5 Swim Sets You Have Try Before You Die

Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

By Wayne Goldsmith

Swim sets are like burgers. There’s a lot of them in the world: some are great, some are awful and some are just plain ordinary burgers. Here are 5 Swim Sets You Have Try Before You Die

A great swim set has to include three things:

  1. It must be challenging – and demand more of you physically, mentally, technically and tactically than previous training sets;
  2. It must be able to be progressed – i.e. you can make the set more challenging and more demanding over time by changing variables such as speed, breathing frequency, rest periods and the number of repeats in the set;
  3. It has to make you swim faster in competition – the set has to actually make a difference to your swimming performances.

Here are 5 Swim Sets which are challenging, can be progressed and most importantly – will make a big difference to your racing.

5 Swim Sets You Have Try Before You Die

(140822) -- NANJING, Aug. 22, 2014 (Xinhua) -- Tamas Kenderesi (L) of Hungary celebrates after winning men's 200m butterfly event at Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, Aug. 22, 2014. Kenderesi won the gold medal. (Xinhua/Yang Lei) (ljr)

Photo Courtesy:


1. 50 / 100 / 50 set

This set is a killer but it really sorts out the men (and women) from the mice. It is a great set for learning to sustain high-speed swimming with limited rest.

It goes like this:

  • Dive and swim 50 metres on a 1:00 minute time cycle at 100 metre pace;
  • Swim 100 metres with a push start on a 2:00 minute time cycle at 200 metre pace;
  • Dive and swim 50 metres on a 1:00 minute time cycle at 100 metre pace.

Repeat the above 50 / 100 / 50 sequence 4 times through. Then add another 50 / 100 / 50 each week until you can complete 6-10 of them in a single swim set.


2. Mini Max Swim Set with Double Ups

Mini-Max (i.e. minimum stroke count at maximum speed) swim sets are great for developing both speed and M.D.S. – maximum distance per stroke.

Start with a single timed 50 metre maximum speed swim. Count your strokes.

Add the time and the stroke count together for a total lap “score”.

For example if you swam the 50 metres with 46 strokes and your time was 42 seconds, that’s a total score of 88.

Now swim another 50 at maximum speed – also counting your strokes but aiming to reduce your score of 88 by at least 1, i.e. by swimming faster, taking fewer strokes or both.

So – say you swam 40 seconds and took 44 strokes, your new lap score is 84.

Next – the “double-up”.

Multiply your lap score of 84 by 2 and that becomes your goal score for a 100 metre swim, i.e. 168.

Swim 100 metres at maximum speed, count your strokes and add your time and stroke count together striving to score better than 168.

Then….yes – you guessed it. Double up again and see how you go for a 200!

And then…..yep – believe it or not – try doubling up again for a Mini-Max 400.

3. Magic Medley Mayhem

This swim set has been a favourite of medley coaches for a long, long time.

  • 4 x 25 Medley order (i.e. that’s 25 fly, 25 back, 25 breast, 25 free) on 30 seconds
  • 100 IM on 2:00 minutes
  • 4 x 50 Medley order on 1:00 minute
  • 200 IM on 4:00 minutes
  • 4 x 100 Medley order on 2:00 minutes
  • 400 IM on 8:00 minutes.
  • Rest 5 minutes.
  • Timed 200 IM within 5 seconds of your PR time.
  • Rest 5 minutes
  • Timed 400 IM within 10 seconds of your PR time.

Add this “golden-oldie” to your training program and watch your medley times plummet.

4. Horrible Hundreds

It doesn’t sound like much but this swim set is another that can make or break most swimmers. It’s very simple in design yet – done correctly and with total commitment – it is as tough as it gets.

8 x 100 metres on 6::00 minutes…..all at maximum speed and all within 3 seconds of your PR time.

If you don’t swim within 3 seconds of your PR time, that 100 does not count and you have to repeat it.


5. Endless 50s.

This swim set is another shock to the swimming system.

Swim a single 50 metre effort at maximum speed. Add five seconds to that time.

For example – if the maximum speed swim equals 38 seconds , then add 5 = 43 seconds.

Now add another 5 seconds – i.e. 48 seconds.

And now the fun part…..How many 43 second swims can you repeat on a 48 second time cycle? 


Less than 5: You’re as soft as a marshmallow.

6 – 10: Good but you can do better.

11 – 15: Very good.

