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Coach Steve being aero! SWIM SETS AND PACING: If you've ever swam with a masters group workout chances are you're familiar with swim sets. If the group had a triathlon focus the workout was probably all freestyle and lasted no more than an hour. If your masters group had a swim focus the workout may have lasted for 90-minutes, and no doubt you spent some time practicing drills as-well-as other strokes.

It's rare, but occasionally I meet an athlete whose only swim experience is just going back-and-forth nonstop in the pool. Nonstop swims work well in open-water, but in a pool going nonstop lap after lap is boring and your speed improvement will eventually plateau.

The goal of swim sets is to avoid boredom and push the pace faster than you could going nonstop. It's similar to an interval workout for the bike or run, the only difference is that recoveries are shorter for swim sets.

To develop speed, reps of 50 to 100 (yards or meters) work well. If the goal is endurance, swim reps of 200 to 500. The recovery duration between reps will affect how fast you go. If the goal is top end speed go with long recoveries; if the goal is endurance and to fine-tune pacing, go with short recoveries.

Which type of workout focus you need depends upon your strength and weakness. If you have good sprint speed, but pace falls off a lot for steady long swims, you need to work on endurance. If you can 'go all day long at the same pace' but can't go fast, you'll benefit from short reps that are significantly faster than your nonstop pace.

Clearly you need a balance between speed and endurance to swim well on race day.

The goal of any set where you do a lot of reps is to hold an even pace with no fade. A set of 15x 100 with 15-second recoveries should have a range of only 2-3 seconds from your fastest to slowest rep. This narrow range shows you've got a good feel for pacing.

If you're a competitor you need to sprint the first 100 to get out with the swimmers going your pace. If you don't sprint-out, inevitably you'll be stuck behind slower swimmers and waste time getting past them. 

So an exception to the even pacing recommended above is to intentionally sprint the first rep(s) and recover. Warm up for at least 5-minutes (as you should always on race day), then hit the first one or two reps hard, then slow to the best steady pace you can hold for the remaining reps.

If you're just there to finish, no worries, just start at a comfortable pace and hold it for the duration.
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