9 Test Sets Swimmers Love or Hate: Which is Your Favorite?

Photo Courtesy: Chucka NC

9 Test Sets Swimmers Love or Hate: Which is Your Nightmare?

It’s no secret that the swimming community holds an incredible diversity of talent – sprinters and distance swimmers, IMers and freestylers, backstrokers and breaststrokers. It’s also no secret that tensions between these groups can sometimes run strong, especially when different test sets and workouts are added to the mix. Nearly everybody knows the stereotypes: the IMers groan at the sprint workout, the butterfliers make fun of the breaststroke intervals, and the entire team shudders at the distance set. But beyond these simple interactions, what really goes on in everybody’s head during a practice?

Well, Swimming World decided to find out once and for all. We interviewed a group of swimmers who represented each individual training group – a butterflier, an IMer, a distance swimmer and a sprinter/breaststroker. After being given a list of various workouts (most of which were sets that the swimmers had previously completed), their responses show a great variety of reactions, from blissful enjoyment to trembling pain. Here is what they had to say:

1) 10×50 @2:00 All Out


Photo Courtesy: Dennis Lowe

FL: I love this set. I find it a lot of fun, even though it’s a challenge. I typically have to swim sets like this all fly, but after each 50, I find something to improve on the next one.”

IM: “This set always has a catch. Either you just got killed on a power set, or you’re doing some sort of all-out kick next.”

Distance: “This set is always very painful. Not being a sprinter, I’m never really able to get up and race hard on this one.”

Sprint/BR: “I enjoy getting the chance to race and compete in practice during this set and to push your body to match others. The smaller distance is great for a sprinter like me.”

2) 4×400 IM @5:00

FL: “Any IM set is a flyer’s worst nightmare. You know how to do the first 100 of each, but then the rest is struggling to finish the last 300.”

IM: “I absolutely love this set. It hurts, but you get a lot out of it, and it’s the only time I can really swim the 400 IM outside of pace.”

Distance: “Not my favorite one. I can’t swim fly to save my life, so it always starts out with me flopping around like a dead fish.”

Sprint/BR: “Imagine this: You’re starting the set well, it’s halfway through practice and you feel great. The first two are clean – not too much trouble. Then, pushing off for number three, you feel your leg begin to tighten. Did you drink enough water? Is that bowl of cereal you had holding you up? By the second wall, both your thigh and calf beat you with waves of excruciating pain. You stop in the middle of the pool and scream underwater. That’s basically my experience with this one…”

3) 8×75, 20 seconds vert. kick BR, 25 BR kick, 50 BR sprint @1:50

Harvard's Kevin Dai in the 100 yard breaststroke during a swim meet between Columbia and Harvard Universities at Harvard College on Friday November 16, 2018. Photo by Joseph Prezioso

Photo Courtesy: Joseph Prezioso

FL: “I’m TERRIBLE at breaststroke. This set is just a disaster for me. I use my underwaters to get as far as I possibly can just to avoid swimming more breaststroke than necessary.

IM: “This set isn’t terrible, but you can’t kick breaststroke for the next week because it destroys your muscles.”

Distance: “It’s not too bad, but I always feel it in my shins the next morning.”

Sprint/BR: “I enjoy this set a lot. The kicking gets tiring, and the shin splints are basically inevitable, but the combination of kicking and swimming really helps at the end of a race.”

4) 100×100 FR @1:10


Photo Courtesy: Erin Himes

FL: “This set is actually terrible. When you first hear it, you think it’s probably not possible to survive, but when (or if) you finish, you get out of the water feeling like a superhero.”

IM: “This set is literally the worst thing ever known to the swimming world. About three in, you’re like ‘Oh this isn’t bad,’ but when you get to around 30, you run out of songs to sing and every additional 100 you’re keeping yourself from tears.”

Distance: “This set is right up my alley, but it doesn’t mean I enjoy doing it. I always get pumped up driving to practice for this one, and as soon as I start doing it, I instantly regret it.”

Sprint/BR: “I don’t really mind this set [?!]. I can work my walls and focus on good stroke while still going fast. I enjoy it because of the emphasis on repetition at a high heart rate.”

5) 12×50 Kick, 3 @1:00, 3 @:55, 3 @:50, 3 @:45


Photo Courtesy: Quinn Rooney

FL: “I don’t mind kicking. I’m not terrible at it, but I’m also not the best.”

IM: “Any kicking set means I can’t walk for the next few days. So, no thanks.”

Distance: “I can’t kick to save my life, so with sets like this, I’m normally in the back getting lapped.”

Sprint/BR: “I’m a really big fan of a practice centered around kicking. However, if you want to use your legs for anything other than lying down, I wouldn’t recommend this one.”

