Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Swim of the Week: 1-2-3-4-5

Assistant Coach Kellan, who turns one month old tomorrow, has granted me a small window of time to write up this week's Swim of the Week. He's a pretty high maintenance assistant, though, so the swim of the week has turned more into the Swim of Whenever Kellan Takes A Nap.

This week I bring you a ladder set that involves a lot of hard swimming. There's really nowhere to hide in this set. The idea behind this swim is that you'll begin with your shortest, but fastest swimming. From there, the pace will drop off as the distances increase, but not drastically. Rather, you should be holding your effort steady and allowing your pace to slow by roughly 1-2 seconds per 100 on each step of the ladder. Swimming this set will help triathletes navigate race day more effectively. For most, the pace slows as the race progresses. But that does not have to mean that you completely collapse and give away minutes to the clock before ever reaching your bike. Rather than totally imploding, as many do, after the initial surge at the start of the race, you'll learn to manage your effort. You'll swim hard, but reasonably, in the initial stages and from there you will be able to settle into a sustainable, but solid, pace

While no step is more important to each other as they all function together, the 500 is worth paying attention to. As you'll see, you get a bit of extra rest after the 400, but the 500 is done at a harder effort than the 400. Pay attention to that. It's difficult, but worthwhile.

This swim forces you to work hard. Know going in that it will be taxing. It takes a good deal of focus and commitment to really do this swim well. However, if done correctly, it's rewarding both in terms of the actual gains and in the confidence boost you'll receive.

Warm Up

- 500 choice (free, kick, back, etc.)
- 400 cruise
- 2x150 as 50 hard, 100 steady, 20" rest
- 4x50 hard on 15" rest
- 100 easy choice

Drill Set

- 3x150 as 100 drill, 50 cruise
- 150 cruise

Ladder Set

- 100 strong on cruise +10"
- 200 strong on cruise + 5"
- 300 strong  on cruise + 5"
- 400 steady/strong on cruise + 20"
- 500 strong

Cool Down

- 8x50 choice

As noted other times in my workouts, the sendoff interval is your cruise pace per 100 plus a certain number of seconds on top of that. It is not a certain number of seconds added to your cruise pace. A cruise pace of 1:30 gets you to a sendoff of 3:05 on the 200 if calculated correctly (1:30x2 + 5"). If done incorrectly you come up with 3:10 (1:30 + 5" = 1:35 x 2). The difference may seem small, but over the course of the session it adds up and undermines some of the work you are doing.

Looking to make this even more challenging? Make it a pyramid rather than a ladder. Work your way back down to the 100, either swimming on the same interval or a faster one.

Enjoy this swim and let me know how it goes!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Swim of the Week: Mid Distance Discipline

This week's swim is a special one to me. It's a good swim and a challenging one if done honestly, but it's not some magical set. In terms of the details, it's just a solid set. The reason it's special is that it's the last swim I did just hours before heading to the hospital for the birth of my son, Kellan, just about two weeks ago. Being the last swim I did before becoming a dad means it will always be a memorable one.

This main set take discipline. Doing this set as I've laid out is very different than just swimming the distances. Being able to swim each rep at the appropriate pace is key to making this swim a success. The 300 and 200 should be fairly difficult. They should be done at about the effort level you'd exert during the beginning of a race. The 600 and 400 in isolation are not so tough. However, in the context of this set they will be. In fact, I sometimes find them more difficult than the shorter but faster swims. The challenge is not slowing too much on these. It's tempting, after the harder efforts, to back the pace off too much in the longer stuff. However, that's not how the swim is designed. Really, there should only be roughly 5 seconds per 100 difference in the paces between your strong and steady efforts. I like to do the 300 and 200 at ~1:11-1:12/100 and the 600 and 400 at ~1:15-1:16/100. The key here is to be able to maintain the steady pace after having already done a stronger effort. It's as much a mental exercise as a physical one (though by the end of the set it's also a physical challenge!).

Swimming this set the proper way is great practice for executing on race day. The first 300 simulates the start of the race where the effort level is higher than ultimately hold. Once through that surge you'll settle in and swim a more reasonable pace. Again, the trick here (and during a race), is to avoid backing off too much. Your pace should settle, but not sag so much that you're just cruising along. The second strong effort, the 200, can simulate a turn buoy or a surge by the competition. And, finally, the 400 at the end allows you to settle in again after that surge without letting the pace drop off too much. Awareness and execution are key. Go into this workout with a plan and stick to it. It if doesn't work, attempt to figure out why. It's much better to evaluate why it didn't work now than it is following a race. I'm always happy to help troubleshoot should you find this a tough set to manage.

