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Strategies For Designing Sets That Develop Everything

The sets swimmers do, and how they do them, determines the degree to which they will improve or not.


If swimmers aren’t improving, it’s no fun for everyone involved.


In a lot of cases, it comes down to set design.


One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made, and one of the biggest mistakes I see, is only considering set design from a physiological perspective.


Set design it typically all about energy systems and training zones.


It’s important.


Really important.


However, swimming fast requires a lot more than being fit, and if these factors aren’t specifically addressed in a set, they’re not going to improve consistently.


It was only when I started to really consider what swimmers needed to improve to be successful, and actually designing sets to reflect this, that I started to see consistent progress in all swimmers.


By going beyond physiology in our set design, we can provide swimmers with more opportunities to go faster.


Here are the major considerations I make when writing a set.


The more I can integrate each of these factors, the better the outcomes are, and the more enjoyable the experience is for everyone involved.


1. Physiology


Just about every coach has this part down.


There are TONS of resources about set design from a physiological perspective.


This matters and it matters a lot.


Get it right and the outcomes will be pretty good.


However, it’s not the end point.


It’s the starting point.


It creates the skeleton of the set, and all the other strategies below fill in the details.


2. Skills


Swimming is a skill sport.

If swimmers aren’t improving their skills, it’s going to be a lot more difficult for them to improve their performances.


While every stroke a swimmer takes is an opportunity for them to improve their skills, unfortunately, that’s not how it works.


For skills to improve consistently and reliably, sets need to be designed to improve skills.


It’s not going to happen by chance.


It’s need to be built in.


What skills need to improve?


What are the most effective strategies to develop those skills?


The answers to these questions should inform what should be done during the set, regardless of the physiological targets.


3. Racing


Racing is a skill.


Just going to meet isn’t enough to develop that skill.


It needs to happen in practice, and the more it can happen in practice, the more swimmers will improve.


It’s not about doing time trials.


It’s about repeating practicing racing skills such as pacing and executing under pressure.


There are lots of ways to make that happen, regardless of whether it’s a sprint set, an endurance set, or anything in between.


4. Psychology


Psychology matters for racing performance.


Is it being addressed in a set?


How is the set designed to build confidence?


Is the set helping swimmers learn to focus and re-focus under pressure?


While these skills will be addressed to some extent within any set, doing so with intention can make change a lot more likely.


5. Coaching


What are your skills as a coach?


When are you coaching your best?


Leverage it when you write sets.


If you’re awesome at engaging and providing feedback, maybe you should use shorter distances.


Can you get swimmers to do crazy things?


Take advantage of it when writing sets.


I remember Dave Salo saying that he’d do 20x25s instead of 1x500 not because of the physiology, but because he could talk to the swimmers 19x as often.


He was leveraging his skills as a coach without compromising the set.


6. Engagement


For any set to actually have a positive impact on performance, it actually has to be performed.


And HOW it’s performed matters as well.


The better the execution, the better the outcomes.


Great execution requires great engagement.


And some sets are a lot more engaging than others.


If two sets have are designed to achieve the same outcome, but one set is more engaging, that set is going to have a bigger impact.


Creating sets that swimmers actually want to do is the final piece that can make all the difference.


Create Better Sets


When you start to consider what goes into a great set, there’s a lot more to it than just physiology.


It obviously matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters.


The simplest way to begin to get more out of each set is to start building skill development into each set.


If you’re looking to make this even easier, and you want to know which skills are most important to focus on and train, I lay out the key skills swimmers need to learn to create speed in each of the strokes in Stroke Fundamentals


I also show you the exact strategies I use to help swimmers learn these skills. 


If you want to improve your swimmers’ skills, consider grabbing a copy here.




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