16 – 20: Excellent

More than 20: Move over Phelps. Look out Ledecky….you’re awesome.

(140822) -- NANJING, Aug 22, 2014 (Xinhua) -- Matheus Paulo de Santana of Brazil celebrates after winning the Men's 100m Freestyle match at Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, on Aug. 22, 2014.Matheus Paulo de Santana of Brazil won the gold medal. (Xinhua/Yan Yan)(hhx)

Photo Courtesy: Xinhua/Yan Yan

Swim sets come in a virtually unlimited range of designs and variations.

While the design of the swim sets is important , it’s even more important to think about how you swim them.

Even the best designed of swim sets, if executed poorly, will not help you to achieve your swimming goals or to realise your personal performance potential.

However, well designed swim sets, when completed with commitment, engagement and enthusiasm can make a considerable impact on your competitive swimming capacities.

Here’s an idea.

Instead of just adding a great comment to this post – why not add your own favorite (be that fabulous or frightening) training set!!

Wayne Goldsmith


  1. Nicole Pavlopoulou

    Panagiotis Androulidakis Lef Manios Maria Tzialla τα κάνουμε ήδη τα περισσότερα ? είναι ωρα να πεθάνουμε ?

  2. Ali Nahhas

    I don’t understand the first one but the IM one and the Horrible Hundreds sound like fun to do with a couple team mates

    • Bilal Hussein

      Let’s do it. But let me train first

  3. Larissa Brak

    Arjan Hanse die wisselset lijkt mij leuk!! 🙂

    • Arjan Hanse

      ??? en dan de 200 en 400 max vanaf het blok in wedstrijd kleding!

  4. Tracey Jennings

    Jeri Booth, some ideas for you….50/100/50 looks challenging

  5. Carson Rafuse

    I’m having a dilemma whether I should tag my coach in this or not…
    They all seem fun, but hard..
    I feel like if I tag her I’ll regret it after 😉

  6. Rhi Jeffrey

    Pretty much all sprint sets. Where are the distance ones?

    • avatar

      I think that’s the point. No need for the distance stuff.

      • avatar

        Schubert *probably* does not approve of this comment.

    • Misschien wel een paar leuke dingen voor de trainingen inderdaad Danny en Wynnona.

  7. Jeroen Dellebeke

    Kan hem nog aanpassen voor morgen… Nino Kevin Jurre Toon Matthijs Eviroos

  8. avatar
    Daniel Lopez

    We learned a long, long time ago, and in a galaxy far, far away the following set:
    7 x 200m in 3:30 min (or your own starting point)
    1st – 50m fly, 150m free
    2nd – 50m free, 50m fly, 100m free
    3rd – 100m free, 50m fly, 50m free…
    so, the 50m fly moves up, when reaching the 4th 200, you go down again till 7 x 200 are complete.
    The challenge of course is to lower your pace, and go below 2:30min each eventually.

    Thx for the tips. will use some of these eventually… the medley sounds great 🙂

  9. avatar

    How about Bobby Hackett’s brutal SCY distance set?

    100×100 Free on 1:00.
    1650 Free.
    1650 Fly.

  10. avatar

    And the hardest set I’ve ever done. We were doing altitude training in Colorado Springs.

    12×200 Free (Sprint) on 3:00.
    A little break.
    12×100 Free (Sprint) on 1:40.

  11. avatar

    4x 800’s Fly On 12:00
    4x Dive Fly Going All PB’s

  12. Stan Ruessink

    Kira Fijn, wat voor ons? ?

  13. avatar

    Hi everyone – love the comments and the sets. Keep them coming. Horror kicks sets?

    In regards the distance sets – there are millions of them.

    However, in my experience if you talk with swimmers they tend to remember the reeeeeally long days, e.g. a coach I was talking with last Friday night at the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association convention was telling me about the horror days with one Australia’s most well known coaches and swim-sets like 100 x 100 on 100 (i.e. 100 times 100 metres on 1:40), 5000 metres straight fly (and no fins), 4000 medley (that’s a 1000 metres of each stroke folks!), 8 x 1500 on 20 minutes and similar swimming nightmares…….


    Swimmers will roll their eyes and shudder about the sustained high intensity sets where the coach sets an uncompromising standard on speed, e.g. where maximum speed = 100% of PR and 99% is unacceptable.

    After a while those long distance sets, 20 x400, 40 x 200 etc at low intensity aren’t really the challenge you might think they are. You learn to do the volume and just get it done.

