Add this simple set of 400s to your weekly training programme for long term benefits
Variety might be the spice of life and mixing things up in your training can be a good way to keep things interesting. I have come across coaches who make a point of never setting the same session twice for this reason. They also like to add (in my view, unnecessary) complexity to sessions. However, there is under-appreciated value in repetition and in keeping things simple. Depending on how often you swim, there’s a lot to be said in favour of a simple but challenging training session you repeat weekly or fortnightly.
Firstly, regularly repeating the same training session is a great way to gauge your fitness, recovery and motivation, especially if you can do it at the same time and place each week. On a weekly basis, you get to feel how your swimming is impacted by total training volume, what you did the day before, what you’ve eaten and how much you’ve slept. Secondly, you can monitor long term changes in your swimming. Another advantage is that you don’t have to tax your imagination, thinking of something different to do each time. And if you swim with other people, once you’ve agreed what the session is once, you avoid discussion and debate each week.
I’d recommend the session that you repeat should be simple to describe but challenging to complete. If it’s too easy, you won’t get a good sense of how your body responds when you put it under pressure. A regular tough session helps build your mental resilience as well as your fitness. At the same time, it shouldn’t be so tough that it ruins the rest of your week. It’s not a race. Simplicity makes it easy to compare your performance week to week and year on year.
Every Monday morning at 6:30 (except for holidays), for the past nine years, I’ve done the same 4km set (see right). It’s intended to build and maintain a good level of speed endurance. It’s a straightforward yet challenging set, and most weeks there is a point that I contemplate giving up. In some ways, it’s the foundation of all the other training I do. Whenever I’ve missed a couple of weeks for holidays, I feel that my swimming suffers. On the other hand, when I start finding things tough on a race, I think about all the Mondays when I’ve got up in the dark and done this training session, and I get a mental boost.
Try adding this to your training.
600m steady swim, your choice mix of front crawl and backstroke.
8 x 400m front crawl*
200m easy, your choice mix of front crawl and backstroke
If 8 is too many to start with, try 4 or 6. If planning a marathon swim, consider doing 10. We started with 6, then increased to 8. Sometimes we drop back to 6 for a week or two if we’ve done a race at the weekend and need to recover. Aim to swim faster through the session rather than starting too fast and grinding to a halt. Keep your swim and rest time consistent throughout. Set your repeat time so that you get about 30 seconds rest after your first 400m and 45 seconds after your seventh.
We set our interval time at 6:15 and I aim to swim between 5:45 and 5:30 per 400m, but this varies depending on how I feel.