Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Pace Checking Intervals for Swimming

by Justin Daerr

At our last Boulder Camp, I was asked to comment on how I approach swim training with triathletes who lack a swim background. All but one of the athletes I currently work with learned to swim when they took up triathlon, as I did when I was in college over a decade ago.

One of the key elements that I was quick to point out was my use of what I call pace-checking intervals. The difference between this and the traditional use of intervals is that pace-checking intervals do not allow for very much rest, instead they are constructed to keep the athlete at a constant pace over a set distance.

For example, a typical interval workout in the pool would look like this:

10x100 on 20 seconds rest.

In this case, the allowance for 20 seconds rest is placed in the workout to ensure that the pace and intensity of the 100s remains constant, and it is assumed that the allowance of this amount of rest is there in order to keep the pace high. In other words, if we dropped the rest to 10 seconds, the athletes can not swim the 100s as quickly as they can with the full 20 seconds rest.

A pace-checking interval workout might be something like:

10x100 on 3-5 seconds rest or on a set interval, such as 10x100 on a 1:45 send off, holding 1:40-42/100 pace.

In the second example, the athlete could most likely hold that pace across much longer repeats, such as 2x500. However, with less-experienced swimmers, I find that they lack a strong sense of pacing across long repeats and this helps them stay on track while keeping the session at the appropriate intensity. Additionally, if athletes tend to go out too quickly (which is quite common), they get this feedback immediately and can adjust their effort/pace accordingly.

Using these types of workouts can also allow for the less-experienced swimmer to start accumulating more volume without having to use long repeats to achieve that.

While an experienced swimmer might have a workout of 4x500 on 30 seconds rest, I would adjust that to four rounds of:

  1. 10x50 on 5 seconds rest
  2. After the 10th 50, take 30-60 seconds rest
  3. Then begin the next round of 10x50

Over time, most athletes will develop a better sense of pacing, as well as better fitness. As this happens, the pace-checking interval lengths can increase in order to better complement the training program, but always be sure that quality and consistency is maintained.


Justin Daerr is a professional triathlete and co-owner of Endurance Corner. You can follow him on Twitter @justindaerr.
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