Training Spotlight: Reece Whitley, Crystal Keelan and Penn Charter Aquatic Club

As new training systems and coaching philosophies have become a hot topic among SwimSwam commenters, we’ve decided to take a deeper dive into the specifics of how some of the more successful athletes at various levels are conditioning themselves. A big thanks to Penn Charter coach Crystal Keelan for taking the time to talk with SwimSwam about her training philosophy and even sharing some of her go-to sets.


  • Club: Penn Charter Aquatic Club, Philadelphia, PA
  • Head Coach: Crystal Keelan
  • Notable swimmer: 14-year-old Reece Whitley4-event NAG record-holder

Penn Charter Aquatic Club (PCAC) is best-known right now for age group breaststroker Reece Whitley, who has crushed multiple National Age Group breaststroking records over the past several seasons and still has until next January to hunt 13-14 marks, a category almost entirely dominated by Michael Andrew. In fact, Whitley’s 200 breaststroke (1:58.39 short course) is the only 13-14 NAG under 400 yards that Andrew doesn’t own.

Training under head coach Crystal Keelan, Whitley has found a nice middle ground in training volume between Andrew’s low-yardage, quality-based training program and a more volume-conscious training system like the one used by Destin Lasco, whom we profiled last month.

Keelan said Whitley’s group puts in between 5000 and 8000 yards an evening, with morning practices running between 3000 and 5500. Whitley typically swims every evening and about one morning a week, for a total of 6-7 practices per week.

“I’m not one who’s writing a set just to get to a certain volume,” Keelan says. “I’d probably put myself a little more on the quality end of things.

“Though sometimes what I want to do turns out to be 8000 or more, so a swimmer might feel like I’m more on the volume side,” she adds, chuckling.

Though Whitley has excelled in the breaststroke races, Keelan says she’s still training him as an all-around swimmer, noting his young age and his aptitude in all four strokes.

“My philosophy as an age group coach is to try and make every swimmer better across the board in every stroke,” Keelan says. “Reece really enjoys working on his other strokes and doing IM training,” Keelan says. “So even though he’s done very well as a breaststroker, we’re still trying to focus on him as an overall age group swimmer.”

As Whitley swims his last summer as a 14-year-old, Keelan says she’s beginning the process of specializing him a little more as a breaststroker. But it doesn’t appear that Whitley will be fully pigeonholed as a one-stroke specialist anytime soon. (For reference, Whitley also holds lifetime-bests short course of 1:52.88 in the 200 IM and 4:02.23 in the 400 IM).

‘The Continual Growthspurt’

At 6’6″, Whitley is already gifted with elite height. The scary part is that he might not be done growing.

“He’s always been big,” Keelan says. “And he’s pretty much been constantly growing since I first started working with him. I call him a ‘continual growthspurt’ because he just keeps getting bigger.”

Dealing with that extra height is a big challenge Whitley faces technique-wise. Keelan said a big help in that arena has been reviewing video when Whitley’s stroke starts to change or just doesn’t feel right to him.

“One of the great things about Reece is that when he feels off, he asks a lot of questions ,” says Keelan. “If something isn’t feeling right, he’ll ask for help trying to figure out what it is.”

Often through watching film and discussing with coaches, Whitley is able to diagnose the problem, adjust his technique and continue moving forward.

SET #1: Ironman

(The set is swum straight through, with every swimmer trying to complete the whole thing in the fastest possible time).

400 IM
200 Fly
50 crunches

400 IM
200 back
20 pushups

400 IM
200 breast
50 crunches

600 IM
1:00 Plank

This version of the Ironman set definitely underscores Whitley’s continued IM and multi-stroke training. PCAC does a variation of this set to start every Saturday practice. Sometimes it will be more freestyle-based or change the individual swimming repeats or dryland exercises, but the set always combines in the pool work with dryland exercises to put a new spin on pool training.

Swimmers tackle the set straight through at their own pace, getting splits for each portion and winding up with an overall final time that they can compare to the rest of their teammates.


SET #2: Breaststroke – Stroke Count

Keelan credits Whitley’s awareness of his own stroke count as one of his biggest strengths. This set emphasizes that idea:

6 x 50 breaststroke – distance per stroke, count strokes on 1:00
6 x 50 breaststroke – holding fast pace on 1:00
8 x 100 breaststroke – holding fast pace, or on a fast interval – Whitley has done these on as fast as 1:13

100 Easy

6 x 50 breaststroke – distance per stroke, count strokes on 1:00
6 x 50 breaststroke – holding fast pace on 1:00
4 x 200 breaststroke on 2:35

This is a more breaststroke-specific set that helps Whitley get familiar with his stroke count and his walls, two areas Keelan says her breaststroker does extremely well on.


Set #3: Race set

For this set, the coaching staff divides the team into two and the two sides compete against each other to rack up the most points. Everything is all-out race-pace, and swimmers can earn points for the team by getting within 5 seconds of a personal best on any single repeat. The set allows each swimmer to score up to 22 points for his or her team.

10 x 100 Kick on 2:30
6 x 100 free on 2:30
6 x 100 primary stroke on 3:00

A few final notes:

  • Keelan has a weekly plan that incorporates certain training styles on certain days:
    • Mondays are aerobic swims and a big kick set
    • Tuesdays are threshold freestyle
    • Wednesdays are IM sets and lactate training
    • Thursdays are prime stroke days, typically a full breaststroke workout for Whitley
    • Fridays are “from a dive” days, anywhere from 25s to 300s always from a dive to train racing starts
    • Saturdays are a longer practice, around 3 hours, and mix sets from the various groups
  • Keelan and Whitley have been working to add consistent dryland training to the swimmer’s routine as he continues to grow. Keelan says Whitley does between 2 and 4 hours of dryland a week.
  • Every piece of a PCAC set has a very specific focus. Some of the race aspects Keelan seems to especially focus on are walls and stroke counts.
  • The team typically trains long course during the summer months, but is currently splitting time between a short course yards pool and an outdoor short course meters facility.
  • Whitley’s major focus for the summer is long course swimming though – he’ll be swimming the 100 and 200 breaststroke at Junior Nationals, and seems to be on the hunt for the 13-14 NAGs in both long course breaststrokes. He went 1:04.33 this past weekend in the 100 breast, just half a second off of Andrew’s NAG.

Penn Charter Aquatic Club’s website is here.

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Jake Automann

Can’t wait to see what Reece Whitley has in store for us this summer!

Colin Reilly

Reece actually goes 1:52.88 in 200im

Lane 10

Really great kid!!!!!!! But why is he going to bolles for 7 weeks this summer if he is doing so well at PCAA?????

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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