Welcome to the big kid group! The senior group consists mostly of middle and high school age swimmers who are seasoned and well-conditioned. Before we get into the details, let’s go over what defines a “senior” swimmer (no… not age over 65).
While we organize our training groups by age, that doesn't necessarily mean everyone in the senior group should be adhering to the following training guidelines and sets. Some may be seasonal or new swimmers who should be doing sets that look more like age group training. How do we determine who needs to be doing age group versus senior group training?
A good rule of thumb is anyone who is no longer dropping time at almost every swim meet. This means their bodies are no longer growing and adapting fast enough with regular training to show regular improvement. At this point, we need to break down training further in order to give more focused time to the biological adaptations we are trying to achieve. This means that the entire process won’t come together until the taper part of the season which makes for an exciting, and possible anxiety provoking, season!
Let’s start by listing all the essential elements we want to work on with our senior swimmers.
This list looks a lot different than the age group list and there are a few new terms we need to discuss. What we have done is subdivide the sprint and endurance training speeds into two more categories each. Sprint training now consists of speed and lactate training. Endurance training now consists of Aerobic endurance and Aerobic power training. Each of these different gears of training focus on major biological element that we want to improve:
These training types are shown in the flow diagram along with what specifically is being trained and sample workouts to illustrate what different types of training look like in real life. Teach your swimmers this chart and remind them before every set what we are trying to improve biologically. This will build confidence in the set and make you look like you know what you are talking about (which you do)!
Imagine if you had to do all this training for each of the four strokes and dolphin kicking. You would spend about 10 minutes a week training any single stroke/pace which is too little time to make significant improvements. That's why in the senior group we will narrow down our focus to just a primary stroke and a secondary stroke. We will use all four speeds to train both of the strokes, however in freestyle kicking and dolphin kicking (aka the 5th stroke) we will just train basic endurance and sprint velocities. Pure distance freestyle swimmers can use the secondary stroke sets as additional opportunities to up there yardage.
Since the shortest IM race seniors perform is the 200 IM, training is reserved for the endurance category. In fact, for any swimmer that does not focus on the IM race, endurance IM training is really just focusing on maximizing cardiovascular fitness while giving most of the muscles in the body a chance to recover. For those who specialize in the IM races, their primary and secondary stroke training can be fairly flexible. However, they should spend a decent amount of time every week focusing on their weakest stroke since that will give them the biggest benefit during their races.
Training technique in the senior group is also going to look different compared to novice and age groups. By the time swimmers reach the senior level, the majority of their technique is going to be heavily ingrained and relatively unchangeable. We can continue to make small changes, however the time of building technique from the ground up has passed. Instead, senior swimmers mostly focus on having a different technique or different style of swimming for different races. For instance, a 50 freestyle technique will differ greatly from a 200/500 freestyle technique. Therefore, when writing sets, we can add elements that focus the swimmers’ technique depending on the race we are training for during the set.
And finally, senior swimmers now get to practice race strategy. In novice and age group, we basically go all out from the beginning and try to hang on no matter how short or long the races. There is no strategy involved at this level. Big kids on the other hand can easily generate enough acid in their muscles to overload them before the end of the race. Therefore, we have to strategize and attack each race in a way that optimizes that swimmer's biological function. This comes down to training pace by 25/50, breathing patterns, number of dolphin kicks off the walls and tempo/distance per stroke.
If you really put in the effort to try to accommodate for all of these elements of training, you will be putting in some serious time into coming up with sets that accomplish these goals. The kids (and parents) will never see this unless you tell them about it. This builds credibility in your coaching ability and also builds trust in the training. When swimmers understand there is a direct biological change that they are trying to accomplish with various types of training, they will be much more inclined to put in the effort to make the most out of their training. This also transforms your club from a "train and hope" mentality to a "train and expect" mentality. We're no longer rolling the dice at the end of the season hoping we were doing the right thing. Instead, we are simply fulfilling the end result of all our hard work.
