Coach Bruce Gemmell Offers Sets to Aid Return From COVID-19 Hiatus

Bruce Gemmell

Coach Bruce Gemmell Offers Sets to Aid Return From COVID-19 Hiatus

(Based on Michael J. Stott’s feature in the June 2020 issue of Swimming World Magazine)

In our latest attempt to provide the Swimming World readership with training sets from some of the most-decorated coaches and athletes around the country, we bring you a quartet of sample sets from Bruce Gemmell, the head man at Nation’s Capital Swim Club. In a June magazine feature by Michael J. Stott, Gemmell offered several sets that would allow athletes to ease their way back into training following a hiatus due to COVID-19.

In the magazine feature, Gemmell offered a template for high school-age athletes, sectionals level and above, for returning to training. Although many athletes are now in the water and have resumed some semblance of typical training, it is interesting to see how Gemmell, who guided Katie Ledecky to exponential success, designed workouts for the regular return to the water.

“All of these workouts are written, assuming the kids have been out of the water 8-10-12 weeks,” he said. “They have never been this ‘de-trained’ in their lives—except maybe since being 6-8 years old and starting summer league.”

In designing his workouts, Gemmell established priorities—in order—for returning to the water:

1. Safety for everybody involved—swimmers, coaches and pool staff
2. Injury prevention
3. Reconnecting with friends, teammates and coaches
4. Reconnecting with the love of the sport
5. Stroke correction—this will be a great time to address old bad habits
6. Fitness and training
7. Love of racing

“I’m assuming kids are swimming three to four times per week for 60 to 90 minutes maximum—probably start closer to 45 minutes of actual water time—in a 25 yard/meter pool. I wouldn’t do any of the ‘sets’ the first three to four days in the water—perhaps by Days 5 or 6,” he said.

Sample Sets (By Bruce Gemmell)

Set #1
2 rounds:
• 5 laps swim – 5 laps kick – 4 laps swim – 4 laps kick…down to 1 lap swim – 1 lap kick
– Round 1: 5-3-1 lap swims are free; 4-2 swims are back; kick is without board on backstroke
– Round 2: 5-3-1 swims are free; 4-2 swim are IM or breast; kick is with board
1,500 yards/meters total
All straight, no stopping except to get/drop board

Set #2
1 round:
• 8 x 25 IMO
• 4 x 50 free
• 2 x 100 IMs
• 1 x 200 free/back by 50
• 2 x 100 IMs
• 4 x 50 free
• 8 x 25 IMO
1,400 yards/meters total
All done with 10 seconds rest after each repeat

Set #3
15 x 100:
• 3 x 100 free @ easy interval—maybe 1:20
• 3 x 100 free/IM @ easy interval—1:30 (free/IM is an IM with free instead of fly…so, free-back-breast-free)
• 3 x 100 free @ 1:20
• 3 x 100 free/IM @ 1:30
• 3 x 100 free @ 1:20
1,500 yards/meters total
Can do set with or without fins
Coach Gemmell: “I would be generous with the use of fins the first three to four weeks—very little pulling with gear; snorkels, yes.”

Set #4
4-5 rounds:
• 25 free
• 50 kick
• 75 back-breast-free
• 100 IM
1,000-1,250 yards/meters
10 seconds rest throughout
Odd rounds, no gear; even rounds, fins

“These are just samples—imaginations can run wild,” said Gemmell. “Maybe consider running an extra round for each week in the water. Add real intervals after two to three weeks. I would definitely keep an eye on heart rates and especially any signs of low-level injuries or unusual soreness.”

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach whose Collegiate School (Richmond, Va.) teams won nine state high school championships. A member of that school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, he is also a recipient of NISCA’s Outstanding Service Award.


  1. Alexis Murray

    Love seeing this type of unselfish information sharing. I hope sharing strategies/best practices like this will help our swimmers through this extremely challenging time.

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