courtesy of James Fike, Founder and CEO of Fike Swim
I changed what worked and for the first time in three years I failed to go a best time.
When I started on this less-is-more-swim-different journey almost four years ago, I had one goal: break :55 in the 100 yard breaststroke. If I had gone that time in college, I would have qualified for the NCAA Championships that our team won three years in a row, and earned the ring that only the guys who qualified were allowed to receive. The goal wasn’t just material, though. For the 18 years it took me to finally break :55, I wanted to prove to myself that I was good enough to say I was a Texas Longhorn. Now here I am at 40 years old with a :53.8 and 1:58.0 (never saw the 200 breast working out), and now I have a new goal: qualifying for one more Olympic Trials (my first and last Trials was in 2000). That dream was just about crushed with the release of the 2024 standards. Just, wow. The new time is 1:02.1 in the 100 (so basically 1:01) and my best is 1:04.4. Yeah, I know. This summer I changed the recipe to try to accelerate the conversion of my success in short course to long course. It didn’t work.
For the first time in three years I failed to go a best time when I shaved and tapered. At Futures in College Station, I went almost half a second slower in the 100 (1:04.7). The 200 was awful, so I’m not even gonna go there. Here is what happened and why you should never mess with a good thing:
Long course is a different animal, maybe a different sport. It takes away my biggest strength, which is walls, and shifts the importance from power to endurance. With that in mind, I got scared and upped my yardage. Not the total yardage, which stayed roughly the same, about 10-12k per week. But I increased my breaststroke yardage within the same totals, in some practices doubling or more the amount of breaststroke. If you’ve read my other articles or seen my vlog, you know this set is a perfect example of my usual training:
50 fast @ :55
3×50 easy @ :55
50 fast @ 1:00
2×50 easy @ 1:00
50 fast @ 1:05
50 easy @ 1:05
This is 600 meters of sprinting, which I thought was insufficient for long course (even though I dropped half a second last year using sets likes this!). When I looked at the fact that my stroke count goes from 24 with four pushes in yards to 42 with two pushes in long course, I changed the set above to the following:
100 @ 1:30 at 200 pace
3×50 easy @ 1:00
75 @ 1:30 at 100 pace
2×50 easy @ 1:00
50 fast @ 1:00
50 easy @ 1:00
50 dead sprint
This is 1,100 meters of breaststroke. I also did this set a couple times:
300 breast (long glide focusing on slamming the head back down, no pullouts)
200 breast (same)
100 breast (same)
This is 1,500 meters of breaststroke and it was brutal. My body was so wreaked the next day I thought for sure I was on the right path (obviously still have some of that conventional swimming mentality of “grinding down the body equals faster swimming”). The real problem was not just that I over-trained, it was that I didn’t notice the need for more rest during the training cycle. Instead of doing these sets every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday like normal, I probably should have taken it easy on Thursday.
This was actually a good change. Since I don’t have a long course pool for training, I had to come up with a way to mimic 50 meters. The solution was to skip pullouts on the even 25s and to come to the surface before I reach the flags. It was a very good simulation of that unique long course fatigue.
More Kicking and Pulling
One of the issues I ran into while training for short course last season was heavy leg fatigue from pushing hard in the weight room, so I cut out kicking. Again, power over endurance in short course. However, this spring and summer I backed off the legs in the weight room and brought back some kick sets. As for pulling, the problem I have always had in long course is my arms locking up in the last 20 meters. So in the 100-75-50-25 set above, I would sometimes go to pulling for the last 50 of each round and increase the tempo to practice working through the fatigue. I’ll mention the 200 at Futures this one time, then never speak of it again. At the 150 my body started to shut down and pain tore through it at the 175 like never before, including in my legs, which never feel that tired at the end of the race. Another sign I over-trained and under-rested.
Some of the takeaways are obvious:
It’s very easy to over-train and very hard to over-rest.
Periods of feeling sore and fatigued have to be balanced with periods or moments of feeling strong and sharp. These are the ups and downs of training. However, at no point in any in-season race this summer did I feel good, and that should have been a red flag.
One of the less-obvious takeaways is this:
The fact that you can expect the same results if you do the same training should lead to tweaking a successful recipe, not overhauling it. Fewer pullouts was a tweak. 300s breast was a complete overhaul, one akin to lighting the recipe on fire and creating a new one in gibberish.
