Special Sets: The Training of Thomas Heilman, NAG Record-Holder and Star in the Making


Special Sets: The Training of Thomas Heilman, NAG Record-Holder and Star in the Making

For swimming cognoscenti, the name of Thomas Heilman, a 16-year-old, 6’2” shooting star, should conjure memories of yesteryear’s exceptional age group talents. What his future holds is to be determined.

Heilman swims at Cavalier Aquatics in Charlottesville, Virginia for coach Gary Taylor. At the end of the 2023 short course season he possessed 20 individual and one relay NAG mark (16 short and five long course) set in four different age groups: 10U (1), 11-12 (6), 13-14 (10), 15-16 (4). Like Michael Andrew before him, he went on a tear. As a 14-year-old in December of 2021, he set 14 National Age Group marks in a span of 11 days. Heilman’s specialties are sprint free, 100-200 butterfly and 200 IM. Last August, at the Speedo Junior Nationals, he won the 100-meter freestyle in 49.67, making him the first 15-year-old American male to swim the race faster than 50 seconds. His current SCY NAG 15-16 marks are in the 100 fly (44.67), 200 fly (1:40.86) and 200 IM (1:41.71). His LCM record is 51.98 in the 100 fly.

Later at Junior Pacs, Heilman did some heavy lifting on the international stage. In Hawaii he earned gold medals in the 100 fly (51.98), 4 x 100 free (WJR, 3:15.79) and medley (3:36.65) relays.  His silvers came in the 100 free (49.34), 200 fly (1:56.52) and 4 x 200 (7:15.18) free relay. After competing at the Indianapolis FINA Swimming World Cup in November, he took out three more NAG records at Winter Junior Nationals, registering swims of 1:41.71 (200 IM), 44.67 (100 fly) and 1:40.86 (200 fly).

Heilman completed his 2023 high school season helping his Western Albemarle team to the Virginia 4A state championship. There he won the 50 free (19.69) and 100 fly (46.06), 200 medley relay (20.46) fly leg before splitting 19.42 split on the runnerup 200 free relay. As a freshman, Heilman was a 6x NISCA All-American. As of May, he was on track to add six more A-A recognitions.

June 15 marks the opening of the recruiting season for the class of 2025. Currently Heilman and Lakeside’s Maximus Williamson are the nation’s top-ranked male high school swimmers. Both have the bona fides to withstand what promises to be a rigorous and frenetic mental exercise.

“Thomas is very open to receiving information (both positive and critical) in order to learn and continually grow in the water.  Thomas very much embraces the process, attending practice daily and always seemingly giving his 100% best effort.  He truly strives to be the absolute best swimmer he can be through his work in the pool and discipline out of the water.  Beyond this, what truly sets him apart is his humble, quiet nature and willingness to support his lane mates, younger swimmers and Cavalier Aquatics as a whole.  Thomas is the definition of a selfless teammate,” says Taylor.

Below are four practices from spring 2023, three butterfly-based and one IM centered, indicative of the training being done and effort expended by Heilman.

Friday AM, March 31: “This practice was underwater-focused with some UW work prior to the primary set.  The following primary set was done with a Stretch Cord placed at 12.5 yards, to get a kickout to 15m off every wall during the set.  He did this on both the 75’s descend and the 25’s aerobic recovery for 3000 yards of the workout.  For the most part, Thomas descended the 75’s from about middle 40’s on #1 to roughly 36-39 seconds on #4 depending on the stroke breakdown.  His ability to perform underwater work daily definitely sets him apart from most swimmers,” says Taylor.

