5 Grueling Swim Sets That Will Provide a Test

Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

5 Grueling Swim Sets That Will Provide a Test; Tell Us a Favorite

By Wayne Goldsmith

Swim sets are like burgers. There’s a lot of them in the world: Some are great, some are awful and some are just plain ordinary burgers. Here are 5 swim sets you have to try before you exit the sport.

A great swim set has to include three things:

  1. It must be challenging – and demand more of you physically, mentally, technically and tactically than previous training sets;
  2. It must be able to be progressed – i.e. you can make the set more challenging and more demanding over time by changing variables such as speed, breathing frequency, rest periods and the number of repeats in the set;
  3. It has to make you swim faster in competition – the set has to actually make a difference to your swimming performances.

Here are 5 Swim Sets which are challenging, can be progressed and most importantly – will make a big difference to your racing.

5 Swim Sets You Have Try Before You Leave the Sport

(140822) -- NANJING, Aug. 22, 2014 (Xinhua) -- Tamas Kenderesi (L) of Hungary celebrates after winning men's 200m butterfly event at Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, Aug. 22, 2014. Kenderesi won the gold medal. (Xinhua/Yang Lei) (ljr)

Photo Courtesy:

1. 50 / 100 / 50 set

This set is a killer but it really sorts out the men and women from the mice. It is a great set for learning to sustain high-speed swimming with limited rest.

It goes like this:

  • Dive and swim 50 metres on a 1:00 minute time cycle at 100 metre pace;
  • Swim 100 metres with a push start on a 2:00 minute time cycle at 200 metre pace;
  • Dive and swim 50 metres on a 1:00 minute time cycle at 100 metre pace.

Repeat the above 50 / 100 / 50 sequence 4 times through. Then add another 50 / 100 / 50 each week until you can complete 6-10 of them in a single swim set.

2. Mini Max Swim Set with Double Ups

Mini-Max (i.e. minimum stroke count at maximum speed) swim sets are great for developing both speed and M.D.S. – maximum distance per stroke.

Start with a single timed 50 metre maximum speed swim. Count your strokes.

Add the time and the stroke count together for a total lap “score.”

For example if you swam the 50 metres with 46 strokes and your time was 42 seconds, that’s a total score of 88.

Now swim another 50 at maximum speed – also counting your strokes but aiming to reduce your score of 88 by at least 1, i.e. by swimming faster, taking fewer strokes or both.

So – say you swam 40 seconds and took 44 strokes, your new lap score is 84.

Next – the “double-up”.

Multiply your lap score of 84 by 2 and that becomes your goal score for a 100 metre swim, i.e. 168.

Swim 100 metres at maximum speed, count your strokes and add your time and stroke count together striving to score better than 168.

Then….yes – you guessed it. Double up again and see how you go for a 200!

And then…..yep – believe it or not – try doubling up again for a Mini-Max 400.

3. Magic Medley Mayhem

This swim set has been a favourite of medley coaches for a long, long time.

  • 4 x 25 Medley order (i.e. that’s 25 fly, 25 back, 25 breast, 25 free) on 30 seconds
  • 100 IM on 2:00 minutes
  • 4 x 50 Medley order on 1:00 minute
  • 200 IM on 4:00 minutes
  • 4 x 100 Medley order on 2:00 minutes
  • 400 IM on 8:00 minutes.
  • Rest 5 minutes.
  • Timed 200 IM within 5 seconds of your PR time.
  • Rest 5 minutes
  • Timed 400 IM within 10 seconds of your PR time.

Add this “golden-oldie” to your training program and watch your medley times plummet.

4. Horrible Hundreds

It doesn’t sound like much but this swim set is another that can make or break most swimmers. It’s very simple in design yet – done correctly and with total commitment – it is as tough as it gets.

8 x 100 metres on 6:00 minutes…..all at maximum speed and all within three seconds of your PR time.

If you don’t swim within three seconds of your PR time, that 100 does not count and you have to repeat it.


5. Endless 50s.

This swim set is another shock to the swimming system.

Swim a single 50 metre effort at maximum speed. Add five seconds to that time.

For example – if the maximum speed swim equals 38 seconds, then add five = 43 seconds.

Now add another five seconds – i.e. 48 seconds.

And now the fun part…..How many 43 second swims can you repeat on a 48 second time cycle? 


