Beyond the Pancakes: How Does Todd DeSorbo Train Sprinters?

In Practice + Pancakes, SwimSwam takes you across the country and through a practice day in the life of swimming’s best athletes. It breaks down training sessions, sub sets, and what every team is doing to be at their best. But why are they doing things that way? What’s the philosophy behind these decisions, and who’s driving this pain train? In Beyond the Pancakes, we dive inside the minds of coaches and athletes, getting a first hand look at why they do the things they do, and where their minds are pointed on the compass of evolution as a swimmer.

It’s what so many swim fans want to see: the very fastest possible, and then get faster. Training sprinters to be as fast as they possibly can comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and philosophies. For UVA head coach Todd DeSorbo, it means going as fast as you can. All the time.

DeSorbo started our interviewing by sharing a piece of a conversation he had with a track coach years back. DeSorbo asked the coach how he coached sprinters, and the track coach replied that he focused most of their time on the first 15-20 meters of a 100 meters race (in swimming terms, the start and breakout). This resonated with DeSorbo, for in his mind, building power and explosiveness takes much more time than building aerobic capacity.

This leads us to DeSorbo’s method. He uses lots of resistance coupled with maximum effort to train a sprinters body to explode off of the blocks and walls. When they aren’t going 100%, they are doing thoughtful drills and skill work to hone in on technique. In the weight room, DeSorbo tells UVA’s strength coach that he want’s his athletes to be able to dunk a basketball, with an emphasis on their vertical leap.

See Todd DeSorbo’s power workout with Olympian Jack Conger here.

See SwimSwam’s 1st Practice + Pancakes with University of Virginia here.

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Seriously though, everything he says makes sense and everything he says makes me regret ever being born… at least when I was… If I had this training system or a coach with this philosophy, then who knows… as I am sure there are 1000 others out there thinking the same thing. Sprinters only doing 5k max per day, yes please… I dont care if it is all at max effort for a 2-3k practice. That is what my taper was like and they are doing this mid season. My only thought is that once this method or training style catches on more and you start seeing clubs do it… the improvement when they enter college will go away. I feel… Read more »

Will 37

Agreed! Also we can see that more and more elite sprinters trained like that. Ben Proud, Manaudou, Fratus..etc
I feel like more coaches need to be able to accept new types of training, instead of always believing in the same thing

Steve Nolan

My only thought is that once this method or training style catches on more and you start seeing clubs do it… the improvement when they enter college will go away.”

They’ll enter college being way better, tho? Male athletes in particular should still improve a good amount, just b/c of being 18-22 yo and getting a lot stronger basically just by accident.


Counter argument: if you’re only swimming a 50/100, is an aerobic base really necessary? Michael Andrew’s USRPT is a more extreme version of Desorbo’s philosophy and he’s never really done much, if any, of the heavy yardage aerobic training. He’s turned out fine.

If the swimmers enjoy it, I say use the high intensity training philosophy. A happy swimmer is a fast swimmer

Steve Nolan

I don’t even know if MA’s training is more “extreme” than what DeSorbo was describing in the video.

(I’m sure they do eventually swim things longer than 8 strokes, but MA’s USRPT doesn’t do weights, buckets or even drills, I think. If anything it’s the most “pure” thing you can do idk I’m just saying stuff now.)


Recently he has let on that he is lifting/considering lifting, but looking at it from a general athletic/durability stand point. What Michael Andrew is doing is nothing like what Desorbo is doing. They both believe there shouldn’t be any wasted time for sprint training, from an aerobic training stand point, but their approaches are nothing alike.


On a spectrum from the 1970’s 10k yard days to Michael Andrew’s USRPT 2-3k days, Desorbo is closer to the MA end of the spectrum. The use of more equipment, like buckets and paddles, seems to be a technological innovation in the sport, not a fundamental shift in training philosophy.


in January, MA posted a vblog about his morning workout and saying in the description that “All week we have been grinding 90 x 50s at 200 pace (30 x free, 30 x back, 30 x IM order)”. And I think he did some warmup and other things at the end that makes it a 5K workout.
5K, all speed/pace work – that’s quite a lot. What was skipped are the extended warmup and warm down or pure kicking/pulling/drill works.
(video link –


It seems to me that talk may or may not be completely true. For example, the kid who says he threw a rock and left out “broke the window”. Not really a lie and not the whole story. Unless you are there everyday, I think it’s a grain of salt what they say/write about training.


Based on the short video, Todd’s philosophy for these swimmers is very similar to the conditioning elements of USRPT for 50 and 100 swimmers. However, USRPT’s priorities are 1) Race Technique Repetition 2) Racing Psychology and 3) Race-Specific Conditioning. Todd says the words “technique” and “drills” but he’s just explaining a conditioning program in the video. He doesn’t mention any specific technical elements the swimmers are working on. [I’m sure he instructs technique off camera] A single 50 doesn’t need a volume-heavy “aerobic base” in the central system but swimming dozens of 25’s at your 50 pace in a session does require a significant aerobic capacity in the peripheral muscle. Otherwise, your training sessions are too short to elicit significant… Read more »

Ol' Longhorn

Have no idea why you got downvoted. Grew up doing traditional 15,000 meters/day swimming for 100 meter events, moved to USRPT as a masters. Anyone who things trying to do 30 X 25 at 100 race pace with 15 sec raest doesn’t tax your aerobic capacity, hasn’t ever done it. Principle difference with Desorbo is the use of in-water resistance and equipment.


Well said.