Warm Up

- 300 cruise
- 300 as 100 back, 100 kick, 100 back
- 4x75 strong on 15" rest
- 100 choice

Drill Set

- 2x200 as 25 drill/25 cruise
- 2x100 cruise

Main Set

- 300 strong on cruise pace sendoff
- 600 steady on cruise pace +15"
- 200 strong on cruise pace sendoff + 5"
- 400 steady on cruise pace + 10"
- 100 recovery
- 10 x 50 strong on cruise pace + 5"

Cool Down

- 100 choice
- 4x50 choice

* Sendoffs: To calculate your sendoffs use your cruise pace/100 and add any time where it is noted. Remember, your cruise pace is the pace you can swim all day without issue.

Here is an example of how I would calculate my sendoffs for this set. My cruise pace is roughly 1:20. Therefore, my 300 sendoff would be 4:00 (3x1:20). My 600 sendoff would be 8:15 (6x1:20 + 15"). The 200 is 2:45 (2x1:20 + 5") and the 400 is 5:30 (4x1:20 + 10"). For the 50s I would halve my 100 pace of 1:20 to get :40 and add 5 seconds for a sendoff of :45. A common mistake is for athletes attempting to calculate these sendoffs is to add 15" to each 100 and end up with an incredibly long recovery. If I were to do that with the 600 I would get 9:30 which is 1:15 more than the appropriate sendoff. That's a massive difference and using the wrong sendoff voids a lot of the work being done in a set like this. It is important to just add the set amount of time on top of the calculation made with your cruise pace.

Beginners or developing swimmers: This is a difficult set for beginning swimmers to execute. I wouldn't prescribe this workout to a swimmer who didn't have the ability to change paces and hold those paces over longer distances. If you do not believe you have more than one gear in the water it would be more beneficial to you to just swim the distances with ~20-30 seconds rest between. If the distances seem unmanageable you can also break them up. For example, you might do 2x150, 2x300, 2x100, 2x200, 100, 10x50. You'll still cover the distance, but you have the benefit of more manageable distances with an increase in overall rest. As I say each week, if you are having trouble fitting this into your training plan simply let me know and I will point you in the right direction.

I always encourage comments on and the sharing of these workouts. Post them on Facebook, tweet them on Twitter, take them to your master's team, email them to your training partners. I want people to see and use these sessions!

Finally, if you have something you want to see in the swim of the week please let me know. If there's something you are struggling with in racing or training I would love to try to help by designing a session or two to help! Simply reach out with your ideas and I'll see what I can come up with.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Swim of the Week: 4x500

If you've been following this swim of the week series you know that I am a huge advocate of basing the majority of swims on short intervals. You can accomplish a massive amount swimming 50s, 75s, 100s, 200s, and everything in-between. As you've seen in previous workouts, adjusting the rest intervals and intensities for shorter reps allows you to target different energy systems while still training their efficiency in the water. There is, however, still a place in your program for swims with longer reps. This is one of those sessions. I go back to some variation of this session for my athletes approximately once per month this time of year in order to do some quality work over slightly longer reps.

Warm Up
- 3x100 choice
- 4x50 kick
- 200 cruise
- 4x75 build, 10" rest
- 100 cruise

Drill Set

- 3x200 as 25 drill / 25 cruise
- 100 easy

Main Set

- 4x500 descend 1-4 from cruise to high steady / low strong
*Intervals: #1: cruise pace + 10", drop 5" each for the rest intervals following #2 and 3.
** Example: Intervals of 6:45, 6:40, 6:35, 6:30

Cool Down

- 3x100 choice

To be done well, swimmers should attempt to get ~15 seconds of rest following each swim during the main set. 

It seems like a simple, straight-forward swim. And it is. Not everything has to be overly complicated in order to be effective. Doing it properly, though, is not so easy. Descending through this main set takes focus and pace control. It requires awareness and execution. It is more than simply getting in the pool and doing the yardage. Athletes who do that miss the larger point. They miss the opportunity to experiment with and take ownership of their effort level and pace over the course of the set. They miss the chance to learn something about their skill in judging and managing effort.

Beginners: Just because this swim measures 4000 yards/meters doesn't mean it can't be adjusted to meet your needs. Start with something manageable. Perhaps that's 3x250 for the main set. Maybe it's 2x500. Or 3x500. I also encourage newer or less comfortable swimmers to drop the descending nature of the swim and rest intervals and attempt to work on pace control by finishing each swim within 5-10 seconds of the others. It can work for you of you make it! If you're not sure how to make it work, let me know and I can help you find some direction. I'm always happy to answer questions!

