:00

You could also do it with paddles to enhance the feeling on the hands.



Another way is to repetitively do the drills but still follow a progression:

4 x 50 Kick w/ board on 1:15

4 x 50 Kick & Roll on 1:15

4 x 50 Right Arm on 1:15

4 x 50 Left Arm on 1:15

4 x 50 Catch-up on 1:15

4 x 50 Swim on 1:15

4 x 50 Swim w/ Paddles on 1:15

This could possibly be your main set in the workout for the day. Your focus is completely on stroke mechanics.


            Drills need to be done correctly. You should be constantly monitoring sensations, feelings and positions. Mentally you should use cue words that enhance the learning process. These cue words could be: high elbow, fingertip entry, accelerate, water pressure on hand, head down, look at bottom, brush thigh with thumb, release on the end of the stroke, swing ‘em up, etc

            Again as a Coach, I may have to make the same correction to a swimmer over and over but if it isn’t getting the results you want you have to change the terminology till it finally takes hold.


The Main Set


            This should be done, depending on the swimmers ability, to mimic the race distance. If the race distance is 1.5km (1500m) then here are some examples of main sets that I would use:

15 x 100 on a short rest interval trying to hit the 100m pace goal for the race.

Ex.- 15 x 100M on 1:40 holding under 1:30 (Goal 22:30 for 1500m swim)

The Short rest interval is ideally set in the send-off time to give the swimmer anywhere from 10-15 seconds rest.

8 x 200M on 3:15 holding under 3:00

4 x 400M on 6:15 holding under 6:00

8 x [100M on SRI (maybe 1:30) – 2 x 50M on 1:00 D/St ] Pulling w/ pull buoy and paddles

            You want to simulate the race and the fatigue associated with the race effort. However, you may want to work another energy system entirely different for totally different adaptations. Such as a high anaerobic set:

4 x 100 on 6 min all out

4 x 200 on 8 min all out

3 sets of 4 x 50 on 2:00 all out with 5 minutes rest between sets

I have actually used 4 x 100 on 15 minutes from a dive with a full warm down / warm up between 100’s. Some triathletes would feel like they are wasting their time with so much rest but swimming fast creates many benefits both mechanically and physiologically. Swimming fast is everything it is cracked up to be.



Warm Down


            I always end my swim training sessions with some easy swimming and all-out 25’s. I have the athletes do them both swimming and drills. It is good to sprint a bit in every workout session. You learn how to apply force against the water at faster limb speeds.




            Every workout has a purpose. Every drill has a specific objective. Your warm-up is as important as the main set. Just swimming will not bring about the results that you hope for. You must practice with a purpose. Because only, “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”.

Seated straight Leg raises

This video shows an exercise that strengthens the core, hip, knee and lower leg. It's main purpose is for young or new runners. It specifically strengthens the Vastus Medialis which prevents runners knee. It also helps in preventing shin splints.



Running Mechanics

Running Mechanics

         The most important concept for running efficiency is stride rate. Watch any elite level runner and they all hit 90 strides per minute (unless they are running :52 for the last lap of the 10,000m, when they are upwards of 100). That is 90 foot strikes with each foot every minute. If you are taking less you are undoubtably either putting on the brakes or bouncing up and down. There is no exact model when it comes to distance running like there is in sprinting. At a stride rate count of 90 your foot will land beneath your bodies center of gravity. This enables you to push rather than pull. You run faster by lengthening your stride out the back as opposed to reaching with your foot to front.

         In order to check this, Use a countdown timer on your watch. Set it to beeb every 60 seconds. Count foot strikes from beeb to beeb. If you are under 88, try it again on a nice soft grass surface without your shoes, you will hit 90. I am not promoting barefoot running but this is a way to reinforce the new neural pathways. Another method of making this change is that I would have my 9th graders who were under 88 follow me on a real slow, easy run and they would just match my stride. Remember you have been doing this your whole life, you cannot not just change the rhythm immediately. You have to master it slow before you can do it running faster. You will have to work on this all the time in order to change those neurological pathways. A good drill to use is running down a 1% grade for approximately 100m. Here you want to take 95-100 strides per minute. If you mark out (with chalk, tape, etc) your normal stride length and then just raise your stride rate to 95-100 with the same stride length you can work on having real quick feet. Another method I use with young athletes is a speed ladder. It teaches them to have quick, reactive feet.

         Why is it talented elite runners do not seem to get their feet wet when they run through puddles? Because their feet are on the ground for such a short period of time....

         My personal observations while coaching at the Elite Junior Womens Distance Camp at the OTC during our video analysis was that all of the girls at jogging pace looked awkward. They were not very good at running slow. Now these were very talented girls who in a very short time had risen to elite level. WHY?, running slowly, they slowed their cadence to the low 80's. At threshold pace and faster they were all in the 90-92 range all the time. With the exception of a few that had been injured frequently and they were running in the mid 80's all the time. Hence the injuries due to greater ground forces because of over striding. 

         Of course there are all other types of gross deficiencies that may be happening: Foot strike across the center line of the body, arm swing across the center of the body, running on their toes, and leaning forward at the waist to name a few. And all of these would need to be addressed.

         And as the ultimate realization, For the past 5 years my running has been getting slower and slower. Now I am 61, this is going to happen. It’s like dying and paying taxes. After retiring we moved to Colorado at an altitude of 8000’. Now you have to run differently at this altitude. AND, it is usually much slower than at sea level. This summer I was doing a run on the treadmill and decided to count my strides (I was always at 90) and to my amazement I was at 85. In order to slow down for the altitude I had slowed my turnover which not only made me a slower runner but way less efficient. With this now my main training objective, my running is starting to get a bit faster and more efficient with a quicker turnover.

         If there is one thing that can help your running it is getting to that stride rate of 90+ in order to be more efficient, have less injuries and most of all become a better, faster runner.


Running Technique Mental Queues:

         Run tall

         Quick hands

         Quick feet

         Light feet

         Hips forward

         Chin level

Stride Rate Coaching Idea

One way to help get your stride rate up to 90 strides a minute or to get your athlete to raise their stride rate count is to follow a runner that hits the 90 count all the time. Have them run in their shadow at a comfortable pace matching foot strikes with the leader. As a coach, I would always have the 9th graders shadow me on runs to help them hit this 90 count stride rate pattern. Modeling the exact technique you want and having them follow is a great way to effect change.