McGinnis: 5 Training Tips For Sprinters

by SwimSwam 42

June 23rd, 2014 News, Training, Training Intel

Eric McGinnis is the Rollins College Strength & Conditioning Coach and Sports Performance Specialist, a former Kentucky All-American and World University Games gold medalist, and the brother of former Virginia Tech All-American Zach McGinnis. He also is a trainer at Spectrum Sports Performance. Follow him on Twitter here and on Facebook here.

Everybody wants to be a sprinter, but any experienced swimmer knows that swimming fast can be harder than it looks. Here are five tips, in no particular order, that can help you with your speed problems.

elvis-burrows-nike copy1. Know The Details

Sprinters rarely have to endure the boredom of swimming endless laps on a day-to-day basis. The trade-off is, as a sprinter, you need to be extra dialed in to the “boring” details that make up perfecting your race. These include, but are not limited to, tempo, stroke cycles, number of dolphin kicks off the start and turns, and timing of the breakouts. One of the beautiful things about swimming is that, for the most part, you ALWAYS know what to expect on race day. It’s not unpredictable like team sports, which means you should know exactly what to prepare for and what works best for you.

2. Don’t Get Carried Away With Lactate Sets

Let me be clear, I’m not against preparing the body for lactate threshold. However, lactate sets have become overly trendy and are often marketed as both “sprinter workouts” and “mental toughness workouts”. When you do overly aggressive sets like 20x50s all-out, the best you’re going to do is swim fast once or twice and then hopefully not throw up. Lactate threshold is difficult to recover from and can kill your speed. Don’t do it too often, and keep the volume of efforts at a reasonable number.

3. Embrace Rest

You are an athlete. This means you train, you don’t workout. You’re goal is to create a very specific adaptation, which in this case is swimming VERY fast. In order to get fast you have to train fast, which requires adequate rest and recovery. I’m not just talking about tapering; I’m talking about recovery within the workout, recovery within the week, and recovery within the program as a whole. If you ever get a chance to watch track sprinters or weightlifters train, pay attention to how much they recover between max efforts. Also pay attention to how AGGRESSIVE they are when they perform an effort. I realize that swimming is not track and certainly not weightlifting, but the bottom line is speed and power need rest.

4. Practice Breathing At Full Speed

This is a very underutilized training piece in my opinion. As a swimmer, you breathe hundreds of times per practice. How many of those breaths are practiced at race pace? When you’re swimming all-out the tempo is higher and the execution needs to be cleaner. This becomes most important if you take a breath somewhere in your 50 freestyle. Many of you might take 1 or 2 breaths in a long course 50. Know exactly when you will take your breaths and then practice them at an all-out pace in short increments. You can perform 12.5 meter sprints where you practice that breath at full speed while visualizing it being on the same stroke cycle you will take during the full 50.

5. Train Speed Year Round

I’m strongly against putting off speed work until the end of a season. Building an aerobic base is not necessary for speed development; it only helps you recover faster from the high intensity work. If you want to be fast you have to train fast. Just a reminder, we’re trying to create an adaptation for speed. It wouldn’t be wise to spend a great deal of time training slow.

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“If you want to be fast, you have to train fast”…..MOST DEFINITELY AGREE!!


“If you want to be fast, you have to train fast”

Yeah, but is this really true!? The other school of thoughts is super slow swimming training, the way Alex Popov did. He did pretty well that way, I think. People are throwing around “suggestions” without any proven scientific backing to it. I **believe** in training slow most of the time, and only fast to “train the brain” for racing.

Eric McGinnis

The super slow stuff is mainly dealing with improving from the technical side of things and there is nothing wrong with that. I prefer training for sprinters to be mostly really slow or really fast, not too much in between. It’s easier for the nervous system to make technical adjustments at slower speed. Outside of working on technical improvements, you need to train at max speed to improve max speed. The point of number 4 is that your body will adapt to the stress you constantly put on it. You have to hit max speed in your training in order to get good at it.


Right. You call it “rehearsal” I called it “train the brain.” My point was only that it should not be “train (only) fast to swim fast.”


i’m going to go ahead and say, ya the slow stuff is great for working on technique but you HAVE to train those fast twitch muscles.

Pat Windschitl

I sat in on a seminar hosted by Vlad Pyshneko, a teammate of Popov’s, earlier this year and he commented on the super slow training that they did back in the USSR/Russia. One thing he mentioned was that while it’s super slow, it was also incredibly high yardage with an average day hitting over 30k with triple workouts in the pool. Vlad also said that while he trained with 30k a day, he’s made the decision that the club team he runs in the US won’t do more than 5k per day on average, rarely doubles if any, and there is a bigger push for speed and quality race swimming. There’s a time and place for everything, and different groups… Read more »

Steve Nolan

That first line reminded me of Ronnie Coleman and that is always a good thing.

Eric McGinnis

I’m very glad it did. LIGHT WEIGHT!!!!


That was incredible. I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen.


Jensen Morris

HAHAHA “everybody wanna be a bodybuilder but nobody wanna lift [email protected]$$ weight!” I can’t believe someone else on swimswam follows Ronnie Coleman too!


Perhaps more than any other swimmer of his day, Popov believed in race pace efforts. You are overly fixated on his recovery and drill work. I have a hard time understanding your post and your issue with the article.

Nathan Smith

Agreed here. Swimming at slower speeds to recover is part of swimming at race pace effort for sprinters. Active recovery as many like to call it. I’m not sure how Popov trained, but I don’t think this article is saying you should never swim slow. It’s more discouraging brainless lap swimming at aerobic pace for sprinters. Maybe I’m wrong and Mr. McGinnis is advocating only swimming at race pace speed and sitting around on the deck to recover, but I doubt it.


Nathan – Agreed on the “probably not talking about recovering on the deck” part! 🙂

Old sprinter

I’ve read numerous articles but Touretski, Popov’s coach. A key element was rehearsal swims. Within a year of a major competition the goal was 100 rehearsal swims mimicking all racing conditions. He felt that at that number, no element would be left to chance. Also, about three weeks out of a championship meet he would do a full on race rehearsal over the course of several days. All recovery was done to supplement the all out swims.


exactly , he is often in another realm than just the point the article talks about !


rehearsel swims must be very effective to feel what’s like on ” J ” day of the final .