Do you have questions about what drills you should be performing? I'll never post a specific drill in one of these drill sets. I haven't seen you swim so how can I tell which areas of your stroke need work? If you have questions about your strengths and weaknesses, get some quality video analysis done by a coach. It's something you should do at least once or twice a year. I'd be to work with you myself or I can help you find a qualified coach in your area. But whatever you do, do your homework before heading in for a session. Your coach should be able to give you references and provide you with examples of the work they've done with others. Never just assume that a coach is equipped to help you become a better swimmer because they write training plans. Writing plans and actually analyzing a stroke are massively different things. Before booking a session, talk to the coach about their philosophy, expereince, and process. Ask what they've done with others and if you can speak to those athletes personally. Before you make an investment, do your homework and make sure it'll be a positive experience.

If you're enjoying this series of weekly swims please share them with your friends, teammates, and training partners! Also make sure to leave comments or send me messages letting me know how you're incorporating these swims into your training plan.

Happy Swimming!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Swim of the Week: 3x (6x50, 200)

When I originally designed this swim I did so with the intent to hold a consistent pace throughout the main set under conditions of descending rest intervals. The original is a solid swim. It's not easy and certainly does the job in helping to develop an aerobic base. It also keeps the intervals short - something that I believe strongly in - allowing athletes to maintain focus and form. However, I occasionally revisit the original set and make alterations in order to achieve different goals. Here, in this swim, I've done just that. In order to allow athletes to go through stages of both aerobic and anaerobic work during the main set I have made adjustments to the rest intervals and to the intensities at which each rep is completed. The result is a challenging but attainable swim that has benefits for athletes specializing in all distances.

Warm Up:
- 6x100: choice (free, back, kick...)
- 2x150 as 2x75 build (continuous), 20" rest
- 100 cruise

Drill Set:
- 4x150 as 2x(50 drill, 25 cruise)
- 2x100 cruise

Main Set:
- 6x50 steady on 20" rest
- 200 steady on 20" rest
- 6x50 strong on 20" rest
- 200 steady/strong on 20" rest
- 6x50 hard on 20" rest
- 200 strong/hard

Cool Down:
- 4x100 choice

As you see, you swim at a progressively faster pace throughout the main set but hold the rest interval steady. For more information on just how hard you should be going, check out the basic descriptions of the zones:

Steady: A solid, though aerobic effort. It's sort of your normal, comfortable pace. It gets used for longer swims or when working on technique/aerobic development. It's a pace the athlete should have little trouble sustaining for longer sets - there shouldn't be a drop off toward the end of a set at this effort level. Roughly Ironman pace. Strong: This is right around anaerobic threshold pace. This is considered pretty fast swimming, though not at all a sprint or all out effort. It's slightly uncomfortable, but bearable for medium stretches of time.You might see some slight drop off toward the end of an interval with this zone, but it shouldn't be dramatic. The middle of this zone is Olympic distance race pace. The upper end is closer to sprint race pace and the low end is like half iron race pace.

Hard: This is where things get uncomfortable. It gets used for shorter swims when adding intensity to the swim. It's about the pace you could hold for a 500 yard time trial. 

*Beginners: Cut out some distance. Shorten the warm up, drill set, and cool down a bit if you're new to swimming or are not yet ready to tackle a 4000 yard session. You can reduce things a bit in the main set. For example, rather than 3x(6x50, 200), do 3x (4x50, 100) to start. By keeping 3 rounds you still gain the benefit of the descending nature of the swim, but do so at manageable distances and with a reasonable number of reps. That said, I am not a big advocate of people swimming at too high an intensity before they have a reasonable level of technical skill. If that's true for you, ask me about the original swim and I can give you more details. There are plenty of options to make this swim accessible to people from all backgrounds. If you need any help making this swim work for you just ask!

As always, comments and questions are welcomed! Happy swimming!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Swim of the Week: 5x100, 20x50, 5x100

This week I bring you lots of repeats with very little rest!

I'm a huge fan of incorporating short reps into longer swim sets. There's a place in a training program for long swims - 800s, 1000s and such - but the bulk of a swimmer's sessions should be based on 50s, 75s, 100s, 200s and everything in-between. The use of shorter intervals allows swimmers, specifically triathletes who don't come from high level swim backgrounds, to be much more productive with their time in the water. Shorter interval lengths allow athletes to add speed to the session and maintain a higher degree of focus throughout. Each rep becomes more purposeful in this way. They're also incredibly versatile. Varying rest intervals allows an athlete (and their coach) to accomplish an incredible amount 50 to 200 yards at a time. 

