Training Session: "The Spike Set"

Here's a challenging little set which I like to use from time to time to see how I'm shaping up in the pool from a fitness perspective. It combines elements of both flat-out speed and sustainable endurance. It's a great set to do at any time of the year and one which will keep you on your toes. As you're constantly changing pace and watching the clock, the session will fly by. We like to call it the "Spike Set" and we believe the origins of this session can be traced back to Grant Hackett's coach, Dennis Cottrell.

Here goes:

WARMUP: 400m easy freestyle focusing on relaxed breathing technique, followed by 200m steady pull buoy focusing on good rotation through the hips and shoulders.

DRILLS: 4x 50m as Scull #1 (see here) for 15m followed by 35m freestyle. Take 10 sec rest between each 50m and preferably use a pull buoy to isolate the focus on the catch.


1. 12x or 16x 50m with every 4th 50m as a sprint. On the other 50m intervals all you have to do is swim fast enough to make the turn-around time. The selected turn-around time here should be your half of your 100m threshold pace + 5 seconds. i.e. if you can do 100m intervals in 1:50, half of this would be 55 sec + 5 sec = 60 sec. A swimmer doing 1:30 for their intervals would make their turn-around time 50 sec, etc. You don't need to be overly pedantic about this, just choose a time to start off which you think will give you about 3 to 5 seconds rest between each 50m when swimming at a good pace.

2. 9x or 12x 50m with every 3rd 50m as a sprint. This time add another 5s to your turn-around time from the previous set. This extra rest will be very welcome and will allow you to swim the sprints faster than the previous set.

3. 6x or 8x 50m with every 2nd 50m as a sprint. Again, add another 5s from Set #2.

4 Finally 3x or 4x 50m, sprint every one (!) with another 5s rest added onto Set #3.

Remember, for every 50m other than the sprints, you simply have to swim fast enough to make the turn around time.

Cool down with a few easy drills to bring your heart rate back down.

This set has something for every type of swimmer - those of you who are good at distance freestyle will relish the first set with the short recoveries between each 50m, whereas those of you with a little more raw power will like the added rest at the end of the set and the ability to then sprint faster, providing you haven't over-cooked it on the first set.

If you are in the northern hemisphere and feeling a few end of season blues, this is an excellent set to release some endorphins and feel great. Let us know how you go!

Shameless plug: there's plenty more sessions like this (and the perfect mix of technique work too) baked into our waterproof training plans: here)


Paul Newsome
Swim Smooth Head Coach


Matt said...


Its great to recieve these swim sets and technique tips on a regular basis. However, it would also be really good to be able to build one's own training sets and understand what should go into weekly, monthly and yearly plans.

I appreciate this is quite a large topic, so if you have any posts on this already or can point me at some good literature that would be great.


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