top of page

Time For a Change II


As described in the introductory article, facilitating technical change is best effected through a 3-step process where skills are first de-stabilized, then shaped, and finally stabilized in an improved form, resilient under competitive stress.

Here, the focus will be on the process of destabilization. Three primary goals exist when trying to destabilize current technical skills.

1. Enhances kinesthetic awareness generally, as well as specifically for the desired change.

2. Provide a variety of movement options to help the swimmer discover the optimal version of the desired skill.

3. Determine which interventions ‘push’ skills towards more optimal solutions.

When designing training sets, contrast is incredibly valuable as swimmers are able to learn through the differences in execution. To make these concepts more concrete, let’s take the example of a backstroker who is currently using a pulling action with excessive vertical motion. The pulling pattern is not particularly effective and the swimmer desires to learn to hold more water with each stroke. The targeted pattern is one that moves a large surface area directly backward for as long as possible.

Possible sources of variability-

  • Altering propulsive surface area (hand postures, paddles, etc...)

  • Pulling versus swimming

  • Changing body position (sitting up in the water, weight belt)

  • Using different resistance training devices (cord, chute, tower, etc…)

  • Varying paces

Below are 4 sets. These sets can be used in addition to, not in replacement of sets that would typically be performed.

Set #1

4x through

2*25@40 Backstroke w/ chute; 1 hand tennis ball/1 hand open; switch at 25

4*25@40 Backstroke w/ chute; 1 hand tennis ball/1 hand small paddle; switch after 2 25s

4*25@40 Backstroke w/ chute; 1 hand open/1 hand small paddle; switch after 2 25s

2*25@40 Backstroke w/ chute; swim

*ODD rounds pull no buoy; EVEN rounds swim*


The idea is to consistently hold water with both arms equally. This becomes challenging with asymmetrical and consistently changing propulsive surface areas. The additional resistance of the parachute will provide feedback as to whether pulling actions are direct, or if inefficiencies are present. The contrast between pulling and swimming provides differing levels of feedback about the effectiveness of pulling actions. When paired with performance measures of stroke count and time, swimmers can judge how effective each repetition was.

Set #2

5x through

4*20@1.30 Backstroke FAST on Power Tower (or cord)

*ODD head up; EVEN regular 2 reps with small paddles; 2 repetitions with open hands*

25@2 FAST Backstroke swim

*ODD rounds pull EVEN rounds swim for the 20s*


Similar ideas are used as with set #1. In this case, there is a premium on velocity and swimmers have the opportunity to test their skills with a 25 fast at the end of each round. Additionally, half the repetitions are performed with the head up out of the water. This is to provide contrast to the regular repetitions. The resistance and the changing hand posture provides awareness of the effects of different pulling patterns and provides a variety of sensory input.

Set #3

4x through

4*50@1 Backstroke swim with a weight belt; 1 hand closed+1 hand open; switch each 50.

4*50@40 des 1-4 at the same stroke count and kick count

4*50@40 Hold time from 50 #4 and try to reduce stroke count and kick count

*Extra 40 seconds to put the weight belt back on*


This set provides extra variability through the use of a weight belt which will alter body position and create different sensory inputs. Swimmers must manage this environment with asymmetrical propulsive surface area. To be effective, they must use direct and appropriate pulling patterns. Importantly, the differences will require novel strategies to be effective. During the regular swimming, the swimmer must learn to pull effectively and efficiency under the pressure of reducing stroke counts and increasing speed.

Set #4

4x through

4*75@1.10 Backstroke pull with a band and tennis balls; 1 less stroke per 25

4*100@1.20 ODD Even split + 2nd 50 fewer strokes; EVEN Neg. split w/ same stroke count

*Dolphin kick number stays constant*


The purpose of the set is for the swimmer to learn to create effective pulling actions while also controlling speed and efficiency. When pulling with a band, tennis balls, and stroke count requirements, swimmers are forced to find effective, direct pulling patterns, or they won’t accomplish the task. This is paired with regular backstroke swimming where the swimmers must be effective in manipulating their velocity and stroke count. Swimmers are forced to vary their pulling patterns to accomplish this task.

Physiological Considerations

As you can with the example above, there is a focus on both aerobic development, as well as short speed and power development. These two traits form the foundation for later race specific training. Additionally, they are conducive to the technical change process as intensity and volume, respectively, are controlled to minimize excessive fatigue that would impair the learning process.

Other Considerations

It’s important to note that during this period, swimmers may report that they’ve lost their stroke and may display technical inconsistency. That is precisely the idea. Once variability is reduced, the skills can be moved in the desired direction.

This step can be more or less extensive dependent on the tendencies of the individual swimmer. If the swimmer learns new skills quickly and is able to abandon old skills quickly, this phase can be abbreviated. In contrast, swimmers with very poor kinesthetic awareness may need to spend more time with high levels of variability.

bottom of page