Swim Training Set Of The Week: Distance Free Ladder Set

University of Michigan junior Marie Georger, touches the wall Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015, at the Orange Bowl Swimming Classic in Key Largo, Fla. Michigan placed first in the women's division while West Virginia University won the men's division. The event, staged at the Jacobs Aquatic Center, was the highlight of the winter collegiate swimming training season in the Florida Keys. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY (Stephen Frink/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)
Photo Courtesy: Stephen Frink

This is the first edition of Swimming World’s Swim Training Set of the Week features a demanding distance free ladder set.

The beauty of this set is that it offers coaches flexibility with the primary focus. The workout can be done as a 500 or 1650 pace set (or both). It’s a grueling, fast-paced challenge that doesn’t allow for much rest. The recovery that is offered can be in the form of a :30-:60 rest or a 50-100 easy. Don’t give too much rest during the recovery; otherwise it diminishes the purpose of the set.

Ladder Set:

1 x 100 free                 1:00/1:05/1:10/1:15

1 x 100 pace                1:00/1:05/1:10/1:15


2 x 100 free                 1:00/1:05/1:10/1:15

1 x 200 pace                2:00/2:10/2:20/2:30


3 x 100 free                 1:00/1:05/1:10/1:15

1 x 300 pace                3:00/3:15/3:30/3:45


4 x 100 free                 1:00/1:05/1:10/1:15

1 x 400 pace                4:00/4:20/4:40/5:00


1 x 500 FAST

Go Back up ladder (no 500 free)

Note: Intervals can be adjusted for age and ability, and only going down the ladder is a great set for younger age groupers relatively new to training the 500 free.

The 100s allow the swimmers to build their aerobic endurance. The idea is to make them by :05-:08 seconds and find a groove. As the set continues, these 100s do become taxing, which makes hitting the pace that much harder. In fact, the set is almost designed for failure. If they’re able to nail pace during the entire set, they’re having a stellar day.

Pace training for distances longer than 100 yards gives the swimmers a greater opportunity to learn the kinks of their distance training. The 200, 300, and 400 paces are perfect for mastering the 500 and 1650.

The 500 fast is a gut-wrenching test where the swimmers should be within striking distance of their best 500 times. Then, after a quick recovery, you climb back up the ladder starting with a 400 pace.

Done correctly, this set has a fairly high degree of difficulty. It can effectively challenge your top distance swimmers and aid in the development of any up-and-coming D-freestylers.


  1. Jon Gibirdi

    Would be good if we were all olympians..if i could swim a 100m in 1minute i wouldnt need your help

    • avatar

      I think the intervals are designed for SCY since it talks about the 500 and 1650 and ends with a 500, not a 400. Plus, it’s not really that hard to figure out how to change the set if you can’t do 100s on 1:15, is it? You just do them on 1:20 or 1:25 or 1:30 or whatever works for you to get the 5 to 8 seconds rest that is suggested.

    • avatar
      Evan Dulaney

      The set/intervals are designed for SCY. Feel free to change the cycle to whatever works best for you in meters. Typically add about :10 per 100 to the intervals to convert to meters.

  2. avatar

    A few questions:

    1. Can you define striking distance please for the 500 and “pace” for the set.

    2. Also, they are swimming the 500 fast then taking a short break and going into 400 pace and then 4 x100, reversing the pattern?

    3. As I read this they are going a 400 pace, 500 fast and 400 pace at the top of this ladder?

    • avatar
      Evan Dulaney

      1. Striking distance for the 500 frees depends a little bit on the caliber swimmer. Ideally, we want to be within :10-:20 of their best times. As for the pace parts, be as close to possible on pace.
      2. Yes, the pattern does reverse after the 500. Throws a curveball at them.
      3. That’s right. 400 pace, a break, 500 fast, a break (can extend this break a little longer), and then another 400 pace.
      This set is super tough. If you try it, I hope it goes well!