Final pointers for training the senior group:
Let's dig into the details and take a look at our senior workout template.
AP- Aerobic power
AE- Aerobic endurance
Let's break down the template and simplify our understanding of it. Every three days of the cycle are grouped together and follow a similar pattern. The first set of the day is where we put all our high intensity sprint and pace related sets. The second set of the day is where we put the slow aerobic endurance yards. The reason for this is because you don't need as much muscle sugar (glycogen) to perform the aerobic endurance sets at a relatively good performance. However, you do need a good supply of muscle sugar to perform the faster sets adequately. Every third day in the template is a kick/IM day which acts as a recovery day. While IM training and kicking may not seem like recovery, the fact that you are using multiple muscle groups throughout the day means that you are not using a single muscle group too much as we would during the primary/secondary stroke specific sets. The only thing that really changes between all the various 3-day groupings is which stroke we trained first that day.
This template assumes we are not running doubles. However, if you do train more than once a day, keep the morning workouts focused on endurance training since cortisol levels (the hormone that helps you deal with stress) will be low and the body will struggle to adapt to the stress of swimming fast, in addition to just being tired, hungry and dehydrated from the night. This is why research shows swimmers and other athletes have a 2 to 3% decreased performance ability in the morning relative to the afternoon. Probably the best option for morning workouts is to take the time to focus on technical details like dives and turns instead of trying to fit in a whole bunch of intense yards.
Just like in age group, seniors will have a standard warm-up which does not change on a daily basis. Since most of our training is conditioning focused and there's going to be a variety of what kids are training for, we can start to include more choice options in the warm-up. In general, warm-up should focus on freestyle, kicking, stroke and a small amount of speed work every day and in that order. Here's an example:
After warm up comes the two main sets of the day. Let's go through the template day by day and mentally walk through what each day should look and feel like for the swimmers:
Presumably, this would be the first day of the week so we put the toughest and most important workout upfront so we don't miss out on the gainz. Aerobic Power is where we build a lot of our cardiovascular adaptations (heart and blood vessels). We aim for about 40 minutes of actual AP swimming at which point the muscle sugar stores will be dry. This is a great place for a test or progression set. Some paddle focused Aerobic Endurance at the end acts as a long cool down.
Speed set first to help build muscle memory and efficiency, then a longer aerobic endurance set to build the mitochondria. We love using parachutes and power towers here for both sprint and endurance sets.
Tangent: Post activation potentiation (PAP) is a form of training where the athlete does several reps under a heavy load (resistance swimming) and then goes right into an all-out effort. The idea is the heavy loads allow swimmers to “unlock” their bodies and perform better by desensitizing the nerves. This has been a staple in land sports, but can be applied to both sprint and endurance training in swimming.
This is a great "Garbage Yard" day (lots of yards using as many muscle groups as possible). But it has to be slow swimming for an extended time, and half of it should be kick. In our template, we separated out the kick and IM sets but these can easily be combined to create a monster set where the swimmers are just moving around for 90 minutes. This will help condition the heart, act as recovery, and prevent injury. Another idea is to work on the swimmer's worst stroke, thereby working on their weakest part of the IM.
The big race day simulation. After the recovery day we hit things hard again with an off the blocks lactate set. This plays off the speed and power we built on Day 2/8. Now we will work on making it last. Feel free to do an extra mini-set before the racing to help with more warm up. More endurance at the end helps loosen things back up and prevent injury.
Similar to Day 1/7, but focusing on shorter reps since swimmers will be tired by the end of the cycle (25s instead of 50 or 100s like on Days 1/7). Breastrokers should spend at least one set a week doing a dedicated breastroke kick/pullout set (we like vertical sets with weight belts for this). Breastrokers swim with their legs so we better train them. Just make sure to build the knees up slowly when using weight belts and parachutes. Start with 25s and short kick sets with the weight belt, then build the yards every week.
