Four Frequent Criticisms From People Who Don’t Understand USRPT

With Michael Andrew’s recent appearance on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, the debate rages on about his unusual training method, USRPT. What is most frustrating about this debate is that it’s become “religious”, with “traditionalists” defending their approach irrationally.

Likewise, many of the purported supporters of USRPT lack a basic understanding of what the training actually is so they can properly explain and defend it. The following are four arguments against USRPT that I see time and time again without being effectively countered.

For the purposes of “traditional” training in this article I will use Jan Olbrecht’s “The Science of Winning”, considered by many to be a top manual on aerobic/anaerobic energy based training.

1. It’s fine for sprinting, sure, but what about longer races? This argument is based on some flawed assumptions about what USRPT is. Many coaches in “traditional” programs use high intensity training, although distance race pace is frequently undertrained in these environments.

Take a look at Dr. Rushall’s suggested volumes (page 24) for different races. Want to train for the 1650/1500? The suggested volume for a single set is 30×100, or 3000m. A well trained swimmer could potentially do two of these sets in a given training. How many swimmers in traditional programs are swimming at their 1650 pace for 3000-6000 meters every practice?

I myself tried a fairly strict interpretation of USRPT and actually found that it was better for improving performance on longer races (200 and up) because those race paces were often chronically undertrained in “traditional” programs. Olbrecht certainly doesn’t suggest training that kind of volume.

2. Aerobic fitness is the building block of swimming performance. USRPT is not aerobic training. This is one of the surest arguments that convinces me that the critic has not made an attempt to understand Rushall whatsoever.

It doesn’t help that Rushall himself has published a confusing article titled “Aerobic Training is Not Enough”. The article itself contends that USRPT is all about maximizing the aerobic system but also the “oxidative” potential of swimmers.

Now call me crazy, but there is a weird mixing of terms here, since aerobic (meaning literally “of air”) and oxidative are listed as a synonyms in some dictonaries. What is clear is that USRPT is not anaerobic training as we think of it in traditional swimming models.

As compared to Olbrecht’s traditional model, it is actually the more aerobic of the two, since Olbrecht recommends both anaerobic power and anaerobic threshold training. The rest intervals and structure of USRPT sets are specifically designed to stop swimmers before they produce significant lactic acid and tap into their anaerobic energy systems.

I think that a lot of the confusion comes from the way traditional programs structure high intensity training, they set them up as “anaerobic sets” so therefore they assume that USRPT is anaerobic training since it is done at race intensity.

3. We already train USRPT, just as a part of some practices not the whole practice. This goes a bit hand in hand with the last point. I think many coaches that assume they are incorporating it into their practices are not, because they are deviating too hard from the sets as they have been designed.

While Rushall himself states in the Outside the Lines interview that individual coaches need to adjust to their own specific situation, many of the sets I see coaches count as USRPT stray too far from the model.

Many are actually anaerobic sets and therefore not USRPT. It is also worth pointing out that volume is actually important in USRPT- and therefore if you only do it in small amounts you are unlikely to see positive results from sprinkling it into training.

4. Technique will suffer from too much high intensity training. This is another criticism that shows the misbelief that USRPT is anaerobic training. Olbrecht in fact suggests long recovery windows (48-72 hours) for training energy systems above basic aerobic capacity because of the propensity for overtraining and poor technique.

However, since USRPT is actually aerobic training, it can be done repeatedly, practice after practice, and if done properly swimmers will not fall into the bad adjustments their body can make inadvertently due to lactic overload.

Reading this you may come away assuming I am another “religious convert” of USRPT. I think it’s important to understand training models, particularly evidence based ones like Rushall’s, so that you can properly evaluate their effectiveness. I think as a community we always need to have a healthy debate about the best ways to optimize performance, but that debate needs to be informed and educated.