Less than 5: You’re as soft as a marshmallow.

6 – 10: Good but you can do better.

11 – 15: Very good.

16 – 20: Excellent

More than 20: Move over Phelps. Look out Ledecky….you’re awesome.

Swim sets come in a virtually unlimited range of designs and variations.

While the design of the swim sets is important, it’s even more important to think about how you swim them.

Even the best designed of swim sets, if executed poorly, will not help you to achieve your swimming goals or to realise your personal performance potential.

However, well designed swim sets, when completed with commitment, engagement and enthusiasm can make a considerable impact on your competitive swimming capacities.

Here’s an idea.

Instead of just adding a great comment to this post – why not add your own favorite (be that fabulous or frightening) training set!!

Wayne Goldsmith

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

Adam Brumley yeah boyyyy

2 years ago

When are we going to move on from advice from someone who doesn’t actually coach swimmers? Coaching coaches is like having someone who’s dining in a restaurant coach the cooks in the kitchen.

2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Voigt

Chris Voigt been doing this for 62 years swimmer official coach back to swimmer. Parents have been coaching coaches for years n

2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Voigt

Mike Mcgowan Mic drop

2 years ago

I’ll still be proud of my 100×100 on 1:05 (SCY)

2 years ago

Remy Gordillo


Swimmers trying to coach themselves actually appreciate articles like this…

2 years ago

Swim some of these sets before you die… Which might happen right after you swim some of these sets…

2 years ago

Not a universal observation, but when looking for ideas for a good workout, look for women coaches. When I had writers block and looked for inspiration, guys would post crazy hard workouts with pride and brag about how they have it to their team. Women would post interesting workouts. Admittedly, I was looking specifically for masters, but the interesting workouts sparked more creativity and were more fun than the crazy hard ones.

2 years ago

Back in the day we would do what we called a ‘bender’. We did it in yards and meters.
100 with 10 seconds rest
200 -20 seconds rest
300- 30 seconds rest up to 600 with a minute rest.
700 with a minute rest, keep climbing up to a 1000 with only a minute rest after each.
Then climb your way back down with a 900, 800 and so on down to a 100. Totals 10,000 yards/ meters.

Paul Cate
2 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Brutal, ‘Anon’.

2 years ago

Fadi Awisat

9 months ago


2 years ago

Diego Pombo

2 years ago

Christopher Kelleher

2 years ago

Raelene Myers Belinda Johnson Nicole Bann-Murray

1 year ago
Reply to  Paula Stone

Can coaches move away from sets where “you have to be within 3 seconds of your best time or else you have to restart” mentality? I’m now retired but there was absolutely nothing that stressed me out more (I’m talking the kind of crippling anxiety not the motivational fun kind). For a lot of swimmers that’s not the kind of motivation that will make them enjoy practice, happy swimmers are fast swimmers. They are swimming out of fear which isn’t the best culture to have. Plus for a lot of swimmers that aren’t great in practice it really is not realistic. Throughout my last 2 years of high school and all of college I would have been very happy to be within 3 seconds of my 100 time at most meets and I was a sprinter. Idk especially at the college level these sets don’t work. They are better for age groupers.

Granted this works for some but not all, and I think that’s the responsibility of the coach to know their athletes well enough to understand who would excel and who would struggle under sets like this.

This is just coming from the prospective of a swimmer that had to do these sets I’m not a coach

2 years ago

I’m with Kathryn… these would kill me.

2 years ago

Have try?

1 year ago

500 pull

1 year ago

4000 IM… reversed order;

1600 IM rhapsody nonstop: 4×400 blocks (each block, for one style, regular order). each block is split by 4×100’s. on each 100, the first 50 is from that block, the second 50 is medley order (fun way to put distance in and practice turns) without getting bored.

8×50 IM rhapsody @ 1′ on short course (ideal for turn practice) starting on the elapsed 25fly: 50 fly + 25fly/25back + 50 back (…) 25free/25fly.

1×800 + 2×400 + 4×200 + 8×100 always same 100 leaving time (800 @ 12′, 400 @ 6′, 200 @ 3′, 100 @ 1:30, or whatever the 100 is and it’s multiples). accelerate 1″/100 between each distance.

ur mom
1 year ago

bro, he’s just giving ideas for practices. If you don’t wanna do it, you don’t have to do it.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x