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  Get Specific!

Printed with permission from:


Pool's Edge Column - Swimming World Magazine - March 2007

By: Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen Aquatic Edge, Inc.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result”
- Benjamin Franklin

So what does this have to do with swimming? More than you think.

You may be in a swimming rut. Year after year you put in the yards, work hard and HOPE at the end of the season to be rewarded with good times. Sometimes you succeed, but often times you do not.

Have you ever wondered why? I’ll grudgingly concede that aging MAY play a small part in slower times, but there has to be more.

What I think is lacking in many masters training programs is SPECIFICTY, particularly when it comes to stroke. To swim well in a specific event (such as a 200 back, IM, breast or fly), you need to train all of the energy systems in that stroke (basic endurance, threshold and sprint) throughout the season. This means fewer freestyle sets and more stroke specific sets.

”Swimming a particular stroke in training is the only sure way to produce adaptations in all the muscle fibers that are used for that stroke.”
Ernest W. Maglischo, Swimming Even Faster


So how does a busy masters athlete (perhaps in a freestyle oriented program) make the most out of limited training time and still succeed at a specialty event? Here are a few suggestions that can help you to add more specificity to your training.

Talk to your coach
Communication is key… share your goals and hopefully the coach will recognize that everyone can benefit from stroke or IM sets. Ask for permission to modify freestyle sets by adding stroke (see #3). If you are not disrupting the lane or changing the interval, this should be OK (you are an adult, after all). I am fortunate to train with the Kona Dolphins, a USA swim team in Hawaii. Coach Harry Canales encourages me to swim backstroke, and the kids I train with know NOT to follow my lead if I switch to backstroke during a freestyle set.

Move down a lane
I know you belong in the “FAST” lane and can handle the hardest freestyle interval, but not if you are training IM or stroke. Moving down to an easier interval allows you to successfully complete stroke sets that can be specific to your event. Changing lanes also gives you the opportunity to swim with people other than your usual lane-mates.

Get creative
There are hundreds of ways to incorporate stroke training into a predominantly freestyle workout. For warm-up, try repeating a 100 free /100 non-free/50 kick. During a set of 100’s swim the first or last length either fly, back or breast. Or, swim every third 100 stroke or IM challenging yourself by making the freestyle interval. On a set of 200’s freestyle, swim the LAST 50 stroke. For longer distances, throw on your foam fins and do backstroke, kick or drills. During cool down, entertain yourself by mixing up 25’s of kick, stroke, and drills for at least 200.

Train on your own
Training on your own gives you total control over the content of your workouts, solo training does have its drawbacks. It can be boring, it’s challenging to stay motivated and it’s hard to swim fast when there is no one there to push you. Create a seasonal plan and map out what sets you need to do and when. Measure your progress with test sets and establish short-term and long-term goals. If possible, find a friend with similar goals and train together.

Do a “bonus” set
Practice may be over, but not for you! Bonus sets are relatively short; say 16 x 25, 10 x 50, 5 x 100, 3 x 200, but this extra set will go a long way towards helping you reach your goal. Bonus sets should be as stroke specific as possible and can make up for lack of opportunity to swim stroke during the regular practice. This is also a great time to do an intense kick set, work on breakouts, fast turns, strong finishes or any other component of a race that you feel may need work. Guilt-trip a few teammates into joining you then go for it!

A word of caution…
Just like anything else, too much of a good thing can be unhealthy. To avoid overtraining, start by doing a mixture of strokes first, then add more specialty stroke work to your training each week. As the season progresses increase your stroke specific sets to include kicking, pulling and swimming (up to 60-70% of your workout). The goal is to find a good balance between building endurance, then move toward improving your speed, and finally to your taper phase where I hope you will see a positive result from all your efforts!

BIO: Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen will be inducted in the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame Class of 2007. To preview her DVD GO Swim Freestyle with Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen visit www.goswim.tv. To find out more about Aquatic Edge Swim Technique Clinics and Camps, visit www.aquaticedge.org

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aquaticedge@hawaii.rr.com