This week's main set involves only 100s and 50s. While it's relatively straight forward, this set allows swimmers to work at a slightly elevated speed for a long time and build endurance. You get a lot for the yardage involved. At only 3500 yards the value per yard of this session is hard to beat. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Warm Up
- 2x200 - choice
- 100 easy backstroke
- 6x25 strong/hard
- 100 cruise

Drill Set
- 2x200 alternating 25 drill / 25 swim
- 100 cruise

Main Set
- 5x100 steady on cruise pace/100 + 10"
- 4x(5x50) w/ rounds 1/3 on cruise+5" and 2/4 on cruise pace sendoffs. 
- 5x100 steady/strong on cruise pace/100 +10"

Cool Down
- 5x50 easy choice

* How to set your sendoffs: Setting appropriate sendoffs is crucial to getting the most out of this swim. For the 100s, simply take your cruise 100 pace and add 10 seconds to get your sendoff time. Your cruise pace is the pace you can swim pretty easily all day. For me, it's ~1:17. I round that off to 1:20 and add 10 seconds to get a sendoff of 1:30 for the 100s. As for the 50s, the interval will rotate. The 20x50 set is broken into 4 groupings of 50s that will be done without any break between. The reason for the breakdown is simply to distinguish the varying sendoffs. The first and third groups of 5x50 will be done at a cruise pace +5". To find this, take your base pace/100 from the 100s, divide it in half and add 5 seconds. More simply, take the sendoff you used for the 100s and divide it by 2. For example, with my cruise pace of 1:20 I would do the first and third groupings on a  45 second sendoff. The sendoff for the remaining 50s is simply the cruise pace/100 divided in half. For me this works out to 40 second sendoffs. If you need help working out the correct sendoffs simply leave me a comment and I'll give you some guidance. 

How to do the set well: I like to swim this set where I swim the second set of 100s slightly faster than the first. However, the pace should still be controlled. This is not sprint work so remain in the right zone throughout. Generally speaking you should be getting ~15 seconds of rest on these. In addition to the pacing for the 100s,  I like to keep all twenty 50s at the same time regardless of sendoff. Aim for ~5 seconds of rest on the shorter sendoffs and ~10 seconds on the longer sendoffs. When I most recently did this set - keeping in mind a cruise pace of roughly 1:20 - I swam 1:15 for all of the first 100s, 34-35 seconds for all of the 50s and 1:12-1:13 for the final grouping of 100s. 

Beginners: Simply shorten the set and pick a sustainable pace from which to work. For example, cut the set down to 2x100, 12x50, 2x100 for a 1000 yard main set. Or cut the 100s out all together and just work on the 50s. If you have any questions about how this set can be adapted to your current level of ability and fitness just let me know and I will help get you sorted out. 

I realize that the explanation I've laid out is a bit wordy and likely overcomplicated! It can seem overwhelming to those who don't have much experience setting zones and sendoff times. Because of that, please let me know if you have any questions. Get your questions answered before you head to the pool in order to get the most out of your session! Email me at 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Swim of the Week: Descending 150s, 100s, 75s, & 50s

This week's swim features descending 150s, 100s, 75s, and 50s on relatively short rest. Enjoy!

This is a solid workout in that it helps to develop endurance, but does so with short intervals, short rest, and integrates a conservative amount of harder swimming. The fourth rep at each distance should take you into an anaerobic zone, but the first three should all be aerobic work (though you'll steadily approach the threshold throughout each round, arriving there sometime during #3). The criss-cross nature of this swim is great for swimmers of all types: triathletes, open water swimmers, and competitive swimmers can all benefit from this type of swim. It can also be adjusted for both beginners and seasoned swimmers. Moreover, for the triathletes out there, it's a workout that can be done by both Ironman athletes and Sprint-specialists; both long and short course athletes will benefit from the work accomplished in this set. 

I've left the drill set open as each person needs work in different areas. If you don't know what you need to work on or are drilling aimlessly based off some article you read (or what the guy in the next lane is doing) schedule an appointment with a coach! Attempting to fix your stroke aimlessly is a good way to create more problems than you had to begin with. A good coach can focus your attention on your very own hierarchy of swimming needs.

Beginners - Take the descending element out of this swim and set a rest interval of 20-25". Try to keep the pace of each rep consistent with the rest of the set. If you swim your first 150 in 3:00, try to keep the rest within 5 seconds. Also cut out the 2x200 (and accompanying 50 easy transition), reduce the length of the warm up and consider dropping from four to 2 or 3 reps of the 150s and 100s. If you have questions about how to make this swim work for you, leave me a comment and I'll point you in the right direction.

