6 Totally Original, Holiday-Themed Swim Sets

Photo Courtesy: Marc Temple Mills

By Sophia Chiang, Swimming World College Intern

Holiday break is always the best for everybody– except swimmers. Aside from the family parties where you basically can eat mountains and mountains of food (Yes, I’ll have that third serving please… Ice cream? Sure!), holiday break also means something else: winter doubles.

Yes, doubles any time of the year are bad. Waking up at 4 a.m. will never be pleasant and you will never really get used to it regardless of the frequency you have to do it, but, as all swimmers know, holiday doubles take on a particular sort of nastiness.

So why do swimmers wake up at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning and New Year’s Day and haul themselves to the pool, even though literally everybody else in the world is sleeping in? Because swimmers know this time of the year is the most important time to rise and grind, and working hard during the holidays is the key to the path to success in the spring championship season. Crazy swim coaches have to have some method to their madness, don’t they?

So get up and get going. And because you’re oh so dedicated, here’s some sets you should suggest to your coach over this holiday break, because you see yourself atop the conference podium this year. But, here at Swimming World, we’re all about the set originality. The Twelve Days of Christmas are good and all, but everybody does that set. Here we present to you some of the most diabolical and original holiday sets that we and the internet can provide. Good luck, and happy holidays.

1. Party Favors

Yannick Agnel and Phelps

Photo Courtesy: J.D. Lasica

This set comes from an old coach of mine, Paul Florio. This game can pretty much be played whenever, but I think it’s especially fun during the holiday season. It’s basically a mix between a block set and a holiday quiz game. The results can be pretty wild. I remember this set always helped to bring our team closer, and this was especially great when we had a big training group where not everybody talked to one another. At the end, everybody would be talking to people outside of their “immediate swimming social circle” and it fostered a great competitive environment.

Basically, the coach would bring out two dice, and write a list of sets numbered 1 through 12. The coach would ask a swimmer to throw both dice, and the number the dice land on (combined) would be the “selected” set. Although these sets are just examples and can be modified, these are a good guideline to follow when writing the set.

#1: 10x 100s free on 1:10/1:15, 10x 100s free on 1:05/1:10, 10x 100s free on 1:00/1:05

#2: 5x 200s fly on 3:30/3:45, 4x 200s IM on 3:00/3:15, 3x 200s fly on 3:15/3:30, 2x 200s IM on 2:45/3:00, 1x 200 fly on 3:00/3:15 (all out from the block, in heats)

#3: 1x 400 IM fastest pace, straight into 10x 100 back by 100 on 1:20, 5x 100 free on 1:10

Et cetera, et cetera…the idea would be to make these sets diabolical as possible so swimmers wouldn’t want to do them. At all. Then the coach asks the same swimmer who threw the dice to answer a holiday related question…if that swimmer gets the question right, the team can skip that “selected” set. If the swimmer answers the question wrong, the team has to do the set. If the swimmer answers that question right, the coach then selects another swimmer to throw the dice until the practice is over.

Technically, if the swimmers are able to answer all the holiday questions right, they won’t have to swim at all. But pro tip, coaches: if you make a few of the questions hard, and the rest easy, the swimmers will have to do a few sets (but not all of them) and get a good workout, while still having a lot of fun and a good bonding time.

2. Santa’s Sack Relay

Cal Varsity Swimming

Photo Courtesy: J.D. Lassie

This set comes from Dave Hedden at the Jolie Y Jets. You divide the team into even relay teams, with the odd man out playing the role of “Santa.” One team gets caps, and the other team does not. The “caps” team are elves, and the “non-caps” team are reindeer.

Take everybody’s snorkels, fins, or any other equipment available on the pool deck and toss it evenly throughout the pool. These are the “Christmas toys” that the elves and the reindeer need to get into “Santa’s mesh bag.” The person playing Santa will stand at the end of the pool deck and hold two mesh bags, one for the elves, and one for the reindeer. On “go” both teams dive into the pool and retrieve as many “toys” as they can in the allotted time, which should be anywhere from five to 10 minutes depending on the amount of “toys” in the pool, and put it in their respective mesh bags. At the end, the coach should count the amount of toys in each mesh bag and determine a winning team.

