Better Your Specific Speed and General Fitness With This Workout

2016 olympic swimming qualifying times

By Ronald Hehn, Concordia College Head Coach

PHOENIX, Arizona, July 30. THIS workout is designed to improve performance speed and general fitness. Performance may be improved by achieving specific speed provided consistent amounts of rest (e.g. USRPT); fitness gains may be made at various speeds and durations of rest. Due to the inevitable onset of fatigue, performance speed is only sustainable over limited distances. It is more realistic to sustain a performance speed over a short distance, while longer distances may improve general fitness at a non-specific speed.

Diagnosis of general fitness is subjective; an athlete is either in “good“ or “bad” shape. Meanwhile, the evaluation of performance is objective. Performance speed must be specifically and objectively trained because performances are timed to the hundredth-of-a-second. The purpose of Speed segments is to develop motor skills applicable to performance scenarios. On the other hand, general fitness may be conditioned under various conditions because it does not specifically affect performance. The purpose of the Fitness component is to provide a non-specific training opportunity that improves the general physical health and cardiovascular efficiency of the athlete; the Speed components are designed to improve performance.

Performance speed may be improved by simulating specific physiological scenarios experienced during a race. Thus, performance of the Fitness component must be dissociated from Speed components. During Speed components, the athlete must achieve specific times according to a goal time. On the other hand, swimming within a range of heart rates may improve the general fitness of the athlete. Although performance may vary during the Fitness component, improved speed requires specific performance.



The following three components will improve both performance speed and general fitness:

Top Speed

Definition of Inertia – “That which is at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.” – Newton

Goal –Increase acceleration in order to increase “outside force” and maximum speed.

Challenge – The athlete lacks the proper technique to efficiently accelerate; acceleration may result in increased drag which counteracts any increase in total speed generated by the increased force.

Solution – “Force 50’s”

  • Execution – The athlete must change direction each given amount of stroke cycles by simulating a turn lacking the wall; maximum speed much be achieved as soon as possible. For example, if the pool faces North and South the athlete must perform 2 Stroke Cycles North, 4 Stroke Cycles South, 6 Stroke Cycles North, and 8 Stroke Cycles South (i.e. 20 total cycles). Following the completion of all stroke cycles of the “Force 50’s”, the athlete must return to mid-pool to begin the next segment of the set. For further explanation, see Episode 5.
  • Pace = (Total Goal Time / Total Lengths) + 1 Second Per Length
  • Repetitions starting from mid-pool are begun from a floating starting position.

Dry-Land Equivalent – One-Rep Max; Olympic Lifts; Plyometrics

General Fitness

Definition of Fitness –Aerobic exercise promotes cardiovascular efficiency and increases endurance.

Goal – Increase general health as a result of improved cardiovascular efficiency.

Challenge – Athlete is unaware of the limitation of their physical fitness and lacks the ability to maintain a consistent pace.

Solution – “Traditional Training”

  • Execution – Interval training requires that the athlete maintain a consistent general pace. The athlete must perform the repetitions at a pace determined by a chosen interval while maintaining a target heart rate in the range of 140-160 beats per minute.
  • Pace – Choose an interval that provides :05-:15 rest while maintaining a heart rate within the target range.

Dry-Land Equivalent – Treadmill; Elliptical; Spinning Bike

Finishing Speed

Definition of Inertia – “That which is in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.” – Newton

Goal – Condition motor skills to maintain efficient technique despite fatigue.

Challenge – The onset of fatigue causes technical flaws that create drag forces (i.e. “outside force”), causing the athlete to decelerate.

Solution – “Boosts”

  • Execution – Fully submerge and push off the bottom of the pool with both feet. Forcefully jump in an upward and forward direction in order to perform a breakout near race pace. Technical efficiency prevents increased drag during acceleration; increased drag will cause deceleration. If an athlete becomes aware of deceleration, encourage the use of a “Boost” in order to return the athlete to race pace.
  • Pace = (Total Goal Time / Total Lengths) + 1 Second Per Length
  • Repetitions starting at mid-pool are begun with the assistance of a “Boost”

Dry-Land Equivalent – Maximum repetitions until exhaustion; Strip Sets (i.e. weight is reduced incrementally upon failure until several failures have occurred); Plyometrics


  1. avatar

    Thanks for breaking down this workout. I have struggled with improving my speed and endurance. I think this will help.

  2. avatar

    I’m glad it helps you! Stay tuned for more tips. Thank you for the feedback!

  3. avatar
    Joshua Franz

    For the team I coach our lanes are normaly very full. I like the force50’s idea a lot but I have a feeling it could get kind off caotic if I tried these. Any tips for doing this with crowded lanes or a substatute set we could use instead?

  4. avatar
    Ronald Hehn


    Great comment; I’m sure you’re not the only one with crowded lane situations, so I’m happy to offer an alternative to the “Force 50’s” that will likely benefit a wide audience:

    Side-Opposite-Side: This drill may be used for freestyle and backstroke (i.e. Long-Axis Strokes). The athlete begins on their right side in a hand-lead position directed toward the turn end of the pool. Next, the athlete brings their knees to their chest and switches direction, assuming a hand-lead position on their left side directed toward the start end of the pool (think: an improper open-turn without the wall). Next, the athlete performs the same movement to return to their right side in a hand-lead position directed toward the turn end of the pool. Then, the athlete takes 3 strokes, performs the Side-Opposite-Side maneuver, takes 5 strokes, Side-Opposite-Side, 7 strokes, etc. Due to the odd-numbered amount of strokes, the beginning hand-lead position will alternate between right and left. This movement disrupts momentum, forcing (no pun intended) the athlete to overcome inertia in the same way that the “Force 50’s” intend to do.

    It is important that the athlete becomes fully-extended during each hand-lead position, as many kids will take shortcuts (surprise, surprise) and try to rush through the drill without becoming completely outstretched.

    This can accommodate large groups of athletes; make sure they are leaving about :10 apart so that the next athlete doesn’t run into the motionless athlete. This is great for long-course training, but is very doable in a short-course setting.

    Front-Back-Front: This drill may be used for butterfly and breaststroke (i.e. Short-Axis Strokes). The athlete begins on their stomach (i.e. looking at the bottom) with both hands outstretched (think: superman/superwoman position). Next, the athlete tucks their knees to their chest and rotates backwards until they are completely outstretched on their back (i.e. looking at the ceiling). Then, the athlete tucks and rotates forward, reassuming the original outstretched position on their stomachs. The athlete may perform 1 stroke, perform the Front-Back-Front maneuver, then 2 strokes, Front-Back-Front, 3 strokes, etc. Full extension both forward and backwards is crucial to properly executing this skill. Similar to the Side-Opposite-Side and “Force 50’s”, it will disrupt moment and require force to overcome inertia (i.e. that in place stays in place unless acted by an outside force).

    Please let me know if these drills needs further clarification. Videos are on their way!