Getting ready for USRPT…

USRPT makes so much sense! Ive yet to hear a valid argument against the concept although I get it that for some coaches and athletes it is too far a cry away from what they are used to doing and what they believe works. I even know coaches who admit that all of there evidential musings around traditional training are purely anecdotal – but they have seen enough top swimmers and world class coaches yield results that this a sufficient evidence to justify their philosophies. Im totally cool with that – but for me, as a  swimmer who always struggled to engage with the endless repetitions (300s pull; 400s reducing; T20s etc) and as a coach who has always looked for different methodologies in eliciting training responses (ultra short work; pool circuits; tabata protocols; race pace repeats etc) and achieving success with these models, USRPT is I believe a great way of getting in the pool, getting the job done… and going home!!

So in addition to the sets and sessions I’m posting this year (of all things Ultra Short) I’m adding a build in guide to nailing some USRPT sets. Because they are very hard, particularly if you are not sufficiently fit enough to engage fully in them just yet!!

As with the previous Ultra Short posts, were assuming here that you are in some form of a training programme and are looking for ways to develop an extra edge – if not then whilst the format can still be of benefit, you are going to have to adjust your targets accordingly and take your time before you begin hitting race pace. Also, don’t forget that this is my take on building these qualities – all the background, research and super cool stuff about the evolution of USRPT is available from the creator himself Dr Brent Rushall here.

Stage 1: Building the qualities!

The first set we are going to plan is:

20×50@60 fs (a nice round number working off 20-30 seconds rest, increase or decrease this if your targets are faster/slower than the example below – for novice age groupers its sometimes a good idea to not worry too much about rest time initially as they will have a lot of other stuff such as reading the clock on their plate).

This is not therefore strictly a USRPT set (as it tweaks the rest allowance), but it’s about building up to it at this stage – learning to swim with consistent pace, learning to spot the clock and immediately read your time, to drop underwater 1 second before your start time to ensure you push off on the dot and also to become familiar with the fail-rest-repeat process.

Next we need a target time – If an athlete has a 200m personal best or season target use this, divide it by 4, then add 3!

eg: target time/P.B = 2:00. Divide by 4 = 30 seconds, add 3 = 33 seconds!

Now get to the pool, warm up, then try the set! Each repetition should be swum in 33 seconds (allowing 27 seconds rest – ample!)

The aim is that if you cannot hold 33 seconds for a rep, you miss the next one out to gain a bit more recovery (but still count the missed one within the 20 repetitions). Eg. if number 12 is a failed rep, number 13 is missed and you resume the set on number 14.

3 fails or 2 in a row! Throughout the 20 reps, if you fail 3 repetitions i.e. numbers 8, 14 and 17 then you stop the set. We accept that there will be no benefit from pushing any further as theres a good chance your brain is pretty blown! In the same manner if you fail a repetition, miss one out, then fail the first rep back in, again you are done and the set is stopped (again with novice age groupers you may initially enforce larger rests so the 3 fail rule becomes a further developmental process once the concept of the set is achieved at a manageable pace).

Progress/regress/maintain as needed: at this stage the set should be manageable, there may be one or two fails in there, maybe 3, but the aim is to achieve most of the 50s, in particular the first 12 in a row is a good sign that you are competent swimming at that pace.

Regress: If all fails are up before 12 then the pace is too fast. Cool off, add another second to your time and try again tomorrow (always aim to leave 24 hours between same sets).

Progress: if all 20 are swum fairly comfortably, take 1 second off!

Maintain: If fails occur – ones that don’t require the increase of the target i.e. reaching 15+ in total after all fails, keep going with the set. Each exposure aim to hit just 1 more repetition than the last time you did it.

Consolidate and move on: As mentioned above, 12 repetitions in a row is a good marker. Aim for this and once you hit it, aim to hit it on two more separate exposures. On these subsequent 2 you may find that you improve even further (which is great) but it will also ensure that sufficient motor learning has taken place for your new skill endurance level to be embedded and ready to be moved on! At this point, drop your target to +2!

Smaller progressions: as you improve your sets it may be necessary to increment by ~0.5s as a full second may be too much of a jump. Timing yourself to be ‘under 32’, rather than 31 is a good method here.

Goal: to achieve most of 20×50 (12 in a row minimum on 3 successive exposures) hitting your actual goal time of 30 seconds. Then were ready for building the 100 qualities, before moving to stage 2!

The set will take 20 minutes, with a small warm up and maybe a couple of lengths paddle at the end to cool off you will done in 30 mins! The perfect lunch break set before grabbing some choccy milk and back to work! Or its even a great way to start your normal age groupers session before getting back to more skills, working turns or underwater kicking!!

Aim for 3 sets per week to really advance (1 session to maintain, 2 to progress, 3 to advance!)

Next time we’ll start to build in USRPT style for the 100… See ya!


Race skills 101… Underwater kicking

In keeping with our favourite tradition of fast stuff first, here’s a great little ultra short race skills set to improve the all important underwater phase in order to maintain that speed off the block and wall…

Firstly, apt to reiterate that the purpose of the underwater kick is to maintain speed off the dive and turn, not to develop it! In contrast to a running sprint where speed needs to be built rapidly over the first part of the race, a swimmer is never again travelling as fast in the water as the moment that they first enter after the dive! And never again in the race until the short accelerative burst off the wall…

This is important as it massively dictates the way we should be thinking about how we kick! And without at this point delving too much into the wonderful world of hydrodynamics, or that of Newton’s laws of motion – it will probably suffice to say that the larger/wider/bigger an object is travelling through the water, the more the resistance there is slowing it down and that the more we move in the opposite way in which we wish to travel, again the greater the consequence.


