Zoe is one of the swim coaches at Mersey Tri and a simply awesome swimmer. So I asked her to write a post about swim sets. I hadn’t had any swim coaching prior to joining Mersey Tri, so the coaching sessions were fantastic but some of the terminology was baffling! Over to Zoe…

Photo of Zoe Brunton

Zoe after swimming the Mersey (very brave!)

Triathlon has been a part of my life since I was 7 years old, and 14 years later it is safe to say I love it! I have competed in junior and youth races, and now continue to race in university and adult competitions. At 16, I completed my Level 1 coaching course and this autumn I will progress to Level 2. For me, coaching is a fantastic thing to do, and I would love to take it further as I have now graduated from university and am stepping into adult life! Some of my races (swims in particular) to note, include Windermere End to End, Henley Skins vs Suits and the Across Mersey Swim.

Writing swim sets is something I have come to do bizarrely frequently. I write them for Mersey Tri, for my own training sessions, for my parents, for friends who ask me for help with their programmes and I have also written them for the Uni Triathlon Team.

There are a few important aspects to consider. Who is it for? What is their ability and what is their goal? What does the session need to work on? All of these elements contribute to the set in terms of focus, distance and difficulty.

If we take Mersey Tri as an example, the sets need to cater for a wide range of abilities and they need to be very varied as some members will swim at our sessions twice a week, week in week out. For a regular session such as this, it is important to consider the annual progression with relation to the off-season, pre-season and race season, and how the athletes need to progress. For example, it is pointless to have them peak in January, when no one is racing! But as an opposing example, when I write sets for myself, because I know exactly where I am in the season in terms of fitness and progress, as well as what I need to target, the sets can be a lot more specific. Sometimes, for this reason I prefer writing a programme of swim sets for one athlete rather than a group training session due to the ability to be able to hone in on individual goals, progression, and their training as a whole. That said, I absolutely love the opportunity that group training sessions provide to try out new drills, swim ideas and, of course, the fact that there’s a group of people all doing the same thing alongside one another, pushing and helping each other. The atmosphere of club sessions is one of the best things that sport offers.

A lot of people have a tendency to go to the pool, and hammer out (or cruise through!) a certain number of lengths, or a certain time slot. Whilst this does benefit their aerobic fitness, it also leads to a plateau in training, and isn’t the ideal race prep. Swim sets are a key way of getting out of the same old routine in the swimming pool, they make sessions fun, different and challenging!

Photo of Zoe swimming

Zoe swimming the Henley Mile

Triathletes in particular, spend outrageous amounts of money on the best, newest, nicest looking, lightest, sought after, or whatever it may be, kit! Such as bikes, running shoes, Garmin’s, without even giving a second thought to the minutes they could save on their swim time – its all about shaving seconds off their bike, transition or run, and ‘just getting through’ the swim. Swim technique, and training, could get you out of the water a lot higher up in your age category than a Garmin will get you out of transition!

One to one coaching is the final aspect I will touch on, as it is one of the most rewarding things I do. It gives me as much buzz as the athlete themselves, to see the rapid progression, whether it be technique, confidence or times wise. The smile on their face makes it all worth it! And that is true of all of the coaching I do, swim sets are just the starting point.

Here’s an example swim set:

This swim set would be a set to do during the pre season, as it focuses on technique and pacing.

Warm up 

200m front crawl
50 backstroke
100m front crawl
50 fast

The warm up should be easy swimming, across a range of strokes, to warm up all muscles and increase heart rate. I like to include a bit of pace work at the end of the set to really ensure that the swimmers are warm and ready for the main set!

Main set

4 x 100 as 25 metres drill (see below for the drill) 75 metres swim 

  1. doggy paddle
  2. fists
  3. catch up
  4. thumb to thigh

400m
300m
200m
100m

+20 seconds rest at the end of each set

Race pace swims (consistent pacing)
4×50 as 25 hard/25 easy

Technique work at the start of the main set allows swimmers to break down their stroke at a steady pace and concentrate on any weak areas before taking this through to their normal/race pace work.

This main set is 1km long; the challenge here is to maintain a consistent race pace. This means that swimmers can go into a race and feel confident of what pace they should swim at and be sure that they can maintain it throughout the race.

The last part is a bit of speedwork. I like to include this so they they know they have worked hard! It is also great to know that you can handle a sprint finish.

Cool down

50 scull
50 back

The cool down is again a super easy pace to flush out any lactic acid and decrease the heart and breathing rates.I prefer swimmers to avoid the front crawl in cool down. Backstroke is great to stretch out the swimming muscles ans sculling helps increase your feel for the water. Breaststroke is great for cool down too. Happy Swimming!

If you want to contact Zoe for more info on her swim coaching, her email address is swimwithzoe@gmail.com.

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