As much as I would love to throw up two middle fingers to long course and run back to the loving embrace of yards, I have to stick with it until 2024 and find tweaks that work for me.
- Yes, I’ll be bringing back the old sets of lower yardage and high intensity.
- I have to work on higher tempo. The kids I race crush me on tempo, with my speed only sustained by the strength of my pushes. I’ll seek out some long course training for the old sets to help with the endurance needed to maintain a high tempo.
- I’ll continue to place more importance on pull-ups (unweighted, maximum number) as a measure of my ability to balance power and endurance.
- I will not be adding more weight to my frame. I thought about going to 225lbs from 220lbs, but my swims at Futures were like a battleship racing jet skis.
If you have any sets that might help, please share. Good luck with your training, SWIM DIFFERENT!
If you like this video and want to know more, stay tuned to the Fike Swim:
About Fike Swim
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-James Fike, Founder
Fike Swim Products was born when founder James Fike put a brick on top of a kickboard and transformed just another legs-only kick set into a total body workout felt into the next day. Since then it’s been our mission to create unique swim equipment with the single-minded goal of making you faster. We don’t sell toys. We create tools to help you reach your potential.
I think the less is more is different when it comes to long course versus short course, for the reasons Fike mentioned of what helps him. Short course is a more power based, with walls and underwaters playing a much larger role. Long course, meanwhile, has a lot more strokes with power playing a lesser role, so for long course I think it’s the case that conditioning matters more
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This was an outstanding article. Thank you for your observations and ruthless recounting of missteps. It shows character and humility. Please continue to discuss your training with us, and keep moving forward.
Thank you for the support, appreciate it!
I noticed that the majority of your fast/race pace work is 50s/75s – any thought to getting more 25s in? Like doing sets of 6-10 x 25s on :30-:40? Easier to get a higher volume of race pace training in since 25s are far less taxing than 50s. Thoughts?
Yes, absolutely! Up until about a year ago I was doing a 25s sprint set every couple weeks, but then I started focusing on power too much. In the last year I think I only did a 25s sprint set a couple times, so the pendulum will swing back towards more of that in order to develop better tempo. Thanks!
My coach in college had us swim 12,000 yards a day. Only rest day was Sunday. Also, he influenced the coaching staff in the weight room for us to lift like football players.
I can only imagine all the SLAP tears on your varsity team.
Hi James? Do you normally train alone or with others? If alone, how do you deal with the mental challenge of hopping in the pool/training alone day in/out?
Unfortunately I have to train alone, because my training is so unique. I really miss having teammates and the camaraderie that comes with taking a beating together, but it’s too hard to try to adjust traditional sets to my needs. Occasionally I can get a masters swimmer to join me and they do freestyle to my breaststroke, but otherwise it’s just me. Regarding the mental challenge, this is the hardest part of what I do. I have to approach every workout like it’s the most important, most influential one of my career, even the monotonous, routine recovery practices, because it’s easy to cut corners on those and not do all the activation beforehand or to rush through the swim since… Read more »
Stick to the brick, that works. what have you been doing to increase power??
Why is power more important?
The question was, what have you been doing to increase power? Power equals strength, strength equal speed and speed kills.
Yes, The Brick, thank you! My power increased significantly as I got heavier and stronger. I’m at a point, though, where I feel like I don’t need to get any stronger, but rather need to use my time in the weight room to improve the duration of my power and the speed and technique with which I execute a movement (ie lower weight with greater acceleration). To that end, I’ve begun changing up my weight room exercises, for instance, with the pull ups I mentioned above, but many other things as well. Resistance cords and power towers are great, I love them. They’re not only good for power but also technique, as they have this wonderful ability to help you… Read more »
Thanks for the posts about your swim journey!
Since you invited some brainstorming about sets to train for 100m long course in a short course training environment I would invite you to meditate on the following: what if you tweaked your training to pretend you were training for a 150 yard race? Or even once in a while a 200 yd race?
I think Nathan Adrian would once in a while enter a 200 yd free, but never ever a 200 long course.
When I train for 200 short course I had a favorite test set:
Let’s say my target time was 1:58, ideally splitting 28(2sec advantage from dive)30/30/30
Then 4×50 active rest,… Read more »
Thank you, that’s a good one!