Max Underwater Average Set

Ryan Woodruff, Lynchburg YMCA

On the 25s, the goal was to hold the farthest possible average distance (with some pretty good speed) on each set.

The 225/200/175 was an A/B/C distance dependent on swimmer’s kicking speed. Swimmers chose the appropriate distance for themselves individually.

It’s free, it’s useful, and can help with your coaching today:

Broken Bucket Challenge Set

Ryan Woodruff, Lynchburg YMCA

I frequently post sets where we use buckets and I get some questions about what kinds of buckets we are using. Here is what we use:

It is a simple 1-gallon “paint bucket” from Home Depot. We string some paracord through the handle holes and then connect the bucket to a belt by a rope about 6 feet in length. The beats we use are recycled from old stretch cords.

This set worked well today. The broken 200 was challenging but the :10 rest allowed them to hold their stroke technique. The interval on the broken 200 and 100 allowed them to really get up and go on the 3 x 25. We cycled through 2 rotations of this station and some drag sox work.

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Racing for Points and Prizes with WEST Express and Coach Heidi Miler

Heidi Miler, West Express Swim Team

We did this Saturday to simulate some racing as we have a big meet in two weeks and many of our kids haven’t swam a meet yet coming out of HS season.

I think it went well as it raised the racing level more than we normally see doing “regular off the block sprints”


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Sprints off blocks – simulate racing with Winter Classic Meet in two weeks

1000 Meet warm up

6 x 50 @ 50 – build through a fast turn

300 kick build by 100

6 x 50  @ 50 – build to a fast finish

300 pull

1200/ 2200

2 x 100  @ 1:40 – 50 drill/50 free – technique focus

4 x 25 @ 30   Sprint free

100 easy

2 x 100 @ 1:50 – Non free 50 drill/50 – technique focus

4 x 25 @ 30 Sprint non free

200 easy


Point System:

Winner of each heat gets 10 points, 2nd place 5

Best time 20 points

Best time –within 1 second 10 points

Best time within 2 seconds 5 points

Best time within 3 seconds 3 points

We set up in heats of similar speed – did each of these swims on approx. 5 min with some easy swimming and point calculating in between swims

All Swims AFAP

2 x 100 Free

1 x 100 Non Free (did not score this for heat winners with too many different strokes going on)

1 x 100 IM

At end choose between 2 x 100 broken swims or 1 x 200/500 broken swim

Cool Down

Highest point scorer won a won a TYR Prize (t-shirt, goggles etc)

I printed out a sheet with each swimmers best time sheet and attached it to the table – in between rounds the swimmers calculated their points


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Article for Parents: The Phenom and the Climber

by Ryan Woodruff

Ours is a competitive sport and one that easily lends itself to comparison.  Whereas in basketball or soccer for example we could have endless debates about who is a better player, in swimming we have the most black and white tool for comparison that exists: THE CLOCK.  This is awesome because it allows to us to know exactly where we stand versus the competition at any meet or season of a swimmer’s career.  This knowledge can be motivating but it ignores one critical truth: that swimmers mature, grow, and improve at vastly different rates.  Every swimmer follows his or her own path.

Here is an example: Caeleb Dressel and Ryan Held both made the US Olympic team in 2016 — Dressel in the individual 100 free and both men as part of the 400 freestyle relay.  But they took different paths to get there. Dressel was an age group phenom at St. John’s Country Day School, later the Bolles School, and eventually the University of Florida.  Held grew up swimming for the Springfield (Illinois) YMCA team and swam collegiately at NC State, steadily climbing the ranks.

Here are their career progressions, by the numbers:

100 Free (LCM) Dressel Held
Age 11 59.76
Age 15 50.85 58.67
Age 20 47.17 48.26


At age 11, Caeleb Dressel was already a National Age Group record holder.  Held wouldn’t even record an official time in the long course 100 free until age 15.  Held at 15 was only 1.10 seconds faster than 11 year-old Dressel.

