Quantifying Your Swim Training & Performance


Posted by Coach John Murray

image from http://www.competitorswim.com/


I have written several times in the past about varying our swim training as a means of becoming a more efficient and stronger swimmer. I encourage the use of drills to improve flaws in our technique. Incorporating open water swimming can help triathletes work through any areas of anxiety that may have as well as developing race day strategies.


Including a variety of swim sets that are appropriate for each athlete’s level of swimming will keep pool time challenging and interesting. In order to customize swim sets for an athlete's own level of swimming, a “test set” should be performed to quantify swim performance. Test sets can be performed every 6-8 weeks to determine appropriate training paces and track improvement. Coaches may use several different ways to test, and here are just a few.


My "go-to" Test Set is 3 x 300 on :30 rest interval. (This set may not be appropriate for beginner triathletes unless they come from a competitive swim background). The test set is done after a short pre-test warm-up which might look something like this:

  • 1 x 400 easy swim
  • 8 x 25 kick
  • 4 x 25 descend 1-4
  • easy 100 recovery


The pre-test warm-up will vary based on the swimming background. The swimmer should be adequately warmed up but not fatigued. Then the test set is done with the mindset that the athlete will hold the fastest pace they can maintain for the entire set. Variability between 300’s should be less than 15 seconds. The data gleaned from this set will guide the coach and the athlete in creating 100 intervals for future swim training. Dividing each of the 300’s by 3 and then averaging all 9 of those 100’s will give the desired data.


There are several other methods that can produce those training paces. The SwimSmooth website (www.SwimSmooth.com) suggests a 400 followed by a 200 at fastest sustainable speed to determine Critical Swim Speed (CSS). Those times are then entered into a proprietary calculator to get your swim training pace.


For newer triathletes, we could consider sets such as 6 x 50 on 1:15 (for example) -hold fastest sustainable pace or 6 x 100 on 2:00 (for example).


To determine how hard an athlete is working, they can check their heart rate after certain swims. A quick 10 second check of their pulse immediately after touching the wall can confirm if they swam easily and efficiently or gave it their all. Place a forefinger and middle finger on the side of the neck, find the carotid artery and count the beats that occur in ten seconds. Multiply by six to determine heart rate. A regular collection of this data can be used to track fitness and technique improvements.


Test Sets make athletes smarter about swimming fitness, pacing and abilities. They are very tough efforts that can evoke a love/hate relationship. We love to see improvement but hate that test sets are so difficult to perform.


Things to remember:

  • Record data to track progress.
  • Learn which test set is appropriate.
  • Account for fitness level fluctuations that can occur in different training cycles.
  • Watch the character-building effects that happen as you learn to dominate your test sets!


John Murray is a USA Triathlon Level II certified Coach, An ASCA Level II certified Coach and a USAT certified Race Director. John has over 25 years of coaching competitive swimmers and Masters Clubs and has completed over 70 triathlons including 2 Ironmans. John has produced the Portofino Tri Series since 2011 - a super sprint triathlon race series that has been the first triathlon for hundreds of athletes from all over the country. John is also a US Veteran having served in the US Navy as a Hospital Corpsman (FMF) and is also a Registered Nurse. He is a current Board Member, Pensacola Sports Association, and co-founder and President of Team MPI. Learn more about Coach John Murray here

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