Special Sets: The Training of Newly Anointed United States Olympian Luke Whitlock

Luke Whitlock

Special Sets: The Training of Newly Anointed Olympian Luke Whitlock

Forty six of the more than 1000-plus pool swimmers who competed at Olympic Trials in Indianapolis will soon be leaving for Paris to represent the United States. Among them is Luke Whitlock, a Florida commit, from Noblesville, Indiana. For Trials, he traveled 30 miles from his home to Lucas Oil Stadium and swam three (400, 800 and 1500 freestyle) of the six events for which he qualified.

In the largest venue to ever hold U.S. Olympic Trials Whitlock made the team in the 800 free, setting a new 17-18 NAG record with a second place 7:45.19. Impressively, he also charged to fifth (3:46.55) in the 400 free, just missing Olympian Larsen Jensen’s 17-18 NAG record of 3:46.08. And in the 1500, the final event of the nine day festival, his 14:53.00 was good for third and featured a furious fastest final 50 (27.74) leaving him just .26 behind runnerup David Johnston.

A Coach Perspective

In reflecting upon Whitlock’s Trials performance, Joe Keller, his coach at Fishers Area Swim Team, opined: “It is hard to argue with the results.  Three (six including prelims/finals) races over nine days was beyond anything Luke had done before at such a high level,  but he managed it all beautifully.  He wasn’t perfect, but he sure was close!  I credit his ability to manage the nine days to our prior month’s detailed planning. It included practice adaptability and his willingness to execute the plan in every way….every day.

“Luke’s 400 free prelims, in which he placed first, was not something we had planned.  However, his finals swim, matching his prelims swim, with all the pressure and challenges of being at his first trials was impressive.  Quite honestly, I felt it was a champion-like performance and he he didn’t flinch,” said Keller.

“Of course, his confidence was riding high and he took that into his best race…the 800 free.  Luke executed a perfect race plan and the results speak for themselves.  Again, he handled his first ever prelim/final in the 800 well enough to make the Olympic Team.  That was a box he had hoped to check but was not the primary focus going into the meet.

“The three days ‘off’ between the 800 final and the 1500 prelim was as challenging to manage as we expected and it had some impact upon his prelim swim.  Ultimately, he responded in the mile final and challenged for the opportunity to swim it in Paris.  It was a tough race, a little off the goal, but he demonstrated a relentlessness in the final 50 meters while dropping 14 seconds off his best time.

“Luke, in my opinion, earned a ton of respect at Trials and has put himself into a position to lead the next wave of young mid/distance swimmers in the U.S.  It is exciting to be a part of this process,” said Keller.

Let the record show that Whitlock’s Trials performance augurs well for his future in Gainesville. A USA Swimming Junior National Team member, Whitlock is ranked second in Indiana, and 26th nationally by Swimcloud in the class of 2024.

As a prelude to Trials he swam five events at mid-May’s Indy Cup posting times of:

  • 200 free 1:51.38 p, (1:51.45f)
  • 400 free 3:49.10 (2nd)
  • 800 free 7:50.20 (3rd fastest ever U.S. 17-18)
  • 1500 free 15:07.95 (1st – state record)
  • 200 fly 2:00.44 (OTC- 2nd in prelims)

After originally committing to Louisville Whitlock opted for the Gators, whose growing distance training reputation may better suit his aerobic talents.  A former open water male swimmer of the year, he competed in the LEN Open Water Cup and was a 5x top 16 finisher in the 2022 and 2023 USA Swimming open water nationals.

In December at Speedo Winter Junior Championship East, Whitlock set an Indiana record clocking a 14:50.37 1650 yard free while also recording times of 4:15.76 (2nd) and 3:48.10 (7th) in the 500 free and 400 IM. A week earlier at the Toyota Winter Championships he ended third in the 1500 with a 15:08.09. At the 9th World Aquatics Junior Championships in Israel he capped his summer with two fifth place finishes going 3:50.46 and 7:55.00 respectively in the 400 and 800 meter freestyles.