The losing team has to swim a punishment set that is decided on by the winning team.

3. NYE Afterparty

Missy Franklin

Photo Courtesy: J.D. Lasica

This one is perfect for older age group swimmers or collegiate aged swimmers who have partied too hard on New Year’s. As my coach Paul used to say, a hard practice after New Year’s will “knock the party right out of them.” Yup, this one will. Coaches, trash cans on deck are advised.

1x 1000 free on various intervals

1x 1000 stroke on various intervals

20x 100s free on 1:00/1:05/1:10

16x 100s stroke on 1:05/1:10/1:15

Entire set 3x through.

4. Ringing in the New Year


Photo Courtesy: Bill Slattery Jr.

This set is inspired and modified from a set provided by USA Swimming’s Mike Gustafson, who advises celebrating the New Year in a particularly wicked way: simple and sweet.

1x 365 free (stop swimming at 365 and walk to the wall)

365x 25 choice on :35/:40/:45

1x 365 double arm backstroke (stop swimming at 365 and walk to the wall)

5. The Ultimate Christmas Day Slim-Down

Missy Franklin swim

Photo Courtesy: J.D. Lasica

You’ve got to work off that Christmas ham somehow, right? This one comes with a bit of dryland workout from Jonathan Lomax of Lomax Bespoke Fitness who uses a lot of swimming in the workouts of his celebrity clients. Because even famous movie stars want swimmer bods.

Coaches, break your swimmers into five groups. This set is run like a circuits set, but with a bit of a catch. Each circuit should take about 25 minutes (so you need about a three hour swim practice to make this work), although you can certainly modify the time if practice length is not long enough. All circuit groups get to do a 5 minute timed all-you-can-sprint swim at the beginning of each circuit. The coach sets a goal amount of laps (for example, a 400 or a 500), and the swimmers will attempt to make it. The swimmers that make it will get out of the rest of the circuit round, the swimmers that don’t will have to participate in the circuit. Ergo, there will be 1 round of 5-minute timed swims once every 25 minutes of the set, totaling in 6 rounds of 5-minute timed swims. You’ll definitely be walking out of this practice with plenty of space for those Christmas leftovers.

Circuit #1: 5-minute timed swim, all swimmers who do not make the swim go straight into 2 minute sumo squats, 25 jump squats, 20 burpees, 20 lunge jumps, repeat until time is up

Circult #2: 5-minute timed swim, all swimmers who do not make the swim go straight into 2 minute plank, 30 crunches, 60  Ironmans (rotating crunches), 1 minute sprint run, repeat until time is up

Circuit #3: 5-minute timed swim, all swimmers who do not make the swim go straight into a mile run, 2 minute rest, repeat until time is up

Circuit #4: 5-minute timed swim, all swimmers who do not make the swim go straight into 2 minute plank, 20 leg-raises (per leg), 60 mountain climbers (per leg), 20 ab curls, 12 jump tucks, repeat until time is up

Circuit #5: 5-minute timed swim, all swimmers who do not make the swim go straight into a half-mile run, 60 crunches, 1 minute rest, repeat until time is up

Circuit #6: recovery circuit, all swimmers go into easy 500, 5x 50s kick on 2:00, rest until time is up

6. The Candy Cane Practice


Photo Courtesy: J.D. Lasica

This one is inspired by a US Masters Swimming article and adapted for high level age group and collegiate athletes, but we made sure to include all the holiday cheer, too.

All swimmers are required to wear holiday related costumes to swimming practice. The best holiday costumes get coupons to skip practice sets (redeemable whenever). Then, split swimmers into even groups and send them off on endless relays, where the swimmers will continue to do a relay until the end of practice. Swimmers are given eggnog and candy canes to “refuel” whenever they like.

At the end of the practice, the winning relay team gets to skip the next day’s practice.

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