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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Tim Morrison
3 years ago

I was just chatting abouy Micheal Andrew’s trouble on the last 1/4 of his races and surmised he hasn’t DONE enough lactate tolerance / threshold training.

8 years ago

Here’s some info, I can not provide the resource as it was sent to me as classified, but it was from Western Europe / Eastern Asia. As you can see as the athlete completes more 25’s the athlete moves into a lower training zone. Goal times are based off of best times. As you can see the athlete spends time in almost every training zone, including the “aerobic” zone! Just something to think about.

Physiology of a USRPT Set N x 25’s @ 1:00

N= 1-6 (SP3 or Zone 5)
N= 7-12 (SP1 & SP2 or Zone 4)
N= 13-20 (EN2 & EN3 or Zone 3)
N= 20+ (EN2 or Zone 2)

For example an athlete’s best… Read more »

Reply to  Anon
8 years ago

25’s on 1:00 is NOT a USRPT set – too much rest!

8 years ago

Are a lot of USA Swimming programs using USRPT now?

Where are these program based? (Just curious). If your program uses it, please list your state under this post.

Reply to  love2swim
8 years ago


8 years ago

One thing I haven’t seen discussed is at what age is USRPT appropriate? Age group? Senior (ie, post-puberty?).

My child’s team did a lot of race training. Honestly, I think it was stressful for the kids and created anxiety for some of the younger swimmers…having to be “ON” and racing all the time, every practice. Sure, they are more prepared for meets…but racing every practice, every day, year after year after year, seems like a lot. USA Swimming has traditionally focused on stroke training and endurance training (building aerobic capacity) first, before a lot of race training. Doesn’t that make more sense for the 12/U swimmers?

Eddie Rowe
8 years ago

Here’s the question I have. When one first starts USRPT, and do to lack of previous training of this type they fail on number 5 or 6, are they done? Would they get out after only a few hundred yards?

8 years ago

I’m a head coach and would say I’m a huge fan of race pace training. I’ve tried USRPT which I think has many many merits to it. My one critism of it would be the boredom of training it entails. A lot of my swimmers every day certainly got bored of doing the same sets even with different strokes. I got boted of coaching it. My philosophy has and is along the lines of Bob Bowman that variety in training is best.

With this I’d like to say I’m certainly not a traditionalist or advocate of garbage yardage but there is an element of fast unbroken swimming efforts that prepare the swimmer in a muscular endurance sense. I personally… Read more »

8 years ago

Good article that brings the discussion back to a truer, more accurate definition, and understanding of the content and purpose of usrpt.

There will be innovation in swimming, sports science, kinesiology, sports psychology…. get used to it, … let the data (evidence) speak for itself… be prepared to leave dogma behind.

Ignorance is the mother of devotion.

Again, nice article setting up a healthy, better informed debate.

Joel Lin
8 years ago

I have a few questions / thoughts to add and invite all USRPT advocates to bang away at them. I am not totally sold on USRPT as a single training source.

1. The gold standard for a technically perfect freestyle is Popov. Some say Thorpe, and I can see an argument for both. A staple of Popov’s training was a lot of slow yardage. I’ve read that a good many sprinters (like Ryk Neethling later in his career) had adopted programs with VERY long and slow warm ups and warm downs with very little ‘fast pace’ interval training.

The benefits of long and slow for Popov were a focus on every inch of the stroke and body position.… Read more »

Reply to  Joel Lin
8 years ago

Pieter van den Hoogenband is my icon for perfect freestyle.

Chris DeSantis
Reply to  Cynic
8 years ago

I will second Cynic. I also think van den Hoogenband was the best freestyle ever. Thorpe is seriously overrated and spawned some horrible imitations at the age group level- so many swimmers “reaching” and getting a poor catch.

Popov was liked by many because his effiency was really easy to measure (very few strokes taken). But again I would argue he spawned a lot of poor imitators with the stupid catchup freestyle.

But I digress, let me get to your questions, Joel. You are somewhat right about #2- swimmers definitely need some time to adjust to a system where the stress of a very concrete practice. It can be overwhelming in comparison to your more “passive” typical practice.

The positive… Read more »

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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