Special Sets Presented By VASA: Swimmers Ethan Harder and Katharine Berkoff


Special Sets is sponsored by VASA. Visit VASA.com for more information on our sponsor.

As a result of their performances at the USA Speedo Winter Junior Nationals in December, Ethan Harder (Billings Aquatic Club) and Katharine Berkoff (Missoula Aquatic Club) have emerged among the nation’s top backstrokers in the Class of 2019.

Harder clocked a 1:43.03 to win the 200 yard back, while Berkoff copped first in the 100 back in 51.95. Both continued their excellent showings in March at the Federal Way (Wash.) Sectionals. There Harder won the 100 and 200 back (47.59, 1:43.19), and posted some strong swims/places/drops in the 200 fly (1:46.80) and the 200-400 IM (1:47.75, 3:51.09). Berkoff won both backstrokes (51.93, 1:51.40) plus the 100 and 200 free (49.18, 1:46.81).

Each is ranked No. 1 in the state for next year’s class of swimmers. Nationally, Harder stands sixth and Berkoff eighth. In February, Harder was a multiple winner in the Montana State Short Course Championships, while Berkoff topped the podium in the state high school meet in the 100 back and 50 free.


Harder’s training at Billings is directed by head coach Sean Marshall. The sample sets below are workouts from Billings’ peak training block, alternating between aerobic, threshold and rainbow days.

“On aerobic days, the kick is a major focus,” says Marshall. “Swimmers do shooters fly kick all out and at least half way underwater. In yards, Ethan gets a huge boost in speed and power off the last wall when he stays underwater and crushes his legs coming home.

“All of our warm-ups on the aerobic and threshold days are multiple rounds of descending intervals. Then we morph into more of a main set and a much higher aerobic base, building at the end.

“I honestly believe that Ethan’s high aerobic capacity and VO2 max is the main driver of his recent success. He even splits his races on a regular basis. This past summer, he went 2:00.12 in the LC 200 back. Ethan split 29.01, 30.2, 30.5, 30.3 for a world Top 100 time, which earned him a spot on the USA National Junior team. Once he gets into rhythm, he’s like a freight train. He can hold tempo at 1.4 consistently with an average of at least 13 meters underwater off each wall,” says Marshall.

“On Rainbow days, we hit it quickly after a typical meet warm-up—i.e., 400 to 600 stretch out followed by 3 x 200s free/IM, alternating the IM parts with kick, scull and drill. Next is 8 x 50 IM order variable speed, odd build/EZ even at SP3/EZ. Then we get cranking on a threshold (EN2) set, an overload (EN3), finishing with a quality (SP1) set.

“The goal of Rainbow day is to get athletes to train through three grueling sets and to increase overall effort and heart rates all the way through. After days like that, we normally don’t get too many complaints when swimmers have multiple finals back-to-back at bigger meets,” he says.

“Ethan has an IMX score of 5,100, thanks to his development and our team focus on diverse and middle-distance IM-based training. Such activity allows us to go either way in the competitive spectrum. In June, Ethan is set to represent Team USA at  Mel Zajac Jr. International Swim Meet in Vancouver, B.C.,” notes Marshall.

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The following sets are from the last block of training two weeks prior to taper for December’s Short Course Juniors. All distances are shown in short course yards.

Nov. 27, 2017

EN1 – K (Aerobic Day)


3x through:

  • 9 x 100 free swim; #s1-2 cruise @ 1:15, #3 strong @ 1:05 (each round through the strong interval drops :05)
  • 1 x 200 IM mix by round @ 4:00 (kick, scull/swim, drill/build)


  • 1 x 300 streamline kick @ 5:00 (6 underwater fly kicks off each wall)
  • 5 x 100 KickBeast test set @ 4:00 (timed and recorded each 100 for Best Possible Average)

Coach Marshall: “Harder’s ‘beast’ average is 1:01s streamline kick back no board while doing 15 yards underwater off each wall.”

