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”.