6) 30×200 @3:00 All Out

training trip-uvm-vermont-tired-practice-hard

Photo Courtesy: Kristina Posnick

FL: “This set makes me hurt just by looking at it. I complain when we have to do more than four 200s, so this one’s just terrible.”

IM: “This is the type of set that makes you sit at home for 45 minutes crying in the shower.”

Distance: “This set is probably one of the most painful sets I’ve ever done, but it definitely prepares you for any distance race. You have to keep yourself motivated throughout, which I normally do through singing on the wall – usually at the expense of everyone else.”

Sprint/BR: “There is a moment when everyone doesn’t believe their coach. ‘You want me to do what?’ Then, every swimmer begins to realize the reality of the practice. 30 times… for 90 minutes. I guess it’s one of those practices….”

7) 100-200-300-400-600-800-1000 IM


Photo Courtesy: Jennifer Cournoyer

FL: “This set doesn’t seem too bad just looking at it, but I can guarantee it hurts a lot. Especially being a flyer, I can’t swim IM to save my life.”

IM: “I would take almost anything over this set. I love a good IM set, but above the 600 it gets miserable.”

Distance: “This one makes you have no motivation to keep going, even though it’s definitely a great IM conditioning set.”

Sprint/BR: “I’m okay with the concept when these sets are given, but over the course of it, I get really bored. Staring at the bottom of the pool and the sky for that long is just too much.”

8) 20×25 shooter @:30

underwater-kick-sec swimmers

Photo Courtesy: Tennessee Athletics

FL: “I have a love-hate relationship with shooters – some days I’m excited for them, some days I dread them. That being said, I know they help my stroke a lot – they’re a big part in a fly kick.”

IM: “Shooters are always fun as long as we have fins. My underwaters make up most of my swimming, so any chance I can get to work them I’m fine with.”

Distance: “All I can say about this one is that you’d better have fins if you want a shot at making it.”

Sprint/BR: “This set is awesome! Breath control and swimming with fins are some of the most exciting parts of swimming for me. If you’re good at breath control sets, you’ll have a great time. If not… you probably won’t.”

9) Starts and Turns


Photo Courtesy: Melissa Wolf

FL: “Favorite. Hands down.”

IM: “Who could ever say no to these? Turns, maybe – but I love start days.”

Distance: “Honestly one of the best things you can ever do, especially in the afternoon after a killer morning workout.”

Sprint/BR: “A free practice!”

Responses edited for clarity/length. Responses from Abigail Wydra (FL), Gabby Donahue (IM), Carter Anderson (Distance), and Mason Herbet (Sprint/BR) of the Blue Dolfins in Oviedo, FL.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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
Lauren Carlos
5 years ago

Andrew Pek pic under the first set

Andrew Pek
5 years ago
Reply to  Lauren Carlos

I feel like a celebrity

Tony MacGuinness
5 years ago

The only “Test Set” that really counts is the one you perform on race day.

Laurent Demeur
5 years ago

Anicée Heylemans-Demeur Sébastien Dossin Roisin Segolene voila quelques seances pour Anicee cette semaine 😉

Anicée Heylemans-Demeur
Reply to  Laurent Demeur
Roisin Segolene
5 years ago
Reply to  Laurent Demeur

Courage Anicee ?

Anicée Heylemans-Demeur
Reply to  Laurent Demeur

Laurent Demeur Sébastien Dossin vous irez ensemble en été ?

Sébastien Dossin
5 years ago
Reply to  Laurent Demeur

Challenge accepted

Laurent Demeur
5 years ago
Reply to  Laurent Demeur

ce message s autodetruira dans 5…4…

Sébastien Dossin
5 years ago
Reply to  Laurent Demeur


Sébastien Dossin
5 years ago
Reply to  Laurent Demeur


Sébastien Dossin
5 years ago
Reply to  Laurent Demeur


3 years ago

What are shooters?

Craig Lord
3 years ago
Reply to  Aquafirma

Good question… I will ask (never heard it – and suspect a vast stretch of the English speaking, swimming world hasn’t either 🙂

1 year ago
Reply to  Craig Lord

its underwater kick lol you can use context to figure it out easily

1 year ago
Reply to  Aquafirma

Finis make a Monofin called a shooter. Made of fibreglass and massively hard.

Johnny Karnofsky
3 years ago

When the 84 Olympics were in Los Angeles, my health club (home pool for the club team I swam for), hosted the West German swim team before they traveled to the athletes’ village. Their women’s medley swimmer did 3×1600 IM’s as a warm up….. about 30 seconds of rest between them….

Peter Scott
3 years ago

Johnny Karnofsky and in the games she finished in what place???

Morten Aurvig Lystlund Brøndum

There’s close to no sets on this list, that’ll do! And definitely not as tests!

1 year ago

Agree that the best sets are done in competition. I find it difficult to evaluate much from being able to complete sets without taking the previous month or so into the equation.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x