“Luke’s progress over the past three years has been steep,” said Keller.  “I attribute it to his relentless pursuit of excellence in training.  He is willing to do the hard stuff, wants to be challenged and despises falling short of his personal expectations.  He is also technically proficient.  Luke makes swimming look effortless. I ascribe this to his uncanny ability to swim in rhythm.  His pre-race preparation is all about tempo, counts and setting the rhythm and stroke cadence dependent upon the race to be swum. There are other factors, but rhythm is always the key.

“Luke has a HIGH Swimming IQ. He understands the sport whether it be the technical aspects, training components or the variables associated with the progression to higher levels of performance.  The longer we work together the more I value his thoughts and listen to his perspective.  He has challenged me to stay ahead while guiding him through the next part of the journey…one that is about to get even better!”

Four Whitlock Workouts

Done in late April and early May in preparation for the Indy Cup, his last major meet before Olympic Trials.

SW1 was done on Monday April 15 and is pretty typical of a Monday PM workout.  Volume was 7700 LCM swum at the OPTC in Colorado Springs as a part of a 17-day training trip from April 8-24.

“Luke was also there in January for the National Junior Team Camp and then stayed for two more weeks for additional altitude training – a total of 38 days of altitude since mid-January. This was the second workout of the day.” Note the * with training times that follow the main set and then the pace times on the 100s to follow.

“We use colors A LOT but also monitor tempos throughout these sets.  Ultimately, tempos coupled with stroke counts are more important than the time!”

Monday, April 15th – 5-7PM – OTC Training Camp Workout #13 – LCM

CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE – Have a Purpose – Stay Focused!  P.R.I.D.E.!

5:00 Dynamics + Training Lane(s) + Workout Items/Details

Quote: “Seeking comfort is a natural human condition.  Resist Comfort.  Realize that if you want special outcomes, you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

5:40 #NaturallyComfortable


2 x 100 w/ 50 Drill / 50 Swim w/ Great Technique

Rd 1 on 1:40 / Rd 2 on 1:35 / Rd 3 on 1:30 / Rd 4 on 1:25

200 on 2:40 w/ Low Stroke Count 50 – Maintain last 150

2 x 150 on 2:00 Free w/ Build each 150 to Strong!


5:50 #ResistComfort

8 x 50 x :50 Kick w/ Fins w/ 25 Strong/25 FAST


6:25 #GetComfybeingUnComfy

400 on 5:00 Free – Smooth – Think White *4:27

4 x 50 on :45 Descend 1-4 – White to Red *:30, :29, :29, :27

:10 extra rest

400 on 5:00 Free – Even Split – Pink! *4:18 (2:09/2:09)

1 x 100 on 1:25 Red – Mile Pace *:58

2 x 50 on :45 Mile Pace *:28, :28

:20 extra rest

400 x 5:00 Free – Neg. Split – Pink! *4:12 (2:06/2:05)

2 x 100 on 1:25 Red – Mile Pace then Sub Mile Pace *:58, :57

:30 extra rest

400 on 5’ Free – Fastest of 400’s! *4:10

200 on 2:40 Blue – Sub Mile Pace *1:58


2:00 rest


6:40 #SpecialOutcomes

9 x 100 on 1:30 w/

1-3 – Great Technique

4 – Mile Pace or Faster *:58

5-6 – Great Technique

7 – 800 Pace or Faster *:57

8 – Great Technique

9 – 400 Pace *:55


6:50 #CultureofExcellence

200 Great Technique

3 x 50 back with:10 rest after each 50

100 Great Technique

1 x 50 kick on back


7:00 #LoveTheTub@OPTC (Hot tub time)

SW2 –Tuesday 4/23/24 — also done LCM at Altitude.  “Tuesday/Thursday Luke doubles this workout. It is reflective of stations and he always use buckets in the AM’s.  This work typically follows one hour of dryland/weights.

“Loads of skill and kick. Luke is a strong kicker, so we stress kick-driven free.

“Main Set. Focus in first three rounds is descending weight with a set # of UWK’s and cycles.  Immediately following is a timed off the block set-up with a focus on the 400-1500 race.  EZ Speed is a must!

“There is a small set in between followed by three similar rounds but off the block set-up done at race tempo.” Listed are Whitlock’s approximate tempos for the majority of each race distance listed.

“This is a Great Workout!”

Tuesday, April 23rd – 9-11AM – OTC Training Camp Buckets/Speed Workout – LCM – ALL  

CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE – Have a Purpose – Stay Focused!  P.R.I.D.E.!

