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evaluate the quality of your Training sets with 3S Tools

what makes your sets precise and effective?

Effective training sets ideally should match our swimmers’ abilities and needs to initiate desired training effects. Many coaches use the Internet as a source for new ideas or rely on other coaches’ suggestions and other information sources available today.

Whatever the result, the question remains: How precise are the selected or designed by you sets by paces and duration to achieve the desired changes?

A recent Google search on the phrase “swim workouts” returned a mind-boggling 38 MILLION responses.

In this article, I want to give you an example of how we can analyze training sets and define their usefulness. Workout and set evaluations has been part of my professional duties working with several national teams and coaches, including Bob Bowman, as far back as 2003-2004.

“Set of the Day”

Checking a swim coaches forum online today, I found the following workout offered by a coach for evaluation and advice:

The workout goal was announced as Continued work on holding technique and skills over longer distances with a sustained effort & finishing with fast freestyle kicking”.

Initially, the coach did not provide any information about the level of his swimmers or their position in the season, so I decided to re-construct this set in order to check its effectiveness in relation to the stated goal. Incidentally, 3S Training Design Tools are very useful for this task. This example also took an unexpected turn, discussed below.

Deconstruction of a Set: 35×100 @ 1:20 (SCY)

Effectively, there are two separate questions that we had to answer:

  1. What is the level of current results that match this set’s parameters?
  2. What is the relevance of this set to the stated goal?

Solving Task # 1: (Identify the full-out effort time on 100SCY based on test targets (35 X 100 @ 1:20).

My initial reaction to the creation and purpose of 35×100 @ 1:20 was mixed. On the one hand, the intent of this set is clear and may even look attractive, especially if designed for swimmers who are already comfortable with longer swims and have established skills. On the other hand, this set seems too long with too many repetitions, given its intent. 

We should assume that the target swimmers are mature enough to sustain the suggested intensity at set distance, which is close to the upper limit of energy zone Ia (White) based “Power – Time of Effort” curve. Zone II (Pink), mentioned by the coach, would be a stretch and only possible in a “slow interval” modality, where rest between repetitions should help to slightly increase relative intensity. However, the selected set distance is still too long for a compelling set in the Pink Zone (Zone II by 3S Classification) since its power level should inadvertently approach the Ia level (White) at the suggested effort duration. Therefore, a T30 – T35 continuous swim effort should be considered more effective from a functional development perspective.

Since our goal is to identify the actual swimmer’s ability level from set goals, we must assume that the suggested by the coach pace on 100 yards is consistent with their development level. 

Fortunately, the 3S Results Progression tool (Tests) can help us achieve just that. All we need to do is to create a test set based on an assumed keep time of ~1:00 with 15-20 seconds rest between repetitions.  Our method allows us to calculate a correspondent all-out time on 100 SCY converted from the known keep times of prescribed intervals, assuming the swimmer could execute this set as suggested. 


After saving the executed set as “Ideally executed”, the 3S tool delivers an all-out effort time on the distance of interval (100 Y) based on 01:03.50 keep time in 35 repetitions.

According to our calculations, the swimmer with a full-out time of 50.00 on 100 yards should be able to execute this set averaging a Heart Rate of around 168 for the duration of effort (including rest periods), which is typically close to the individual Anaerobic Threshold level in individuals 20 years and younger.

reality check

This story received unexpected continuation. After I left my comment on the coaches’ forum, the coach who posted this workout contacted me directly, and I could compare the results of my analysis with the real times of the swimmer involved. The previous actual best time of the swimmer for whom this set was designed happened to be 1:01.00. Once we obtained this information, we could re-calculate our test set parameters and determine a target set time relevant to the swimmer’s actual abilities in the current training phase:

After saving suggested intervals times, we receive converted full-out time on the distance of interval for the current week in the season:

Considering the swimmer’s previous best time and early training phase, the suggested keep time in this set should be 01:20.42, making a send-off target 01:35.00 – 01:40.00.  In reality, it means the selected target was extremely optimistic. Moreover, I also question this set’s efficiency and relevancy to the stated goal.

The final note:

The coach could use alternative, more effective approaches and sets to achieve the desired training effect.  One thing to remember is that the training process is never two-dimensional. The third dimension in this equation is time, in terms of days and weeks.  When we speak about total set volume and intensity, it is important to account for the natural progressions of both parameters in time. The parametric training concept utilizes this factor to its full potential, offering well-weighted progressions in both areas.

At the same time, the dynamic change of training volumes in specific sets leads to natural improvements in proper technique and skills, especially if you keep focus on these elements. Returning to the goals expressed by a coach in this example, I would suggest an individualized parametric program based on 200 or even 300-yard intervals, increasing the set distance from a starting point of ~1000 yards to 2400 yards in a 6-8 week period. This will produce exactly the effect the coach was trying to achieve but in a well-controlled and manageable progression.

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