Warm up
- 300 cruise
- 100 back
- 2x100 kick
- 4x75 strong on 10" rest
- 100 cruise

Drill Set
- 5x100 as 75 drill/25 swim, 20"rest
- 100 cruise

Main Set
- 4x150 descend 1-4 from cruise to strong
- 4x100 descend 1-4 from cruise to strong
- 4x75 descend 1-4 from cruise to strong
- 4x50 descend 1-4 from cruise to strong
- 50 easy backstroke
- 2x200 steady on 25" rest

* Sendoffs: Set the rest interval based off your easy/cruise pace. Take the pace you swim and add 5 seconds to find your send off time. For example, my cruise pace is ~1:18/100. I round that off to 1:20 when setting sendoff times. To set my sendoff interval I would add 5 seconds to this pace (not 5"/100, just 5 seconds overall). For a 150, my sendoff is 2:05 (a 1:20/100 pace = 2:00/150. Take 2:00 + 5" to get a sendoff of 2:05). The sendoffs for the rest of the set are 1:25 for the 100s, 1:05 for the 75s, and :45 for the 50s. Leave a comment below if you need help figuring out your sendoffs.

Cool Down
- 4x50 cruise

Feel free to post your questions, comments, and thoughts after trying this swim in the comments section below!

Finally, if you are interested in setting up a swim session with video analysis, please email

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Swim Training: Positioned for Success

By Kyle Burnell
K2 Performance Coaching
Co-Founder & Coach

Each and every January the pools are packed with athletes looking to jump start their training. Optimism runs high and most athletes are convinced that this is the year they finally overcome a weakness in the water and break through to the next level in their training and racing. Athletes come equipped with a list of drills and a heap of tools, sure that something in their bag of tricks will be the key. But for many, frustration emerges before any gains are realized. Despite good intentions and hard work far too many fail to connect their efforts to significant time drops.

In order to be effective, swim training must be targeted. However, the overwhelming number of articles preaching "must do" drills and "must have" toys clouds the waters. While supposedly working to help with targeted training, this proliferation of mediocre recommendations (ones that all too often come without a complete explanation of their foundations) only blurs an athlete's aim. 

Forget all the gadgets, drills, and carefully crafted sets for a minute. In order to understand the path to improvements, it is important to first understand the forces at play in the water. To swim faster an athlete must decrease drag and/or increase propulsion. While all swimmers would benefit by making improvements to both of these areas, the order in which those improvements are made is important. Most athletes who do not come from a competitive swimming background must address the issue of drag before moving on to propulsive forces. Doing the opposite will almost surely lead to frustration and a lack of progress. 


Body and head position is a major limiter for most triathletes and adult onset swimmers. The result of poor positioning magnifies the impact of drag on the athlete. Attempting to increase propulsion while in this suboptimal position will lead to improper stroke mechanics, injury, and will not produce the intended results. Moreover, attempting to address multiple areas simultaneously prior to adjusting body position will cause these same problems. Proper alignment in the water is the foundation to an efficient stroke and fast(er) swimming. A balanced position sets the swimmer up in a place to implement other good habits that will continue to reduce drag and increase propulsion. 

Next steps

If possible, work with a swim/stroke coach. Ideally, the coach will capture video footage of your stroke in order to identify individual areas of weakness and provide remedies. A quality coach will get footage from multiple angles and be able to highlight specific phases of the stroke that need to be tweaked. When providing this feedback, the coach should also be able to tell you exactly why they are asking you to complete certain drills or use swim aids. If a coach does not provide this information up front, ask anyway. 

A second step to your progress is to ignore what your friends and lane mates are doing. Do not simply do drills or use tools because you see (or read about in an article/saw on YouTube) someone else doing them. Drills are a wonderful thing, but only if they are done properly and used to address issues actually existing in the individual's stroke. Rather than copy what others are doing because you are not sure what to do on your own, ask for help from someone in the know. A poorly executed drill, or the wrong drill for a stroke flaw, can make matters worse instead of propelling a swimmer toward success. 

Finally, slow down. Yes, go slow in order to eventually go fast. This applies to both the speed with which an athlete actually completes the drill and to the length of time spent on each drill (measured in training sessions, not minutes) before moving to the next. Rushing the process or the drill itself will not allow for the right adjustments to be implemented. Good habits take time to build just as poor habits take time to undo.

Though there are many great drills out there to address body position and other drag-related issues, I will not highlight them here. In line with the theme of this article, I will not recommend any individual drill to athletes without knowing more about their stroke and the issues they are facing. Doing so would contradict everything written above. That said, we at K2 Performance are available for questions should you have them and would be happy to discuss your swim training and possible solutions to any problems you're experiencing with your stroke.

For more information on K2 Performance Coaching, visit