4 Ways to Get the Most Out of “Garbage Yardage”

Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

By Andy Ross, Swimming World College Intern

Everyone goes through one of these practices at some point during the week. We spend all week dreading the day when coach pulls out the white board and says we have this ridiculously hard set. But when that practice is over, swimmers rejoice and talk about the recovery day that will come tomorrow.

But then that recovery day comes and you realize what the set is. You look at the board and see the 4x500s pull staring back at you.

“What is the point of this set? Why can’t we just do 1×500? What is this helping, other than my ability to sing ‘Life is a Highway’ 10 times in my head?”

We’ve all been there. There are often times I dread a “garbage” practice more than a hard practice. All I want to do during a garbage practice is just get it over with, but this is not an effective way to get through one of these practices. I have realized that everything in the world does happen for a reason. I’ve applied this to swimming since getting to college and I look at every set and find the meaning in it.

During your next “garbage” practice, here are some things to focus on:

1. Work on stroke technique.

Easy pull is a perfect time to work on the things that make your freestyle weak. Focus on your pull, recovery or even your breathing and head position during sets like this.

2. Pick your coach’s brain.

I would suggest talking to your coaches about working on other strokes during sets like these. There was a time over the summer when my coach pulled me out of practice and told me to work on breaststroke in the diving well instead of doing the 6x300s everyone else had to do. I don’t suggest doing this to get out of every pull set, but working on stroke technique and drills in practice seems to be underrated these days.

3. Make it all about that base.

A lot of coaches like to give 10x100s descend or 4x500s descend early on in the season to lay down an aerobic base. These sets always seem to find me on a Monday morning, as they are setting my aerobic base for the week. Call me crazy but these are some of my favorite sets. I love descend sets because I can feel out my stroke and get faster with each repetition. It brings me back to when I was 10 years old, when I was in love with the sport and swam every set in practice like it was a race. Anyway, everyone has a little bit of distance swimmer in them because of these sets.

But the problem is, a lot of swimmers don’t take sets like these seriously because they seem overwhelming, along with many other reasons. But building an aerobic base is more important than most swimmers think. So on sets like these, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to descend your efforts down. I know a lot of swimmers treat these sets as an extended warm up, but working on aerobic freestyle sets can actually help out your other strokes more than you think.

4. Take warm down seriously.

A lot of swimmers (including myself) get bored with long warm down sets. “We just swam 1,000 yards of easy swimming after the main set? What difference will it make if we do 1000 or 1500 easy?” Yep, we’ve all been there. But, I’ve learned coaches give long warm down sets to ensure that their athletes are recovering from the long sets that were given to them that day. It may be an obnoxious amount of yards, but it all has a point. Think about it, most main sets are close to 2,000 yards of intense swimming. Not all of it is fast, but a good fraction of it is high intensity yardage. Your body needs to recover from those sets to lead to the next day of training. After all, your body is a machine and if you don’t take care of it properly, then it is far more likely to break down.

All in all, most swimmers will face a “garbage” set every single day of the week in training. But, if you focus on the objective and the outcome of each set, then they won’t seem like they drag on forever. Instead, they might begin to feel like an integral part of the process.

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8 years ago

Good article! I used to believe there was such a think as garbage yardage, but no longer. My favorite saying to the Hartwick College kids as well as the summer campers is “The only Garbage yards are the ones you do NOT do.”

Andy Ross
Andy Ross
8 years ago
Reply to  Windrath

It’s only garbage yardage if you make it garbage yardage!

Janet Wolff- Stewart
8 years ago

Sierra Stewart

Paul Fisher
8 years ago

Is the uk equivalent ‘rubbish metreage’?

Dave Bates
Dave Bates
8 years ago

Come on, if you have to refer to yardage as ‘Garbage Yardage’ you are not an elite swimmer. Any swimmer worth his/her salt knows what a “warm down” or an “aerobic set” is for. If you need to be told and you are over 14 years old, please give up now.

8 years ago
Reply to  Dave Bates

I agree. The tern “Garbage Yardage” is for someone that doesn’t understand how important EVERYTHING a swimmer does in the pool. I hear ignorant coaches and swimmers use the term-they need to be educated on swimming. A good coach knows and educates their swimmers to know as well.

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