This is essentially a repeat of Day 3/9 and serves as a mostly recovery day. If this is workout of the week, try to hit it a little harder going into a day off, especially the legs. True IM-ers should spend some time each week working on their weakest stroke since the greatest improvement will happen where there is the greatest room to improve.
Although the template shows two main sets per day, the amount of time you spend on each set is up to you and varies throughout the season. We'll go through the seasonal variations in more detail later. If you are struggling to figure out how much time you need to dedicate to different types of training for each swimmer, here's a good rule of thumb method:
This is just an example to illustrate how to think when approaching writing workouts for specific races. Many times, coaches chase the yards instead of training for the race. Similarly, if pull-outs account for 50% of our breaststroke race, shouldn't we spend 50% of our training on pull outs? Doing them from a dive, practicing them off turns and even building them stronger through vertical pull-outs are various examples of training for the race.
Just like with age group training, when it comes to writing individual sets and workouts, it is helpful to ask yourself several questions that you're trying to answer with each set: What stroke am I training? What race am I practicing? What technique/race strategy focus am I going to have? The template takes care of the first two questions, but you have to answer the third as you start writing sets. Remember to take what you learn during a swim meet (group weaknesses) and apply it to what you are going to train for.
Tangent: The most enjoyable workout is the most effective workout.
In addition, here are a few guidelines and examples that can help you write fun and effective workouts:
Aerobic Endurance sample set (any stroke):
This set shows how we alternate between a line of drills and a line of relatively fast endurance swimming. The 50s are meant to orient/reorient the swimmer’s mind to what good swimming should look and feel like, and the 100s are meant to challenge their technique and endurance conditioning. While everyone in the senior group can easily make 50s on a minute, we use different intervals during the 100s to give each swimmer in that lane a set that is compatible with their abilities.
Aerobic Power sample set (any stroke). All best average holding about 200 pace:
This set attempts to mimic the 200 races. Assuming the swimmers performing this set can do a 200 in about two minutes, the 50s, 75s and 100s are meant to be performed at 200 pace. The 25s challenge the swimmers to finish the race as fast as possible and shift up in gears for the last few yards. A short break in between rounds helps them reset and catch their breath. As the pacing yards get longer (75s and hundreds) we help the swimmers out by giving them some equipment to use. But this too is done thoughtfully. We want swimmers to maintain their stroke tempo and length as they become more and more fatigued throughout the set.
Endurance dolphin kick sample set, all with fins and open turns:
Anybody can dolphin kick fast to the first 15 meter mark, but the question is how fast can you kick out on the last 25 of the 100 butterfly to the 15 meter mark? This set is designed to develop fast kickouts to each 15-meter mark during the entire hundred. By using easy dolphin kicking with a kickboard and open turns, we let the swimmers catch their breath and keep their focus on going fast to the 15-meter mark.
Now that we have our plan with the template and know how to write awesome workouts, we just need to fill out the weeks and the season. If you write one day’s worth of workouts at a time, you can end up with a fragmented or repetitive training season. We want the whole season to flow and build on itself. We will go through season planning later, but for now let’s look at filling up a single 12 day cycle template.
Usually, we write one to two weeks of workouts at a time. This allows us to see the whole cycle in one go and plan for workouts to fit into each other over the course of a cycle (it’s also more efficient since you don’t have to do it every day). For instance, if you do a paddle heavy distance freestyle set one day targeting distance per stroke, you might want to do a fin heavy distance freestyle set the next week in order to work on driving with the legs. If you just write one workout at a time, you may miss the pattern.
A good way to write so many workouts at one time is to build it piece by piece. Start with an empty template and for every set write a one-liner sentence of what that set is going to focus on: race strategy, technique weakness, legs, arms, hips... etc.
Next, fill in the workouts. Preferably, fill in all the primary stroke sets first, then the secondary stroke sets and lastly the IM/kick sets. We are basically working from a 30,000 foot view to a 10,000 foot view and then to a close-up view of each workout.