Warmup: 250 (50 FR/25 6-Kick Log Roll/50 BK): Core Connection, Rotation

500 (50 IMO Drill/25 Str. BR Kick/50 IMT): IMT=2 x BK-BR

4 x 125s IM at 1:45: Revolving 50 RIMO fast

10 x 25s FR with LG Pac-Man Paddles at :30: 4-7-9-10 fast


DK Work: 2 x 75 DK with Brick at 1:20: AER, steady Rhythm

2 x 50s DK with Brick at 1:00: fast, quicker feet

3 x 25s BLAST DK with Brick at :45: NO breath

Cord:10 x 25s DK with Brick at :30: UW is Blast, 4-7-9-10 are 25s Shooters

10 x 25s FLY at :30: UW is BLAST, 4-7-9-10 are 25s Shooters


IM Work (Cord): 4 x 25s IMO at :25: fast, work UW

4 x (75 (50 FLY/25 BK) at 1:00: desc. hard to GO + 2 x 25s FR at :30: AER)

4 x 25s IMO at :25: fast, work UW

4 x (75 (50 BK/25 BR) at 1:00: desc. hard to GO + 2 x 25s FR at :30: AER)

4 x 25s IMO at :25: fast, work UW

4 x (75 (25 BK/50 BR) at 1:00: desc. hard to GO + 2 x 25s FR at :30: AER)

4 x 25s IMO at :25: fast, work UW

4 x (75 (25 BR/50 FR) at 1:00: desc. hard to GO + 2 x 25s FR at :30: AER)

No Cord:16 x 25s FR with Stick at :40: 10 Fins-6 GGP, 1 br. at 15m

5300+300 AER REC

Workout definitions:

Log Roll in Streamline form, 6 flutter kicks on stomach then rotate to back and 6 back stroke kicks continuing to alternate the entire length.  Hold breath on stomach.  Focused on core rotation.

Pac-Man Paddle. Paddles are sideways with thumb underneath and other 4 fingers on top.  This is entry and catch focused.

The Brick (a 6 lb. kickboard) was used to focused on a palms down, power pull.  Several dolphin kicks followed by an underwater pull down to the hips.

10 Fins-6 GGP 10 fins, 6 God Given Power, so no equipment on final 6.

Thursday AM, April 27: “This practice was designed to work on threshold effort butterfly with the primary set including 3 x 100s FLY at 1:20 in which Thomas held 8 UW kicks, 5-6 strokes per length and a comfortable :58 high to 1:00 average.  Following #3, Thomas received an extra minute rest and then went a 100 FLY at an all-out effort.  On these 100s, he swam between a 52.8 and 53.3 on all 5 performances,” says his coach.

Warmup: 400 (100 FR/100 BK): 1-2-3-4 UW DKs

200 (25 RT Arm/25 LT Arm) IM with SM Paddles

200 (100 DK/100 Str. DK on BK)

200 (25 RT Arm/25 LT Arm) IM with GBalls

400 (100 BK/100 BR) with Flip Turns: maintain distance off Walls

8 x 25s Str. DK with Snorkel at :30: AER, Kick on Surface

3 x 100s (25 RT-25 LT-50 3 RT-3 LT) FLY with Snorkel at 1:40

6 x 50s 2 RT-1 Full-2 LT-1 Full FLY at :50: desc. by 3s, AER to fast

8 x 25s (Balance + 5 BLAST FLY Strokes + AER FR): 4 Reg-4 Aas (Arms at side)


FLY Work: 2 x 4 x 25s Flutter Fly with Snorkel & Fins at :30: fast

4 x 25s FLY with Snorkel & Fins at :30: Eyes down-Eyes-Nose-Chin

5 x 3 x 100s FLY at 1:20: Rhythm, up-up-down, Stroke CT (+1 min. rest)

100 FLY at 2:00: 10 UW Kicks off final Wall

100 BK at 2:00: AER REC


DK Work: 2 x 3 x 25s BLAST DK with Brick at :40

3 x 50s DK with Brick at 1:00: BPA

3 x 25s DK with Brick at :30: BLAST UW to 15m

5900+AER REC

Workout definitions:

GBalls golf balls used in “OK” fashion which forces better connection of hand, arms and lats in back.

Head down-Eyes-Chin by breath practicing low breath in fly.  With snorkel, head down, then eyes rise above surface followed by chin.