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dude, you hit the nail on the head. It is so hard to explain to coaches that this USRPT thing is not just anaerobic all the time. I could go on all day about it, but I like to let my racing speak for me. 🙂 Not really. I know I can’t shut up. I can’t wait for a world class distance swimmer to make the switch and see what happens.


ryan cochrane… Pretty sure he said a standard set for him was to do [email protected]:30 trying to hold :59’s. Also watch Bruce Gemmel explaining his training of Katie Ledecky. He definitely specifically says that he does a lot of her training at race pace. Quote: “really trying to get the whole group to go a lot of swims at race pace or faster. Sometimes I would think to myself I don’t know how many different ways there are to do 54-55 second hundereds. There are only so many ways that you can do them but she certainly did do a lot of them.” Other favorite quote “Cruise is an intentionally vague term that I use… I don’t want them to… Read more »


For all the cord cutter here is the piece in its entirety…

With that said if USRPT is like eating spinach, Dr. Rushall thinks you should be vegetarian?

Also here is a link to the pool setup that the Andrews family uses….

more like rushall thinks we should be meatatarians. vegetarian sounds more like never doing race pace to me.

Billy Howard

Interesting to note that in the one picture at the EZ pools site (specific to the Andrews family pool), it appears that the swimmer (likely Michael) is wearing paddles. That’s a break from Rushal’s views on equipment altering stroke mechanics and interfering with specificity. Chris, great article. I’ve trained a small group of swimmers using almost strict USRPT (we did still do some kicking) alongside more traditional training (though more on the quality side than the quantity side). The USRPT kids actually had more consistent improvement in their 200’s Long Course than the more traditional kids. I had the luxury of enough space to let the kids choose which group to be part of, so the kids had the opportunity… Read more »


Great observation! I imagine that they have done a little tinkering with the programming but thats just pure speculation on my part.

I also love the fact that you let your kids decide. Goes along with Mistake #5 from a Q&A session from the author of Coaching Myths.

As far as living in a bubble I dont get that either. I wish I had the opportunities that this young man has.

Not only great swimmers but great clubs. Coaches have to be willing to buy in fully. As for the future of USRPT only time will tell.

Kirk Nelson

Good answers to these questions, Chris, but here’s a fifth for you: Many if not most swimmers would not want to swim the same workout day after day. It’s boring. Furthermore, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest muscle confusion, i.e. “mixing things up” in training is beneficial. How do you address this in USRPT?


Kirk – Variance is simple.. Sets are designed for targeted race distances (50/100/200/500/1000/1650). One set may be 30 X 25’s Backstroke on P-100 pace, while another might be 24 X 75’s Freestyle on P-500 Pace. Put in a drill/recovery/kick/pull set (yes, I know – not USRPT prescribed, but does help recovery/perceived recovery) in between, and there you go.


My personal regimen is not USRPT, but it is similar in that it is almost entirely race pace yardage (aside from warm up, recovery sets, and cooldown), and I do the same thing every day (well, I have two practices that I alternate each day, one focusing on 50 free/100 fly and one focusing on 100 free/200 fly, but every day is the same as two days before), so I feel comfortable addressing these. I’ve been doing the same program for over a year now with only a few changes over that period and it still feels fresh and engaging. I’m constantly thinking about my technique, tempo, and just the general feel of my body through the water. There are… Read more »

Chris DeSantis

Kirk, Thanks as always for the excellent questions and commentary. This is a huge challenge of USRPT. I have several suggestions as I had to problem solve my way through this as well: 1. If you can get the kids focused on all the things that they need to keep track of during a USRPT set, it should be really engaging. Kids need to keep track of pace, whether their lactic acid is rising, at least one technical change. There’s a lot to think about! If they don’t want to think about it- I would question whether they really want to improve at swimming 2. I would encourage kids, especially younger (18 and younger) to train for a wide variety… Read more »


– How do kids keep track of whether their Lactic Acid is rising?

– Agree – kids should train for a “wide variety of events” up to age 18. But USRPT seems to focus more on specializing events, especially sprinting and maybe middle distance.

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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