By Coach Emmett Hines

What's all this about Negative Splits?

Negative Splitting. You hear about it every day at workout. Many of our workout sets are designed with negative splits involved. You know (or at least have been told that) negative splitting is important. But, do you really swim these sets the way they are intended to be swum?

What: To Negative Split (or N/S) a swim means to swim the latter portions of a distance faster than the earlier portions of the swim - ie. the last half in less time than the first half - hence the word "negative".

When the coach says to swim a N/S 300 he means the last 150 yards should be swum faster than the first 150 yards - say 2:05 for the first 150 and 2:01 for the last 150 (a 4 second N/S) for a total of 4:06 for the 300. A 300 that is N/S by 100s means that each 100 is faster than the previous one - say 1:45, 1:42, 1:39 - same 4:06, just swum a little differently.

Why: Compare this to a 4:06 300 swum "normally" with the front 100 at about 1:35, then, succumbing to lactate fatigue, each successive leg gets slower - say 1:43 on the middle leg and finally 1:48 on the back 100. This guy will finish the swim in more pain and with less control than his similarly conditioned lane partner who negative splits the swim.

The N/S swimmer will enjoy a feeling of greater control and faster speed as the swim progresses. The "normal" split swimmer will enjoy speed for the first 100 and then begin suffering physically as lactate accumulates and speed decreases. He will suffer psychologically as continued increases in effort are rewarded with even slower speeds and loss of control (not to mention being passed by all the people that are N/Sing the swim properly).

(Note the subtle use of quote marks around "normal" in the preceeding explanation. This is to indicate that this term has been applied incorrectly. Actually, coaches prefer to use the terms "positive" or "sucker" when referring to this type of splitting.)

In the long run we really want your "normal" splits for any distance that takes you in excess of 60 seconds to negative (or even) splits. Once you get good at this you will automatically N/S longer swims because you will be able to swim them faster, with less pain and more control.

*Warning* - until you have a lot of experience with negative splitting you cannot rely on your body to give you accurate feedback about your swimming pace. That sucker split swimmer, above, would have felt like he kept swimming harder every 100 even though he kept getting slower. But, judging by effort alone he would say something like "Gee coach, I sure felt like I swam the last half harder than the first half!" - and I might respond "I could tell you swam the last half harder - there is, however, a distinction between harder and faster."

The place to train for N/S swimming is in workouts - everyday. You must be constantly aware of the clock and what pace you are swimming. (If you are blind you have options, not excuses - Get closer to the clock, Get prescription goggles, Get a sports watch - hell, they even have these with braille readouts, Bring a personal pace clock to set by your lane.) Without this constant feedback you cannot learn to N/S effectively.

As your coach, I can offer you an iron-clad guarantee - If you do not know your splits on a given swim then it was not a negative split.

Terminology distinction: Negative splits (N/S) refer to pacing within a continuous swim - say within a 300 or 500 or 1000. Descending (DEC) swims refer to pacing changes within a set of repetitions - say 3x100 DEC 1-3. (I know, it ought to be DES, but some dyslexic coach years ago coined the abreviation DEC and it stuck - "Adapt or die," I always say!)

Coach Emmett Hines is the head coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1982 and was selected as United States Masters Swimming's Coach of the Year in 1993. Currently he coaches workouts at the University of Texas Health Science Center, the University of Houston and The Houstonian Club.