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The Relevance of Race-Relevant Training Part II

In part I, we examined the concept of race-relevant training as opposed to race-specific training with the purpose of providing a different way to view the role of each training element. While specificity is important, it can be taken to the extreme. However, it’s important that training is still relevant to performance goals. Establishing that relevancy, and the relative degree of relevancy, is valuable in ensuring that training is as productive as possible.

Let’s look at some real examples to see how the concept plays out day to day.

Practical Examples

So far, we’ve explored race-relevant training conceptually. Let’s get practical with some specific examples to make the ideas concrete.

Target Race- 400m Freestyle


This is work that is unquestionably specific to the racing environment. Swims are performed at race speed with attention appropriate stroke counts and stroke rates.


6x100@1:30 Performed at target 400m race speed

This is about as vanilla as it gets. We are simply swimming at race speed, rehearsing the specifics of a 400m race. These sets can take lots of different forms with different distances, different recoveries, the addition of different components into the set (i.e. kicking, aerobic work, etc). However, these variants all share the common thread of swimming at 400m speed.

Event-Driven Race Relevant

Here, we are looking at race relevant stimuli that are dictated by the race demands. In other words, the demands of the race dictate which training stimuli are relevant to improving performance in that event.

Performing repetitions above and below race velocity is going to be relevant to performance as improvements in these areas are going to support improvements in the focused race. In this context, improvements over shorter events will improve the speed required to race the that is being targeted, whereas improvements over longer events will improve the specific endurance.


8x50@1 Performed at target 200m race speed


10x100@1:30 Performed at target 800m race speed

These sets can take many different forms provided they are working in the appropriate speed ranges. Performing race specific work above OR below the targeted event is RELEVANT to racing a specific event. In our example, getting better at 200m and 800m creates a platform for getting better over 400m. Training sets that facilitate improvements in these areas should facilitate improvements in 400m speed over time.

The concept of training above and below the targeted race can apply further along the spectrum. 100m or 1500m training will also provide relevant training stimuli for a 400m swimmer, although this training would be slightly less relevant. However, there would be MORE of a speed and endurance overload, respectively, so these stimuli can be very valuable as well.

The concept of using event training that is above or below the targeted race applies equally to any race, whereas the 400m race is used in this example. In this respect, training for other races becomes relevant, and the application of this principle is relatively straightforward.

Choosing to focus more on working above or below the targeted race will be a product of the needs of a given individual. Some will be benefit from spending more time underneath the targeted race distance, whereas others will benefit from spending more time above the targeted race.

Individually-Driven Race Relevant

Where race-driven relevant training is dictated by the event, individually-driven stimuli are driven the by needs of the swimmer racing that specific race. While determining race-driven stimuli is pretty straightforward due to the static demands of races, determining individually-driven stimuli requires a closer analysis.

Below we’ll look at some sample sets that provide race relevant stimuli for individuals with specific needs, all in the context of 400m racing. The sets will be very straight forward to illustrate the concepts. Much more engaging or involved sets are possible and encouraged when implementing these ideas.

It is the consideration of the general volumes and intensities involved that is important. There can and should be added depth to the sets that enhance skills and provide deeper learning opportunities. I have not done so to avoid creating any distractions from the main idea.

While all of the sets below are relevant to performance, individuals can spend more or less time working in a given area depending on their individual strength and weaknesses. They need to spend time bolstering their strengths, while addressing their weaknesses over time. More on that process and the decision-making process is available HERE.

All of these sets can be performed as either swim sets, kick sets, or pulling sets. This variation can further allow coaches to address individual needs if particular swimmers need to focus more on the upper or lower body to improve performance. These sets can be further modified to include different types of equipment, as well as other constraints to simultaneously help shape skill acquisition.

Again, these sets are deliberately simple to illustrate the various types of work. They can and should be modified to further enhance the learning environment.

In contrast to the race-driven sets above, performances here are not necessarily tied to race outcomes in that swimmers are trying to rehearse specific paces. They are simply working to improve their performances over time, as doing so will create more potential for improvement over 400m.

10x25@2 With medium resistance at maximal effort

Here, we are creating a base of strength and power in the upper body. The higher the maximal outputs that a swimmer is capable of creating, the greater the potential they have for sustaining submaximal outputs. This work is of very high intensity, coupled with low volumes and extended recoveries. While most coaches are familiar with a base of aerobic fitness, it is equally important to create a base of speed. The faster swimmers can swim over a set like this, the faster they will be able to perform the set below.