  • 200 EZ swim


3x through:

  • 2 x 200 free/IM swim @ 3:00 (fly is 2-2-1 drill; breast is free/kick)
  • 4 x 50 back/breast swim @ :45 (descend interval by round by :05)

Nov. 28, 2017

EN2 (Threshold Day)


2x through:

  • 3 x 200 free/IM cruise @ 2:50 (fly 2-2-1 drill)
  • 4 x 50 best stroke mix @ :60 (scull/drill w/ naked paddles)
  • 1 x 400 free/IM swim @ 6:00

* On the 2x thru set 200s free/IM, descend to spike effort; 50s are worst stroke; 400 free/IM is spiked from dive

EN2 (Threshold Sets – 1 Round of Each)


  • 3 x 200 free swim PACE @ 2:30 (goal mile pace)
  • Rest :60
  • 6 x 100 free swim PACE @ 1:20 (goal 500 pace)
  • Rest :60
  • 1 x 1000 free swim – Hard/TIMED (within :20 of best time)
  • 200 EZ Recovery


  • 3 x 200 free swim/IM – Hard @ 3:00 (Best Possible Average within :10 of best 200 IM time)
  • Rest :60
  • 4 x 100 IM swim – Hard @ 1:40 (BPA)
  • Rest :60
  • 8 x 50 best stroke pace @ :60 (200 goal pace)
  • 200 EZ recovery

Nov. 29, 2017

BOW (Rainbow Day)


  • 1 x 400 free swim cruise @ no time
  • 3 x 200 free/IM MIX @ 3:20 (IM kick, IM scull, IM drill)
  • 8 x 50 IM order variable speed @ :60 (odd build/EZ, even SP3/EZ)

EN2 (Threshold)

2x through:

  • 6 x 50 best stroke PACE @ :60 (200 goal pace)

Coach Marshall: “Harder does these backstroke. All are high-25, 26-low to a flip turn. If he goes PACE 50s to a hand touch, he can achieve high-24s, low-25s.”

  • 50 EZ recovery
  • 12 x 25 best stroke USRPT @ :40 (100 goal pace)
  • 100 EZ recovery

* On the 2x thru set, the stroke is swimmer’s second best stroke

EN3 (Overload)

10x through:

  • 1 x 100 free swim FAST (under 500 goal pace by at least :01)
  • 50 EZ recovery

* Each round is on 3:00 interval total

SP1 (Quality)

2x through:

  • 1 x 200 stroke RACE dive – TIMED (in heats)
  • 400 EZ recovery

* Each round is on 10:00 interval total

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While Jay Friend has assumed the reins as head coach of the Missoula Aquatic Club, the team still benefits from the occasional presence of former coach David Berkoff (1988 and 1992 Olympic medalist—two gold, one silver, one bronze—and former world record holder).

Berkoff revolutionized the sport with his 35-yard underwater prowess. These days, he still coaches the team’s 8-and-unders and backstrokers—“when I help out,” he says. A primary beneficiary has been his daughter, Katharine, who has ascended to national prominence in the dorsal stroke.

What follows is a sample of some of the training that has established her as a rising force and a prime recruiting target of the 2023 college class.

Here are some sample Berkoff sets:

Set #1

  • 2,000 warm-up
  • 2 x 300 swim backstroke with paddles on 4:15, form over speed; 5 UW kicks off walls 1-3, 10 UW kicks off wall 4

3x through:

  • {100 easy on 2:00
  • {4 x 75s ALL OUT on 2:00 from push

Coach Marshall: “Berkoff held between 41.0 and 41.7 for all twelve 75s.”

  • {200 easy on 4:00
  • 1,000 warm-down set

Set #2

  • 2,000 warm-up
  • 10 x 100 back on 1:20 (maintain form and 6 kicks off each wall)
  • Rest :60
  • 200 back from push fast (Berkoff went 1:58.0)
  • 10 x 100 free on 1:15 (active recovery)
  • 100 back from push fast (Berkoff went 55.3)
  • 10 x 100 back on 1:20 (maintain form and 6 kicks off each wall)
  • 50 blast free from blocks (Berkoff went 24.3)
  • 500 warm-down set


In revisiting his own training while swimming for Coach Richard Shoulberg, David Berkoff (1988 and 1992 Olympic medalist—two gold, one silver, one bronze—former world record holder and Katharine’s dad) recalls doing a short course 6,000 yard free race when he was 25 years old. He completed that effort in 59:26.

“That’s probably something of which I am most proud because (Team Foxcatcher teammate) Sean Killion (1992 Olympian and American record holder in the 800 meter freestyle for 15 years from 1987 through 2002) watched it and couldn’t believe I was going that fast for that long.

“Another set I did that was hard—but not recommended—was 16 x 50 underwater kick long course on 60 seconds. The first few were hard, but then got easier. I held about 35 to 37 seconds for each 50. We did some pretty tough training,” he says.

No kidding.

About the Author: Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach whose Collegiate School (Richmond, Va.) teams won nine state high school championships. He was named a 2017 recipient of NISCA’s Outstanding Service Award.