That’s a good question, and I argue that it is necessary. An aerobic base enables an athlete to recover far more quickly that an athlete that is not well conditioned. There is also the neuromuscular adaptations that come with thousands of yards, necessarily swim more slowly, with perfect technique.

It’s no accident that Michael Andrew is mist competitive in the 50s. He trained in the anaerobic zone throughout his developmental years. To be sure he has some aerobic fitness from USRPT, but not the normal amount for a swimmer at his level. And that’s fine; he has followed a different path.


I think if you can combine MA’s USRPT regime and Desorbo’s regime you would find a good balance between the two that would be ideal for a lot of people out there. Improve your top end speed + learn to maintain that speed for longer periods of time. Kind of what Phoneix swim club does, but with more additional capacity work to improve your top end speed. There’s a place for capacity work and speed endurance work in training programs


“ I feel like this only works with the base that they build in HS and with their club teams.” I agree. I fear age group coaches will adopt this philosophy only to short circuit their athletes development. The anaerobic-first approach works well with physically mature athletes who have put in the work to obtain neuromuscular adaptations. I wonder if Ryan Hoffer is a victim of a club coach who got greedy for breakout swims, and pushed anaerobic power workouts on a body that was still developing and needed more general training to acquire the neuromuscular “grooves” in his system through slower, longer, technically perfect training. I realize I am making assumptions from the outside, however Hoffer has just barely… Read more »


Interesting point. I see where you are coming from, expect the body treats at slow and fast swimming at completely different techniques. Plus, he was really physically mature at 16, a 41.2 isn’t a easy time to break through. I don’t think he has a problem with aerobic capacity given his ability to perform over 13 races at NCAAs


Hoffer going to one of the best schools in the country on a hefty scholarship doesn’t qualify him as a “victim”. A club coaches job should be to get a kid in to the best college possible with the largest amount of scholarship. So make them as fast as you possibly can. If the college coach can’t get them faster then that is their problem and they need to get better as a coach. I doubt Todd is offering more scholarship money to the 22.5 kid doing 8000 yards a day that he is to the 21.5 kid doing 4000 yards. The faster kid gets more money and opportunity, coaches may want “no weights, aerobic base” but until they pay… Read more »


Hoffer could have gone two seconds slower in the 100 free, and attended any school he wished on a full ride. 41.2 was unnecessary at 16, and might have truncated his development. Can’t say I know for sure but it is possible.


He also could have gone 43.2 in HS, not got any faster in college, lost scholarship money, be in more financial debt than he is now. “can’t say I know for sure but it is possible”. Best bet is to just make the kids fast. There is also a good chance that if he was 43.2 in HS and is now a 40.2 that his scholarship wouldn’t have been increased at all. Get the many you can when you can kids!


The 21.5 kid isn’t getting any money either 😉


Would Hoffer have gone a 21.5 with slower, more aerobic training? No, he would have gone far, far faster. Fast enough for a four year ride to any school in the country. I am more than prepared to sell a kit out for speed if that is what it takes to get him or her a scholarship. But that is not always necessary.

Ol' Longhorn

Of course, he may also have dropped out of the sport.


A girl would!

Ol' Longhorn

“Neuromuscular grooves.” There’s a new one.

Steve Nolan

This, plus all your other follow-ups, is insane.

You have no idea what Hoffer did in HS or what he does now in college. For all you know, he did exactly what you wish he did. The only thing you really want is for him to have gone slower in high school? It boggles the mind why that is somehow a positive thing. It comes with no guarantee he’d be going faster now!


Also, Hoffer was as physically developed as most college freshmen by the time he was going those times. He was an early bloomer. A very talented one. That’s why he was so fast in high school. And, mind you, he’s STILL very fast. To say that he should have waited until the end of his period of rapid physical development to start training sprint makes an assumption about his physical development that doesn’t appear to be the case.


Ahmen, I swim 3000ish yards 4-5 times a week post college and have beaten several best times. I warm up and then get right into pace/speed work or whatever i think i need rather than garbage yardage just to brag about how much i can swim.


Agreed. It is amazing how fast you can go with just focused 30-45 min workouts as a Masters swimmer (if you keep you races at 100 or less)


I think the key is what he said at around 6:25 in the video – in short – it is hard and mentally taxing to do 100% maximum effort, 100% discipline and 100% focus on execution, all the times. He quoted an example of 12 strokes with 1 minute rest – those 12 strokes need to be max effort, perfect technique, or the swimmer is not going to get anything out of it. now this come back to whether and how many high school kid get that concept even if the coach ask for it, and how many do it day in day out. I am sure some of the rising stars we see now got it and thus show… Read more »


And Salo has been saying it since the 80’s



Billy Howard

I’d be interested to hear his thoughts on how this philosophy applies down into age group swimming based on his recruiting experiences. Do swimmers from volume-based programs end up thriving more in his opinion, or would he rather work with kids who grew up with this same philosophy?


I’ve been involved with Todd’s camps since he first started them with Bobby Guntoro at N.C. State, and his comments regarding this have been, we want the kids that can train 6000-7500 yards, then we’ll decrease the volume and increase the intensity, turning them into sprinters once they arrive on campus.



Justin Ress

I can say from personal experience that it works fairly well coming from volume-based programs 😅

About Coleman Hodges

Coleman Hodges

Coleman started his journey in the water at age 1, and although he actually has no memory of that, something must have stuck. A Missouri native, he joined the Columbia Swim Club at age 9, where he is still remembered for his stylish dragon swim trunks. After giving up on …

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