8x50@2 As fast as possible

With this type of work, we’re building upon the base of speed and learning to sustain that speed to a greater extent. For some swimmers, particularly those oriented towards endurance, this work will facilitate improvements in speed as well. This training is relevant to the 400m racer in that is beginning to work towards sustainability of high speeds. By improving the speeds that can be sustained over shorter distances, it creates the potential to improve speed over the longer distance of 400m.

3 rounds

3x100@1:30 Pull as fast as possible

100@3 EZ Choice


3 rounds

3x100@2 kick as fast as possible

100@3 EZ Choice

These sets are both working in physiological areas that are supportive of 400m racing. However, they are focusing on either the upper body or the lower body, improving the contribution of those components to racing. In this way, they’re not necessarily specific, but they are relevant. Improving performance in kicking or pulling in a relevant context is going to allow for better performances over time.

4x400 @ 2 minutes rest; performed as fast as possible with even speed

With this set, we’re on the other side of 400m racing, focusing more on the endurance component. As performance improves in sets like this, swimmers are improving their ability to sustain speeds that are slower than targeted 400m speed. Targeting different physical changes than the speed-based sets, the potential speed that can be sustained for a single 400m effort improves over time.

This type of training is relevant in that in contrast to the shorter sets which overload the ability to sustain high speeds for shorter durations, we are creating an overload by sustaining slightly slower speeds for longer durations. It is the same concept and framework, simply applied to different physical abilities.

12x200@ ~30 seconds rest Slight des 1-3,4-6,7-9,10-12

This type of set is further removed from 400m racing. However, it provides support for the 4x400 set above. If swimmers are able to improve their performance in a set like this, it creates the potential for improving the 4x400 set, which creates the potential for increasing 400m performance. It is relevant to performance in its supportive role of higher intensity sets. There is a much stronger focus on sustainability of slower swimming, which is relevant to the sustainability of slightly faster swimming.

How do these examples apply to other events?

In the context of race-driven race relevant stimuli, the appropriate training sets simply shift up or down the intensity spectrum depending on the targeted race. A 100m race is going to be directly supported by 50m training and 200m training, whereas a 1500m race is going to be directly supported by 800m training and threshold type training (think 3000m for time type of work).

These training sets will be dictated strictly by the racing distance, with minimal variation between individuals. It is more about what the race demands of swimmers, and then designing training to support those demands by focusing more on speed (training under the race) or endurance (training over the race).

A similar concept applies to individually-drive race relevant stimuli in that the focus will shift towards more of an endurance or speed bias as the targeted race shifts. As the race distance extends, there will generally be an increased need for aerobic fitness for most individuals, whereas shorter events will require more strength and power on an individual basis.

As race distances increases, the importance of aerobic fitness becomes larger and larger. This type of work becomes more and more relevant, eventually becoming a primary driver of performance, even if it does not appear to be ‘specific’ from an external perspective. Training speeds may not be that close to race speed, yet they yield significant improvements in performance.

In contrast, as event distances grow shorter, speed, strength, and power become the limiting factors for performance. Swimmers may spend time training at intensities well in excess of those required for competition. However, this type of work becomes relevant as it creates a foundation for future performances. The faster a swimmer is, the easier it is to sustain a submaximal speed.

Each swimmer will have individual needs relative to their targeted events. Of course, these individual needs can be similar or the same as other swimmers, they just exist somewhat independent of the targeted races. What may be different is the type of work that’s required for those individuals. Some respond very well to intense aerobic loads, whereas others respond better to more of a volume-based aerobic stimulus. Determining

When using the 400m sets as a starting point, simply shift the relative volumes and intensities up and down depending on the length of the race. At the same time, appreciate that there will be swimmers on either end of the spectrum in terms of their response to volume and intensity, and you may need to further emphasize on over the other.


While the nuance between and race-specific and race-relevant training can seem like semantics, it is an important distinction. By exploring the differences in practical terms, this should be more evident. Race-relevant training has a very specific purpose, even if the work does not specifically match what must be done in competition.

The value of race-relevant training is that it provides training options in situations where training problems need to be solved. While specificity undoubtedly works, strictly applying the principle ultimately restricts the options coaches can exercise to enhance performance. This can become problematic when performances fail to progress.

By expanding our training arsenal to include those activities that are relevant to racing, we can continue to perform work that matters without being overly restrained. Further, it forces us to reflect on exactly why we’re are performing a given activity as it relates to racing, ensuring better decision making that leads to faster swimming.


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