    It’s the intensity that kills ya!

    Thanks again for contributing.

    • avatar

      Talking about horror kick sets.. on a dolphins camp Doug Frost decided that we needed to do 20km of kick that week (2km of kick each session). Now we had our swim main sets, then we would do kick main sets. It was horrendous. I considered myself i great kicker… but when you have to do 20x100s on 1:35-1:30 all of which were efforts…. death seemed like an easier option. Doug was a funny bloke though… we spent the whole week on the gold coast and every day he would offer to drive us to the beach between sessions no complaints…. I went once… regretted it the rest of the week. Good times.

  14. avatar

    Although the 100 x 100 has been taken, how ’bout:

    100 x 200 on 3:00
    200 x 200 on 2:30 (I heard that Jim McConica did this to prep for the Catalina Island Swim)
    The Millenium swim (2000 lengths of the pool – not hard – just really, really long):
    200 x 100 on 1:40
    600 x 50 on 1:00
    or as 50 x 1000.

    Then the fun 24 hour relay with 6 guys (1000s -relay style) for 24 hours. No sleep for anyone!!

  15. Tom Pratt

    Chris Littler

  16. Damon Rodd

    Jacinta Wenham

  17. Sean Pearson

    Stephen A. Gomez Perez

  18. Daniel Pelkowitz

    Tom Pennell we should try some of these

    • Tom Pennell

      true, it would help if you actually swam though.. hahahahahaah

    • Daniel Pelkowitz

      Haha yea well maybe il make my comeback to these sets

  19. avatar

    We did this as a very young senior age group team. I was oldest at the time and was only 15.
    July 4th long course.
    -odds free descend on 5:00 to within 10 of best 400 time.
    -evens IM descend on 5:30(I think) to within 10 seconds of best time.
    We got a minute or two to catch our breath as our coach explained the next part(we thought we were done after that)
    1776 meter IM (400fly, 450 back,450 breast, 476 free. Race!

    Our coach stood a meter passed the halfway mark of the pool to let us know where to stop.

    • avatar

      Wow, I love this set! I’ll have to try it out some time.

  20. Ali Buzza

    Julia Ver Voort

  21. Chris Peterson

    I just threw up a little in my mouth.

  22. Gregg Gorniak

    What about 100 x 100s on the 1 minute?

  23. Roberto Garibay, Daniel Ramírez, revísenlos están muy buenos pero todos están para morir ?

  24. Nora L. Herzog

    Lauren Langford I think yours are harder.

    • Lauren Langford

      Lots of my hardest sets are very similar to these actually, at least the same principles. Some of these are very inspiring 😉

    • Manon van Vulpen

      Hahah thnx… Hadden wij dit niet al ooit eens gedaan in een vaag verleden;)..

  25. Adam Toy

    Sam Redman some brutal ideas for Sunday’s!!!

  26. Sverre Oelen

    Ernst Rooker nieuwe ideeën ..?

  27. Matthew Robert Taylor

    What if you have already done all of these. And does it count if they have been done in the bath. Lol

  28. Jeroen Coopmans

    Neiske heb je deze allemaal al eens gedaan? 😉

  29. Neiske Becks

    Haha Jeroen Coopmans , nummer 3 staat nog op m’n Bucket list ?

  30. Loulou Janssen

    Tes SchoutenValerie van RoonTamara van VlietArno KammingaYamiko Steenhoek

  31. avatar
    Paul Poitevent

    Minute man set

    60×100 on 59 seconds. Walk your way around the clock. Don’t give up if you miss an interval battle back so the battle is to complete the 6000 yards in under 59 minutes. although this set now past my capabilities I was once able to complete in under 59 minutes with some missed interval in the 50’s but I battled back on the last couple 100’s to make up the time.

  32. Paul Poitevent

    Minute man set

    60×100 on 59 seconds. Walk your way around the clock. Don’t give up if you miss an interval battle back so the battle is to complete the 6000 yards in under 59 minutes. although this set now past my capabilities I was once able to complete the set in under 59 minutes with some missed intervals in the 50’s but I was able to battled back on the last couple 100’s to make up the time.

    • avatar

      Considering this is yards, I’d fathom its really a test of how fast one can swim 5.5~km… with 55min for 5km being a decent pace. Not a bad effort though.

