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

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rod O Rico
3 years ago

Adam Brumley yeah boyyyy

Chris Voigt
3 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.

Mike Mcgowan
3 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

John Ian Bobbitt
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Voigt

Mike Mcgowan Mic drop

1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Voigt

Coaching the coach is a completely valid role. If your ego gets in the way just move on.

My set would be simple:
Odds backend 100 pace on 1 min
Evens recovery on 2 min
Hold a time on the odds, repeat at a later date as a test.

Brett Phillips
3 years ago

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

Rebeca Tapia
3 years ago

Remy Gordillo

Shannon Komadina-Douthwright

Swimmers trying to coach themselves actually appreciate articles like this…

Kathryn Newberry
3 years ago

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

Brian Albright
3 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.

1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Albright

do you have any examples? i’d love to find some of the sets you’re mentioning

3 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
Paul Cate
3 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Brutal, ‘Anon’.

Daniella Eddy Nafal
3 years ago

Fadi Awisat

1 year ago


Waseem Mathews
3 years ago

Diego Pombo

Kev Pierce
3 years ago

Christopher Kelleher

Paula Stone
3 years ago

Raelene Myers Belinda Johnson Nicole Bann-Murray

2 years 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

Lisa Ference
3 years ago

I’m with Kathryn… these would kill me.

Paul Cate
3 years ago

Have try?

2 years ago

500 pull

2 years 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
ur mom
2 years ago

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

1 year ago

All these have to be looked at against those your coaching some will work some won’t none of them are right yet all of them are right! Those that are right are those that get those cogs in the brain working making you think about variations that suit your swimmers better, remember who ever is thinking of these sets doesn’t matter, if they’re coaching swimmers or coaches it’s how use them or discard them for your swimmers.

1 year ago

I couldn’t tell you the absolute worst set because I’ve probably blocked that from my memory hah but I’ve done most of these sets/similar sets. For the medley set, I did essentially that set but so much worse. One of the only practices I had to get out because I thought I was going to faint.

It was (if I remember correctly)
4x25s IMO @30
1×200 IM off the blocks all out within 5 seconds of best time
3x100s IM descend but with a dropped interval of :30 then :25 then :20
4x50s IMO fast @50
4×200 IM descend with dropped interval @3:10 then :55 then :45
3x100s IM descend again
1×400 IM all out within x amount of best time
Then odd rounds were no 400 but were
3×200 IMs all out off blocks within 5 of best time
We were supposed to do FOUR ROUNDS
but I think we only did three or two and part of three because we ran out of time. (We did sets before this one). I think I lasted till the end of set 2. No more man.

1 year ago

You need to consider many things in creating a workout.

1 month ago

Thease sets plans are so cursed that almost every single coach would adapt an version of it and force it to its students, which is basically torture

1 month ago

Heres an set idea that would make Dressel question life:

10 * 100s on PB+5


With 10 *50s PB+2


with 10*25s max effort sprint timed within 1 sec of PB


With 400 free done counting intervals of 50 with intervals times as PB+5

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x