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A Short, Fast Set to Build Swimming Speed

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Dawn Heckman needs little introduction as a World Class Workout contributor. Beneath her fierce competitiveness — which won her gold and bronze medals at the 1999 Pan Pacific Games, a berth on the World Championship Open Water team, and several recent masters world records — is actually a shrewd businesswoman. Last year, Dawn founded Splish, a swimsuit company with a twist.

Dawn’s World Class Workout is as original as her suit designs: Whereas other contributors focused on big sets that primarily stressed endurance development, Dawn’s workout is short and deceptively simple-looking (but certainly not easy).

“Once a week, I would do a low-yardage, high-intensity set where the purpose was to swim at race speed and lay everything down on the line,” she explains. “In order to be a fast swimmer, you have to practice swimming fast.”

Indeed, many swimmers and triathletes enjoy training endurance because it feels like a real workout (the "no pain, no gain" approach). However with consistent endurance training, it is easy to fall into a pattern of swimming longer distances at slower paces.

Every now and then it is necessary to practice speed and keep your body conditioned to sprint. Dawn’s workout is designed to do just that.

Pre-meet warm-up

A pre-meet warm-up is whatever it is you do to get ready before a big race. Some swimmers take longer than others and prefer to do up to an hour of drills and light sets. Others like to get their body moving with an easy 1,500 meters and call it quits.

Whatever the case may be, take your time and warm up correctly every time you do the following set. To successfully complete the workout, you need to be prepared to swim fast.

Main set

8 x 50’s ALL OUT as follows:
4 @ 1:10
2 @ 1:00
2 @ :50

This is only 400 meters of swimming, but the challenge is to swim each 50 at “race pace.” The final time for the 400 meters, when added up, has to equal your goal time in the 400-meter event (those who don’t know what that time would be because they swim different events or compete in triathlons should still focus on sprinting, regardless).

“Every single 50 for me had to be at race pace or faster,” Dawn remembers, “or else it didn’t count and I had to do it again! The intervals weren’t the challenging part; it was making yourself swim really fast when you were dead tired.”

Cool down

This can be a few hundred yards of easy swimming to flush the lactic acid out of your system, or even 2,000 meters of pulling if you want to inflate your yardage a bit.

The value of the above main set is that it forces your body to perform under race conditions when you may not feel your fastest or your best. If you are in mid-season, swimming a few 50’s (let alone eight of them!) at race pace could be really challenging, yet it’s a great way to gage where you are in your training.

If your body is really broken down and you fail at the set, perhaps it’s time to pare down the intensity of your training and focus more on recovery time to swim fast. If you complete the first half of the set but fail on the last few 50’s, then that should be a clue that you need to work on your endurance.

In midseason, Dawn would do this set three times through in one workout, for a total of 1,200 meters of fast swimming. As the season progressed she would do it twice, then only once in the weeks of her taper. Occasionally, she would do the set butterfly (she primarily raced freestyle but felt that butterfly was a greater challenge).

Ultimately, this short set could be the most important drill you do during your season. While endurance training is the pillar of any open-water swimmer or triathlete’s logbook, sprinting is the oft-neglected element that separates the fast from the faster.

The more an athlete is accustomed to swimming fast during midseason training, the more conditioned he will be to rise to the occasion when the gun goes off on race day.

As endurance-prone workaholics, sometimes we need to remember to set aside time for fine-tuning ourselves with sprints — and thanks to Dawn we now have a blueprint to follow.

Blueprint thats actually the name of one of her swimsuit designs!

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