Special Sets Presented by VASA: NCAA Pre-Season Sets

Photo Courtesy: Aaron M. Sprecher; Kenyon Athletics

This special set piece concentrates on college preseason practices before the start of the official season.

As college swimmers return to campus in the fall, they are faced with the prospect of starting over or continuing a summer of successful training. NCAA rules regulate the amount of preseason activity that supervised athletes can perform.

“D-I and D-II are allowed a 144-day season in which they are permitted 20 hours of required countable athletically related activity (CARA),” says Joel Shinofield, executive director of the College Swim Coaches Association of America. “During the school year, outside of the 144-day declared season, teams are allowed eight hours of CARA per week with slightly different policies on use. Coaches have flexibility on when to start their 144 days and how they plan the periods of 20-hour weeks and eight-hours weeks,” he says.

Preseason conditioning is rife with different approaches, and coaches are ingenious in concocting various forms of training to persuade returning natives to get with their programs. Before classes even start, often the weight room becomes a coaches’ library of choice. Holding class outside is another. At Georgia, Coach Jack Bauerle entreats athletes to push 45-pound barbell plates across an Astroturf practice field. They push “with their hands, pumping their legs very close to the ground. We usually do relays. If they win, they can sit one out,” he says.

Running is done at Sanford Stadium, where “steps are very much a part of our August/September tradition—so much so that some of the second-year kids actually do some before they ever come back,” says Bauerle.

When Randy Reese, now at Clearwater Aquatic Team, was at the University of Florida, his team did a lot of river swimming. They also did plenty of “wheels,” whereby swimmers rolled themselves up stadium ramps on two-by-fours strapped to a small set of wheels. Swimmers placed the contraption under their knees, laid out in a push-up position, and then used their hands to propel themselves up the inclines in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Not to be outdone, D-III programs are also all-in, albeit on a little different level than D-I and D-II programs. “All divisions are allotted a certain number of weeks that they can have official workouts, which are defined as structured practices under the direction of a coach,” says Denison coach Gregg Parini. “Typically, D-I/D-II programs are given more weeks than D-III, which is allotted 19 weeks of official practice.

“Counting back 19 weeks from the last non-championship meet of the year gives us the starting date of our season. Weeks in which the athletes are not involved in official practices (i.e., Thanksgiving week) do not count against the 19 weeks,” he says. Parini also notes that some conferences have more restrictive rules than the NCAA—thereby cutting back on training opportunities for their athletes.

D-III school approaches regarding preseason practices vary widely. When she was at Washington & Lee, the team did not normally have preseason practices, says past captain Susan Crook. “When we did, our coach often gave us sets,” she says.

At Denison, home of the men’s 2016 national champions, the coaching staff posts workouts for the swimmers to use during rec/lap swims that are open to the entire campus. “Our senior leadership focuses its attention on team-building exercises during the preseason that will ultimately carry over to the regular season. Per NCAA rules, workouts during the preseason are strictly voluntary—a rule we take seriously and abide by consistently,” he says.

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At rival Kenyon, forever a dominant D-III aquatic force and runner-up to Denison in March, preseason training is captain-centric. “I think the biggest idea the seniors at Kenyon try to incorporate in pre-practice is preparation. Very literally, this means bringing everyone to a point where they can handle the workload associated with the season physically and understand the basic terminology/practice structure,” says Wes Manz, a former captain and member of the Lords’ 2015 winning 200 medley and freestyle relays.

“It also means providing the basics of what is to come once the rigors of the real season hit. We try to construct the captain’s practice schedule so athletes can make necessary changes to succeed in their academic endeavors—before they’re asked to run full-bore, building into the season.

Returning to campus, there is a wide-range of physical fitness within the team. This is the result of many factors largely, I believe, because of the inability of our college coaches to run a club team. This puts all D-III teams in a precarious position to start the year. Start too hard, too early, and you risk injuring those who took the summer off. Start too slowly, too late, and you’re banking on the conference meet as your only solid option for NCAA cuts (like the NESCAC). This requires the seniors to have an honest idea of where their teammates are and adjust the work accordingly,” says Manz.

Kenyon has a tradition of selecting captains at the conclusion of the season. “This gives the entire senior class a unique opportunity to reach the team on a more individual level. While the seniors act as a unit to create and run team-wide swim workouts, seniors associated with different training groups help bring the freshmen along in more specific workouts, such as sprint lifting versus distance dryland,” he says.