Here’s a quick snapshot of a swimmer performing underwater kicks with an excessive knee drop and we can see that as the knee bends to store energy ready to kick, the forward momentum off the wall is compromised owing to the thigh pushing water (propelling) in the opposite direction! Not only is frontal resistance increased greatly but the pitched knee then sets the angle for the down kick, which instead of driving water backwards, sends it diagonally down, the hips go up and the snowball continues! This could be mirrored with a horizontal thigh but an excessive heel lift creating the same effect but on the top side. Either way lots of effort here is needed but it just results in more energy being wasted as no speed is maintained and resistance is high = slow break out!!

So in order to maximise the maintenance of speed we want the kick to be small and fast, from the hips and as much as possible remain within the depth of the widest part of the body (usually the rib cage).

The kicks should stab backwards with the ankles plantar flexed and the torso and arms held in a fixed streamline position.

We also want to be able to endure up to 15m of these fast kicks without compromising energy expenditure: this is where the ultra short set comes in…

Try 12x15m underwater kicks @ 35-40 seconds.

The rest will not be quite enough to fully recover and fatigue will start to set in as the set progresses. Aim to fight the fatigue and maintain the fast tempo of the kicks – but remember, if it all breaks down, take a break!

Gradually your endurance to completing the set will improve and from there performing it 2-3 times per week will improve the speed at which you kick further as well as maintain your gains and promote the skill for transfer into race day!

Give it a try, small and fast! And do it first…

Ultra Short Practicalities! Session 1…

As with any type of training modality, Ultra Short is something that can fairly easily be explained and documented, but in the reality of actually performing a race pace set, questions and queries can be rife. This is often the case with ‘example’ sets: they are fine in principle, but where do you go to the next time? How is the training progressed?

In this New Year, New Series we are going to look at some specific set ideas and some progressions and regressions to assist adaptation to individual environments; all encased in week by week development schedule!!

Look out for detailed analyses of sets, progressive USRPT ideas as well as cut to the chase posts a la  here’s a set – just go and try it!

So to kick off mid January – at a time when most athletes have been back in to a training regime for a couple of weeks to shift the Xmas Inch – we are going to start with a simple Ultra Short set to blast the cobwebs fully and show your body and mind that this year you are going to swim FAST!!

Always start with a warm up – we all know this but contrary to most pool programmes however this doesn’t have to be done in the pool! Spend 15 minutes raising the body temperature (skipping, moving, jog on spot etc) and mobilising key areas (shoulders/hips) finished with something explosive to get you fully primed. One of our favourite go to warm ups is:

4 x 20 seconds high knees on the spot: 20 seconds rest between each

4 x 4-5 good quality reps each of Inch Worm; Spiderman Rotations; Reverse Lunge and Reach; Leg Cradle with Ankle Raise… {or choose some of your fave’s)

3 x (4 x Medi Ball Slam; Box Jump) {Squat Jump and Clap Press Up could work here if no equipment}

Primed and ready to go…

3 x (up to*) 10 x 12.5m max effort no breathing @ 20 (if able to go across width) or with the rest of the length easy and 5 seconds to catch your breath in a 25m pool. 1-2 minutes break between sets…

*Ultra Short offers the highest level of specificity and so work must be high quality, if before 10 reps you feel the stroke breaking down stop, take your recovery and then start again on the next set – remember you can build the amount of reps you do each time you subsequently hit the pool…

Thats it! Cool down in the pool if you like or hit the shower and stretch off… Or if you are in a structured session and still have an hour to kill – work some skills or go through some of your normal sets, just don’t pile into a big aerobic set or you’ll kill the speed and not just the time!!!

Repeat this Ultra Short session twice a week until you can hit all 3 sets of 10 and we’ll be back real soon with session 2!

Ultra Short, in a long pool…

After a recent University Open Day and talking to some prospective swimmers – the question of Long Course (50m) training was raised. The assumption here is that for some as yet undefined reason long course training will be better for you than short course – I guess because its longer, and longer equals better, right? That’s the traditional swimmer mentality for you right there…..

Longer doesn’t equal better, BETTER = BETTER!!! Read More

Short on time… and space!!!!!

A recent email I received from a Masters swimmer – whom I have worked with for a number of years – and is now looking to get training done in a new environment due to relocation, was:

“How should/can I adapt my training when swimming in public sessions and the lanes are pretty stacked – so ultimately my turnaround times go out the window?”
For an athlete on a remote coaching programme, this can be a real issue – particularly when work commitments, family etc all have to be factored in and it’s not quite so easy as to ‘go train at a different time!!’

Fortunately, as with the entire philosophy of VB Race Club, we are set to make the difficult manageable… Read More

Bobcat Basics… Conditioning for Ultra Short work…

Ultra Short work may seem at its very core a pretty easy form of training. Short repeats, short rest, short workload! When we are looking at perception of an activity, then this probably holds true. Particularly in a sport where it is the norm to train volumes akin to a 400m runner embarking upon a daily marathon regime!! (Im pretty sure the runner would not entertain the idea of such a drastic form of overload, but in swimming it seems par for the course…) Read More