# How to Read a Swim Workout

I’m sitting in the kitchen with my mom talking about how she did my swim workout in her rowing shell the other morning. Unfortunately my mother, having spent thousands of hours in the stands watching swim meets, has never learned to read a swim workout. This made me realize that the typical traithlete may also not know how to read a swim workout, so I’m putting together a tutorial, then to make everyone feel better I’ll tell you what I did this morning and how some swim workouts still confuse the heck out of me.

A swim workout is pretty simple once you get the hang of it, but since sets are based entirely on distance, and typically involve numerous repeats, the methodology of set giving in the water is somewhat different from biking and running.  Here is a swim set and I’ll walk you through it.

1×500 wu @ 10:00

This means you swim 500 yards to warm up. the 1x means you do only one 500, and the @ 10:00 means that you have 10 minutes to complete the 500 before starting the next item on the set.

10×50 fr (desc 1-5) @ :55

10x : repeat this interval ten times

50: each interval is 50 yards

(desc 1-5): make each 50 faster than the previous one for the first five, then repeat for numbers 6-10 (so your times might be 50s, 45s, 40s, 35s, 30s, then 48s, 40s, 34s, 29s)

@ :55 means that you start each interval 55 seconds after the previous interval. So if you leave on the 60 (top of the pace clock) you would start number two on the 55, three on the 50, four on the 45, etc.

4x{
2×200 fr 1500m race pace @ 2:45
1×100 IM @ 15-20s rest
}

4x{ this means you repeat the part in {} brackets four times

2×200 fr 1500m race pace @ 2:45

just like the 50’s above. Swim 200 yards at your race pace (may also be written RP). You start the second one 2 minutes 45 seconds after the first one.

1×100 IM @ 15-20s rest 2 minutes 45 seconds after the second 200 you start a 100 yard individual medley. This means you swim 25 fly (FL), 25 back (BK), 25 breast (BR), and 25 free (FR), continuous. After the 100, take 15-20s rest and start over. When I put a rest interval like this into a workout it is usually a range of five seconds so that you can start when the second hand is on a multiple of 5. (i.e. if you come in on the 11 you would start on the 30 rather than the 26 or 31)

12×75 EMF by 25 @ 1:10 (~20s rest)

EMF stands for EZ Moderate Fast.

by 25 the part that changes does so by 25. So each 75 is a 25 ez, 25 moderate and 25 fast. It could also have been by 75, in which case you would have done four rounds of 75 easy 75 moderate 75 fast, all on the same time interval.

wd (warm down)
10×50 asc 1-5 @ 1:00

asc 1-5 means that you start off with a fast 50 and make each one slightly slower until number 5. repeat that for 6-10. This is active recovery, so as you go slower, your attention should shift from speed to technique. Always finish a workout with as close to perfect stroke as you can manage.

Rest Intervals: If I am writing a workout without a specific group in mind (i.e. to post on my blog) I’ll put in rest intervals (i.e. 15-20s rest) rather than sendoffs (i.e. 2:45). When you’re doing a workout that gives rest intervals, it is a good idea to convert to send-offs. That way you are encouraged to keep a consistent pace. With sendoffs you get more rest when you go faster, but if you go too slow you have to get right into the next interval.  Plus, if you’re doing the workout with a group, you can pick a sendoff that works for everyone, and that way you stay together (less passing involved). If you’re with a group that needs a slower sendoff, just go faster to make up for the added rest.

Now, those are the basics. This morning I drove to Issaquah, about 40 minutes from where I live, to swim with the Issaquah Swim Team. The travel is worthwhile because the coach, Kyle Johnson is the best technique coach I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, this morning was coincidentally the first morning in the pools history that the staff failed to show up to open the doors. I ended up driving back to Seattle University to swim with my friend Peter, who also drives the distance for Coach Johnson’s excellent stroke instruction.

Peter spent about 15 minutes preparing me for some of the drills and terms that Kyle has started using in the three years since I was last on his team. Here’s a set we did, but for your sake, I’m not going to explain it:

3x{
2×25 nolms kick @ :30
3×25 Sling Shot 1 (SC +1, 0, -1)@ :30
2×50 Sling Shot 1 (SC 0, -1 by 25) @ :50
1×75 Sling Shot 1 (SC +1, 0, -1 by 25) @ 1:10
Tree Hugger, 10 each arm
2×25 Sling Shot 2 @ :25
1×50 Sling Shot 2/3 by 25 @ :50
1×75 Sling Shot 3 @ 1:15
1×50 Sling Shot 3/4 @ :50
1×215 Sling Shot 4 @ :25
}

I’m still not sure I know what it all means…

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

## Join the Conversation

1. I can’t even figure out where to start here. I like this: swim 1.2 miles. PS – as a newbie, what pace ‘should’ I be swimming? I know if I’m riding 12.4 mph, that it’s pretty slow or a 11:24 min mile – but no idea what is slow?

2. I agree with Loren, that was more confusing than it was helpful. Couldn’t you just write more simplified workouts?? Who said they needed to be that complex? I am not saying just swim 1.2 miles, but I mean ???

3. I’m sort of curious about all those drills. I’ve been focusing a *lot* on technique this time of year…

4. Kurt Hardesty says:

Thanks, I could never figure those things out before.

5. Wermi says:

YES… Thank you! I’m just starting to swim regularly, and have found sites that display workouts… but could not understand them at all because they use the abbreviations you have used above!! Now I know the secret code! ðŸ™‚

6. Andy says:

Awesome! Exactly what I needed. With thanks from the UK.

7. May Saenz says:

You dont understand how much you just impacted my swim practice! The couches tell us all these crazy numbers and other weird phrases, but I can say that I actually get this. On Monday im going to finally understand them speak… turns out it was english all along. LOL

8. Melissa says:

Hi there, so I have been a swimmer for many years and recently I acquired a new swim workout, and I understand most of it, but still struggling with one thing.. What does it mean when in the swim workout it states:
10 x 100 on 2:00 at 70% PE

9. I would read that as 70% of race effort, but I’m not familiar with PE.