Wes Manz Sample Workout

• 300 easy
• 2 x 150 easy – 25 kick/50 swim free
• 6 x 50 moderate – 25 drill/25 swim choice
• 4 x 25 variable sprint – fast/easy, easy/fast, easy, fast
1,000 (1,000)

• 2 x 50 swim moderate – IM order by round
• 4 x 50 kick moderate/fast – choice
• 1 x 50 easy
• 2 x 100 swim moderate/fast – free on short interval
3,200 (2,200)

• 1 x 75 moderate – technique swimming, main stroke
• 4 x 25 easy – skull/drill by 25
• 1 x 75 easy – free
3,700 (500)

• 200 easy – loosen
3,900 (200)

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Another Kenyon captain and distance ace, Mariah Williamson, graduated in 2016 as a 15-time All-American. For her career, she finished top eight in all 12 individual events she swam at NCAAs.

Given the NCAA prohibition against early coach involvement, Kenyon official practices usually began toward the end of September. “For the first couple weeks of school, the senior class writes practices and organizes a lifting schedule,” says Williamson. “Given that we vote on captains at season’s end, the whole senior class generally works together to lead the rest of the team during these weeks.

“We don’t typically write intervals beforehand, although sometimes we make suggestions. There’s a wide variation of fitness levels during the first few weeks back, so some people may be able to make an interval that others can’t. We generally work through these practices in groups based on preferred intervals, but the whole team is in the pool at once, so it feels like a ‘real’ practice. These sessions aren’t mandatory, but most of the team makes an effort to be there, so there’s generally a good turnout,” says Williamson.

Following is another example of a Kenyon set during the first weeks of the season when the pool is set in long course meters:

• 1 x 300 freestyle, open turns
• 3 x 100 choice, 50 kick/50 swim
• 6 x 50 choice, odds scull/swim evens drill/swim
• 1 x 200 free, NS (negative split) easy/moderate, emphasize turns (fast into/dolphin kicking out of)
• 3 x 100 free SD (step down, descend) 1-3
• 8 x 50 IMO 1 kick/drill 1 drill/swim (moderate)
• 3 x 100 IM SD 1-3
• 1 x 200 kick easy, on your back working on streamline
• 3 x 100 kick choice moderate
• 6 x 50 kick fast, choose a challenging interval
•100 easy cool-down
(3,000 meters total)

* * *

Arthur Conover was Kenyon’s 1650 national champion in 2015 and will be counted on as one of the team’s leaders for the 2016-17 season. He was all-in when swimmers arrived on campus in September, joining other seniors who split dryland, lifting and in-water responsibilities.

“I have three focuses for fall practices:

• Fostering a team dynamic: for the first few practices together as a new team, we want everyone to feel that they are doing things together.

• Introducing the freshmen and reminding the team of practice conventions: we use a color system to dictate intensity, so we want to teach the system to freshmen and refresh it for returning swimmers.

• Giving swimmers the opportunity to swim a practice that challenges them properly: since swimmers will be in different places fitness-wise, and considering that we want to foster a team dynamic, this means having a couple options for finishing points.

Arthur Conover Sample Workout

• 300 easy freestyle
• 3 x 100, scull/swim by 25
• 6 x 50, 25 choice, 25 freestyle

3 rounds of the following:
• 3 x 50 kick, 1 easy, 1 moderate, 1 fast
• 100 IM, ascend by round fast to easy
• 100 freestyle, descend by round easy to fast
• 50 easy and regroup for the next round.
(Option #1 to finish: 100 easy, total 2,200)

• Same as Option #1
Add 4 rounds of the following:
• 2 x 50 IMO by round, kick/drill by 25
• 4 x 25 variable sprint (1 fast/easy, 1 easy/fast, 1 easy, 1 fast)

(Option #2 to finish: 100 easy, total 3,000)

Option to do next set once or twice. If twice, pull second round.
• 400 free easy
• 300 free easy/moderate
• 200 free moderate
• 100 free fast
• Finish (100 easy, total 4,000 or 5,000)

“These practices are optional, but highly encouraged,” says Conover. “We ask that swimmers attend at least four per week, but we will hold seven or eight weekly. In addition to this, there will be three scheduled times for freshmen to lift with upperclassmen to learn what we do in the weight room.”



  1. Lelah Olender

    Natalie Article includes a Kenyon practice.

    • Lelah Olender

      I was tagging my sister so she could read it, and know why I tagged her. She swam for Kenyon.

Author: Taylor Brien

Taylor Brien is the Assistant Operations Manager and a staff writer at Swimming World. A native of Bettendorf, IA and a 2015 graduate of Illinois College, she has covered a variety of events since joining the SW team in 2015, including the NCAA Championships, World Championships, Olympic Trials, and 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

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