9:00 Dynamics + Training Lane(s) + Workout Items/Details

Quote: “True Success Requires Personal Effort, Dedication and the Willingness to put in the Work necessary to Realize YOUR Potential.”

9:20 #SuccessRequires

4 x 50 on 1:05 w/ Arm Lead Kick w/ Guide Arm w/ R/L Arm by 50 w/ 1st 2 w/ Snorkel / Last 2 w/ Breathing!

2 x 50 on 1:00 w/ Human Stroke w/ Snorkel – Power Triangle!

4 x 50 on :55 w/ SA (single arm) Breathe Towards w/ Guide Arm – Odd – RA Only / Even – LA Only – *Breath Timing – Snap!

2 x 50 on :50 w/ #1 – Popov w/ Arm Extension to Set Catch / #2 – T&P!

4 x 50 x on 45 w/ #1-2 w/ Snorkel / #3-4 w/ Paddles – Build each 50 – Think Focal Points!

Then, 200 Smooth to Build


9:45 #W2W (Willingness to work)

2 x 50 on 1:30 Dolphin Kick on Back w/ Socks 50 or 25 w/ 2nd 25 Back Swim

2 x 50 on 1:00

-1 x Dolphin Kick on Side – R/L by 25

-1 x Dolphin Kick on Stomach w/ 25 UW / 25 Surface w/ Scull

2 x 100 on 1:45 Dolphin Kick on Stomach w/ Board and Fins

4 x 50 on 1:15 FAST on Fire w/ Push Back into line to Flags then Dolphin or Flutter Kick to wall to FAST Flip then Race Simulation to 25 then Smooth 25

2 x 100 on 1:45 Dolphin Kick on Back – Streamline w/ Fins

2 x 50 on 1:30 Dolphin Kick on Stomach w/ Board & Socks

2 x 50 on 1:00

-1 x Dolphin Kick on Back w/ 25 UW / 25 Surface Streamline

-1 x Dolphin Kick on Side – R/L by 25


10:00 #DedicatedEffort

12 x 50 on 1:00 w/

1-4 – FAST 15 / Smooth 35

5-8 – FAST 25 / Smooth 25

9-12 – FAST 35 / Smooth 15

*Odd – Free / Even – Stroke

50 w/ Great Technique


10:40 #RealizeYOURpotential


3 Rounds: ALL Free

Rd 1:

Heavy Tow** – 3-5 UWK + 4 Cycles

(Heavy to Moderate to Light Tow defines the amount of weight in the bucket itself.

Rd 1 then we go heavy (more) weight in the bucket w/ the defined # of UWK’s and 4 Cycles. The athlete returns to the wall then gets out and does a 15M Timed Swim ALL OUT.  He then continues for 85 meters smooth swim to complete 100 meters then moves to RD 2.

Each round is completed in about 4 minutes.

Rd 2 is moderate (lesser) weight in the bucket and the athlete does more UWK’s and adds a Cycle. Then does a 25 Timed Off the Block, etc. Rd 3 is lighter weight but with more UWK’s and an added Cycle followed by a 35 Timed Off the Block. The 2nd Round of 3 is similar HOWEVER the OTB work is more Tempo Focused than Time Focused as in the 1st 3 rounds above.)


15 OTB (Off the Block) Timed

85 Loosen

Rd 2:

Moderate Tow – 5-7 UWK + 5 Cycles

25 OTB Timed

75 Loosen

Rd 3:

Light Tow – 7-9 UWK + 6 Cycles

35 OTB Timed

65 Loosen

8 x 50 x 1’ w/

Odd 50’s – Rotating FAST 12.5 – Otherwise, smooth or build

Even 50’s – Drill

3 Rounds:

Rd 1:

Heavy Tow – 5-7 UWK + 5 Cycles

25 OTB @ 400 Tempo *1.4’s

75 Loosen

Rd 2:

Moderate Tow – 7-9 UWK + 6Cycles

35 OTB @ 800 Tempo *1.45’s

65 Loosen

Rd 3:

Light Tow – 9-11 UWK + 7 Cycles

45 OTB @ 1500 Tempo *1.5’s

55 Loosen

100 Great Technique

50 OTB – Set-Up – Timed!

*OTB = Off the Block


11:00 #Culture of Excellence


100 x 1:30 Swim – Mix as you Choose

2 x 50 on :55 w/ #1 – Kick / #2 – Drill – ALL Choice but same Stroke per Round

300 Free w/ Fins


SW3 was on Wednesday, May 1 and was LCM at Fishers.  Single workout PM ONLY. 10K day!  One workout, done in approximately two hours.