Always make sure that the sets you are working on for the current cycle build from the prior cycle. Try to have the previous cycle open alongside what you are currently working on and try to match what you are doing this cycle with what you did previously (stroke AP to stroke AP, freestyle AE to freestyle AE...).
In fact, you could develop an entire season based on sets that progressively become more and more difficult all before a single kid hits the water! Instead of coming up with brand-new and creative sets every single week, you could come up with a single set that you just modify week to week and make it progressively harder. This may sound boring and repetitive, however it helps keep track of progress and shows the kids that they are gaining mastery. Here is an example using aerobic and endurance freestyle:
Cycle 1- 12x200 @ 3:00/3:30/4:00 JMI or negative split
Cycle 2- 8x300 @ 4:00/4:30/5:00 JMI or negative split
Cycle 3- 6x400 @ 5:00/5:30/6:00 JMI or negative split
You can find more examples of progressive sets organized by stroke and training intensity here: https://www.swimsmarttoday.com/products/download-ables
Tangent: Remember to schedule your character building talks with the kids! Training the body is good, training the mind is better, training the soul is best! Refer to Parts 1 and 2 for more details.
Taper time for senior swimmers can be a very confusing and anxiety provoking time. Most of this stems from an incomplete understanding of what changes are occurring during taper. Let’s go through this in some detail.
The reason senior swimmers need to taper is because during heavy in-season training, their bodies are pushed towards the endurance side of the spectrum at the expense of sprinting abilities. This is good for the development of aerobic abilities, but harms us when we want to go fast. Taper helps us regain some of the lost sprinting abilities while trying to maintain the endurance abilities we've built over the entire season.
There are a couple of different types of taper that senior swimmers can perform. The first is called a drop taper where swimmers take it easy for 2 to 3 days before an important in-season meet. This short and sweet taper allows swimmers to regain their muscle sugar so they can perform a little better at the swim meet.
For the big end of season championship swim meet, senior swimmers can spend up to 2 to 4 weeks tapering in order to take full advantage of their seasonal gains. The way to perform this kind of taper is by cutting out most of the toys (parachutes, paddles…) and gradually decreasing the volume of yards performed each day until you reach about the same number of yards that swimmers are expected to swim on a daily basis during the swim meet. For instance, if a swimmer is going to be swimming about 3,000 yards per day at a swim meet between warm ups, racing and cooling down, then that is about the lowest number of yards they should be performing during taper.
The one thing that should not be done during taper is to decrease the intensity. If you expect swimmers to swim fast on race day, they must be able to swim fast in training. You can decrease the number of fast repeats that they perform (aka decreasing volume) and you can increase the rest time in between reps, but you cannot completely eliminate fast swimming during taper. Multiple research studies show that athletes who maintain their intensity and decrease their volume perform much better than those who cut out the fast training. This is an important lesson to teach your swimmers, many of whom tend to want to fully relax and avoid fast yards in the hopes of recovering as much as possible for the swim meet.
How you actually go about tapering your swimmers is going to be variable and depends on the swimmers, the training they did in season and the events they will perform at the swim meet. In general younger swimmers, and generally females, need less time to taper while big muscular male swimmers who specialize in the sprint events may need significantly longer time. You will have to develop this on your own as you experiment with your swimmers. The trick is not to repeat something that you know didn't work. If you do the same thing over and over, you can expect to have the same result over and over.
Tangent: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” - Albert Einstein
Regardless of how exactly you taper your swimmers, the body generally follows the same pattern of biological adaptations which result in improved performance. Educating your swimmers (and parents) can help prophesy what swimmers will feel during taper and help curb the anxiety that comes with it. Let's go through these changes day by day:
A critical component of taper is not performing new activities. Practicing some dives and turns is okay, but playing around with new training equipment, unfamiliar sets, and excessive dryland and extracurricular activities can all result in new damage to the muscles and new soreness. As much as possible, we want to keep things the same during taper but only reduce the volume of what we do.