  33. Carson Rafuse

    Whatever, I’ll do it! Sandi

    I’m going to regret this..

  34. Shae-Lee McDonald

    The horrible hundreds are similar to a set I do they’re “lucky” 100s or 50s or 25s and we add the amount we’re doing to our PB
    Say if we’re doing lucky 7s we’d have to do under PB+7 in whatever distance

  35. Minwoong An

    I guess, I would really die if I follow this but I want to try. lol

  36. Darryl Washington

    I’ve done a few of these…lol….don’t miss it but it paid off for taper.

  37. Amr Hesham

    Mohamed Hamed Karim Samir 5 magameee3 yefre2o gamed fel tamreeen ?

  38. Banjamin Gro

    NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :p

  39. Banjamin Gro

    NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :p

  40. Abi L Young

    Colorado Mesa University Swimming & Diving

  41. avatar

    Hi everyone – and thanks for your comments, thoughts and for sharing some really great sets.

    Here’s a special one – from Coach David Marsh:

    “32 X 50 from a dive at goal 200 fly pace 8 on 50, 8 on 55, 8 on 1, 8 on 1:05 extra 1 min after 8. Ouch!”

    As always the genius of Marshy is only matched by his passion for hard work.



  42. avatar

    Here’s another set that’s only for the brave – or the slightly mad (or both):

    This one was sent to me by two of Australia’s greatest ever female distance swimmers Janelle Elford (now Pallister) and Julie McDonald:

    “60 x 100m FS on 1.10 jump outs”.

    And the swimmers also added….”and we made them all”.

    Thanks to Janelle and Jules!

    These two girls were very tough, very hard working – and very successful. I wonder if there’s a link…..toughness, hard work and success….I wonder.

    Keep ’em coming.


    • avatar

      Now that’s a tough set. I’ve only done 40x100s on 1.10 long course. short course was easier when doing 60.. but once you get above 30 it gets really dizzy. also depends on the pool.
      Thats a tough set for girls, i doubt any of the girls these days could get close to that sort of effort… Amazing how strong they used to be..

  43. Linda Otten

    Sounds tough but good!

  44. Gonzalo Rivero Lastra

    Robocoooooj Esteban Castillo Gabriel Castillo Sulca Roberto Nazrala

  45. avatar

    Thanks again to everyone for sharing these amazing training sets.

    Is this one the toughest set of them all?? I’ll let you decide.

    This comes from one of Australia’s most talented swimmers from the 1990s – Ian Vander-Wal. “Wally” was a tough swimmer – a super competitor and a great guy – thanks for this one Wally!

    “Hi Wayne. I’ve done 25 x 500m on 6:30 – that was the “sprinter” times. The distance group went were on 6:00. Straight through no extra rest, Long Course”.

    I don’t think I could drive my car that fast for 12.5 kilometres!!!!

    • avatar

      I do remember some old coaches give us long and boring 500m to do. 6min for us distance swimmers wasn’t too bad. but 25 was silly. it just conditions you to swim slow.. plus increases the chance you’d injure yourself. Ive done 20x500s before.. but not 25… it was pointless. Training has come a long way since the 90s.

  46. avatar

    That last set is stupid. It’s aimed at pathetic swimmers. Even a great distance swimmer couldn’t get 20x50s within 5 seconds of their 50 pb and have only 5 seconds rest. thats like asking someone to swim 1000m at under World record 1500 pace. Pus starting and stopping at each 50 would make it harder than actually doing a 1000m effort!

    The 8x100s is not hard enough. 6min rest is enough for middle distance to distance swimmers to recover. anyone that can swim a decent 200 will be able to swim this provided they don’t have a ridiculously fast 100m time. Try 40x100s. first ten on 1:30 @ pb+8; second ten on 1:40 @ pb+7; third set on 1:50 pb+6; last set dive on 2:00 pb+4. Try doing that every monday afternoon and see how many of you want to keep swimming! lol OR 6x200s on 6min aiming for pb+8 or faster. pretty sure my blood lactate got over 23 mmol during one of those tests…

    Fun set – 3x3x400m Paddle pull buy and band on 5min. first 400 pb+30, second pb +20; last pb + 15. Best time i did was 4:03.

    Also.. 1000m kick test. if you can’t make it under 14:30 you don’t deserve to be a swimmer.

    I could go on for ages…

  47. avatar

    Nice article btw.. got me reminiscing about old times