“Luke had a great workout with times/splits on 600’s and 400’s listed on the workout.

His last 400…4:04…from a push and split 2:03, 2:01.

He then finished the workout (prior to loosen) with 20 x 50 x :45 Kick w/ Odd – Dolphin and Even – Flutter…– only one stroke allowed into the walls!

Wednesday, May 1st – 3:15-5:45PM – 10Klub – LCM – Isaac&Luke

CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE – Have a Purpose – Stay Focused!  P.R.I.D.E.!

3:30 Dynamics

Quote: “Want to vs Willing to.  You must be willing to demonstrate championship habits (discipline, focus, fortitude, integrity, enthusiasm, respect, etc.) before you can ever become a Champion.”


3:55 #BeWilling


2 x 100 w/ 50 Drill / 50 Swim w/ Great Technique

Rd 1 on 1:30 / Rd 2 on 1:25 / Rd 3 on 1:20 / Rd 4 on 1:15

200 on 2:35 w/ Low Stroke Count 50 – Maintain last 150

2 x 150 on 1:55 Free w/ Build each 150 to Strong!


4:45 #ChampionshipHabits


600 x 7’ Free

-Neg. Split

-HOLD Time

-Stay in Control & Aerobic

400 on 5:00 Free

-By Round – Rotating FAST 100

-Strong other 100’s


6:33 (3:17/3:16)

6:31 (3:17/3:14)

6:31 (3:17/3:14)

6:32 (3:17/3:15)





4:04 (2:03/2:01 w/ last 100 :59)


5:05 #BeAChampion

300 x 4:00 Free w/ Paddles w/ 3-5-7 Breathing by 50

4 x 200 Free w/

1 – Paddles, Buoy, Band, Snorkel on 2:40

2 – Remove 1 Piece of Equipment on 2:35

3 – Remove another Piece of Equipment on 2:30

4 – 1 Piece of Equipment on 2:25

300 Free w/ 7-5-3 Breathing by 100


5:20 #WantIT

20 x 50 on :45 Kick w/

Odd – Dolphin

Even – Flutter


5:30 #CultureofExcellence

800 Loosen – Choice w/ Fins

“Friday’s are a double day too.  One session is aerobic long swims and the other is “Rainbow” hitting every energy system within the main set…White to Purple in our program!

“Finally, Saturday’s are typically performance with a focus on ‘When It Matters Most.’  SW4 was on Saturday, May 4. This workout was done in the afternoon to simulate Olympic Trials PM Finals.  On Friday, May 3, Luke did a test set around 10-11AM time to simulate Olympic Trials AM prelims.  That is not our typical Friday, but was done a couple of times ahead of Trials to simulate back-to-back 800/1500 free races!

“Saturday, May 4’s set is one of the most impressive things I have EVER seen in a test set.  We let him suit up. ALL 300’s (LCM) were from a push on 3:45. The GOAL was to hold all under 3:00. Luke went 2:58, 2:58, 2:57, 2:57 and 2:55!!! To conclude a week of 70K week.

Saturday, May 4th – 6:30-8:30PM – LCM – Luke “Test” Set   

CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE – Have a Purpose – Stay Focused!  P.R.I.D.E.!

6:40 Dynamics + Workout Items/Details

Quote: “Success comes from doing the work.  It takes Discipline, Commitment and Sacrifice.”


7:30 #DPS

“Choice” Pre-Test Set Warm-up


7:40 #SuitUP&Prep


8:00 #THESET


1 x 300 Build on 4:00

5 x 300 on 3:45








8:30 #CultureofExcellence


3 x 100 on 1:30 Free – Ascend by Round – NO Fins

4 x 50 on :45 Free w/ Fins – Can opt out of Rd 4

“On Sunday Luke typically does an AM loosen swim between 2-4K dependent upon the week.”


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