My whole swimming career, I was a sprinter. Meet after meet, I’d do the 50, 100, and 200 free (you can make the case the 200 is middle distance but really it felt like the worst sprint ever to me). If you were a sprinter, you know we can get a bad rep at practice… lower yardage, more rest, the only ones who get to use the bungee cords… all while the rest of the team is doing 10×400 on repeat.
But I have to say, repeats are at the very core of my early swim training. From the time I got serious about age group swimming around 10 years old, my coach was pretty predictable: warmup, 20-30 minutes of freestyle repeats, short cool down set, sprint/max effort set, short cool down set, 15-20 minutes of stroke or IM repeats, something off the blocks, warm down, done. The only sets we’d spend time guessing where which max effort set we’d get each day (not the dreaded 3x3x100), and if we’d be doing 100’s, 200’s, 300’s, 400’s, or 500’s. It never waivered.
Because of this, I have always dreaded sprint sets at practice, and sprint practices in general. For me, going fast is for competition, not practice, right? I find that I really need this aerobic endurance to be able to sprint, and to be able to finish the back half of a 200 or even 100 in a race. In college, I’d often hop in with the distance swimmers (I remember one training trip we did 12×800 on the first day).
Lately, I’m having to rely on this kind of set more and more because of my 45 minute time limit in the pool. It really maximizes my use of a short amount of time – but at a cost. Repeats of course, are boring.
I can’t deny that when I’m having a really great day in the pool and I’ve given myself something like 10×200’s, I feel so accomplished when I’m done. Sometimes, I get a second wind halfway through the set and finish out stronger than I started. But I don’t feel great every time, and this does get old. Just doing a set amount of distance over and over on one interval is admittedly, not very engaging. The good days don’t always outweigh the bad.
So, when I’m feeling a lack of motivation but a need for some aerobic work, here are a few ways that I’ve started varying/spicing up my repeats. If you find yourself bored and struggling to build endurance, hopefully these can help:
Straight Repeats. Just as it sounds – 15×100 on 1:20, or 8×200 on 3:00. Pick your poisons (distance, reps, and interval) and get to it. The downside of course is it can be really hard to motivate yourself for this, so try this when on a day where you feel your head’s in the game.
Varying Intervals (3 ways):
1. Descending Intervals. Say you’re doing 10×100 – maybe start at your aerobic base +10, and each 2 100’s, drop :05 until you’re at aerobic base -10. Something like 1:30, 1:25, 1:20, 1:15, 1:10.
2. Ascending Intervals. Just the opposite – but when I do this I start even :05 seconds lower and see if I can make the first few really hard intervals knowing I have more rest coming.
3. Jump Around. Sometimes I’ll do a set of 200’s and start with 1 @ aerobic base (2:40), then one at 2:35, then 2 @ 2:40, then 1 @ 2:30, and so on, down to 1 @ 2:20.
Add Equipment. Have 16×150’s planned? Do 4 with paddles and buoy, 4 just paddles, 4 swim, 4 w/ fins (or whatever equipment you feel like). You can either drop the intervals as you add/remove equipment, or keep the same interval and set a goal time for each set of 4.
Vary the Distance. Instead of 12×100, try 2×300, 2×200, 2×100. Same distance (and you can use the same interval base), but with some variety.
Mix in Stroke. When I was a competitive swimmer (age group, high school, college), a freestyle set was a freestyle set and a stroke set was a stroke set. There was no cross contamination. But this is masters, so if you’re sick of freestyle, break the set into rounds and do one free, one stroke, one IM.
You know the saying – there’s a thousand ways to skin a cat. I don’t know if there are quite a thousand (or even 5) ways to make 10×200 less boring, but there are certainly a lot of creative ways to make repetitive sets more interesting. I know there are some that may consider this kind of workout “garbage yardage”, but I’m not ready to throw the towel in on repeats just yet. I think there is still a lot of value in pushing myself through long endurance sets, and I really find it hard to race and finish strong in anything over a 50 freestyle if I haven’t been building endurance with sets like this. My point, give repeats a chance, you may thank yourself later.