Thursday AM, May 4: “My goal in the primary set was to have Thomas perform fast on 150’s free in order to feel fatigue and then swim fast 50s FLY mimicking a similar feel to the back 50 of a 200 FLY.  In RD 1, he descended the free from 1:30-1:21 and averaged 26 mids on the FLY.  RD 2, Thomas descended from 1:31-1:20 and held 25 mids on the 50s FLY.  In RD 3 and 4, he descended down to 1:19 and 1:18, then averaged 24 mid and 23 high by Rounds.  I felt this was an intense set in which he hit the performance levels I wanted, while also maintaining his technique and details throughout.”

Warmup: 2 x 300s FR with Snorkel, Paddle & GBall at :20 rest

2 x 200s FR with Snorkel: GBalls-TBalls by 200s

2 x 2 x 25s Str. DK with Snorkel & Fins at :30: stretch Line, Feet in H2O

2 x 50s AaS DK with Snorkel & Fins at :50: move forward

2 x 2 x 50s (12.5 Str. FR Kick/12.5 FLY) with Snorkel & Fins at :50

2 x 25s Flutter FLY at :30: Head down-Eyes-Chin by breath24 x 25s BLAST DK at :45: 6 Str-4 Brick-2 Chute-2 Str.-4 Brick-6 Chute

***add Snorkel with introduction of Chute: Str. and Brick done NO breath***

8 x (6-5-4-3 Cycles Cord + 1-2-3-4 Cycles GGP) with Cord: 200 Kick CT


FR/FLY Work: 4 x (150 FR at 1:45: desc. to GO + 50 FLY at :45: 200P)

4 x 50s FR/BK Kick at :50: AER REC

4 x (150 FR at 1:50: desc. to GO + 50 FLY at :50: 200P-:01)

4 x 50s FR/BK Kick at :50: AER REC

4 x (150 FR at 1:55: desc. to GO + 50 FLY at :55: 200P-:02)

4 x 50s FR/BK Kick at :50: AER REC

4 x (150 FR at 2:00: desc. to GO + 50 FLY at 1:00: 200P-:03)

4 x 50s FR/BK Kick at :50: AER REC

***on FR, the ceiling on #1 in each RD is 1:29-1:31: challenge yourself!***

6400+200 AER REC

Workout definitions:

GBalls-TBalls Golf balls used in “OK” form followed by tennis balls used in fist form.

6 Str-4 Brick-2 Chute-2 Str.-4 Brick-6 Chute. Brick done no breath by 25s, 6 Streamline dolphin kick, 4 dolphin kick with Brick, 2 done with chute.  These were done all-out effort with zero breaths on the streamline and Brick.

Wednesday AM, May 10: “This workout was geared towards VO2/Lactate efforts with 3 Rounds of 8 x 50s FLY at 2:00.  The odds were from a dive and the evens were from a push.  This was a grueling set, however Thomas’s performances never waned as he averaged 22 very low on the 50s dive, while holding  23 mid-to-low on the 12 x 50s from a push.  Throughout the set, Thomas always hit 8 UW Kicks with 5-6 strokes per length” says Taylor.

Warmup: 3 x 50s FR Kick with Snorkel & Grips at 1:00: Eyes down, Hips high

6 x 25s Str. BK Kick with Cups at :30: Chin Back, Eyes on Ceiling

300 (Ball to Balance + 100 FR) with Snorkel: focus on Posture, Line

300 (25 Sag Line/50 Posture) FR with Snorkel & Buoy

300 (25 Str. FR Kick/25 SPK/100 FR) with Snorkel: tie it together

4 x 25s IMO with TBalls at :30: AER

4 x 50s FR/IMO with TBalls at :50

4 x 25s IMO with TBalls at :30: fast

4 x 50s FLY/FR with GBalls at :50: 3 AER-1 fast

2 x 100s FR-IM with GBalls at 1:30: 1 AER-1 fast

4 x 50s BK/BR with GBalls at :50: 2 AER-2 fast


STR Work: 4 x 50s STR Drill with SM Paddles at 1:00

4 x 25s (15 BLAST Spin STR + 10 AER FR) with Fins at :40

4 x 25s (15 BLAST STR + 10 AER FR) at :40

3 x4 x (50 Dive STR at 2:00: GO + 50 Push STR) at 2:00: GO

200 (100 FR/50 BK/50 BK Kick): AER REC


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