A closer look at their short course times is even more revealing.

100 Free (SCY) Dressel Held
Age 9 1:03.12
Age 11 54.08 1:06.78
Age 13 49.85 51.97
Age 15 44.27 45.83
Age 17 42.85 43.31
Age 21 39.90 41.05


At age 9, Caeleb Dressel was already putting up very good times in Florida, and by age 11 he was a certified phenom.  At age 11, Held had posted a time that would be 9 seconds slower than the current age group champs qualifying time in Illinois.

Both of these athletes have impressive progressions of steady improvement over time.  I remember watching Caeleb Dressel at age 10 in Florida – it was clear he was headed for big things.  If 11 year-old Ryan Held was at a meet I attended, I would have never even noticed him.  Held just kept climbing.

My point is that no two swimmers follow the same path.  Every swimmer is judged by the clock, but some swimmers will show promise early, and others won’t.  It is folly to suggest that elite senior performance can be accurately predicted.

For parents, it important to support the swimmer in his or her quest to continually improve without making comparisons.  What other swimmers are or are not achieving is simply not relevant.  Johnny being faster than Jimmy at age 10 is meaningless as evidence of who will be faster at 16. Parents can help by promoting commitment, hard work, and being a good teammate – the results will come, however fast they may be.

The Best Things I Read, Watched, and Listened to in 2018

Ryan Woodruff, Lynchburg YMCA

2018 was a fun and busy year here at the Swimming Wizard blog.  I posted a workout almost every day, started a weekly e-mail “the wake-up swim” that now has over 500 subscribers, and published my first e-book, “The Quotable Swimming Coach.”  I am thankful for those who have followed along, and appreciate the positive feedback I have received.

Here are my favorites from my year of reading, watching, listening, and learning.  My aim is to become a better coach and human being, and it’s fun to look back on what I have learned to share it with you.  A few of the links below are affiliate links.  This means that if you wish to support my efforts to bring you new ideas, sets, and workouts every day, buying the books that I am recommending will kick a small bit of change my way without any extra cost to you.

If you like this list you may also be interested in my lists from 2017, 2016, 2015, 2013, and 2012

Enough bluster — onward to the list!!!


conscious coachingConscious Coaching: The Art of Building Buy-In by Brett Bartholomew

Coach Bartholomew is a strength and conditioning coach, but I loved reading his thoughts on how to “move” people.  We can have all the knowledge about technique and training in the world, but we must understand the people we are coaching and how to individually reach them.  This book dramatically improved my understanding of the psychology of coaching, particularly as it relates to the dramatic differences between individuals.  This book has without a doubt made me a better coach. You can also follow Coach Bartholomew’s insights on twitter and listen to his “Art of Coaching” podcast.

The-Champion-s-MindThe Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremow

Never have I read a book that was so densely packed with usable tips and inspiring stories as The Champion’s Mind. If you want to help your swimmers be stronger mentally and help them get the most out of themselves, read this book.  I read it to our top group this fall, and the discussions that it inspired were awesome.  This book is nothing short of brilliant and I plan to revisit some of its key concepts with our group this spring.

endureEndure; Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson

What if we can all go farther, go faster, and push harder that we thought possible? Hutchinson’s book is an extraordinary work exploring these questions and telling stories from the frontiers of human experience.  The title connotes distance, but I found Hutchinson’s work thought-provoking even for sprint training in swimming.  At the minimum, this book will help redefine in your mind the parameters of what is possible. I also enjoyed this podcast with the author.


You Have No Competition and Great Things Take Time by Nick Maggiull, Of Dollars and Data Blog

Podcasts and Videos:

I enjoyed the Rich Roll Podcast (also mentioned in previous years), particularly the interesting conversation with Australian legend Michael Klim and the epic, inspiring story of shark-attack survivor Paul de Gelder.


The documentary Free Solo about Alex Honnold’s death-defying  3,000′ vertical climb up El Capitan has been wowing audiences this fall.  Honnold’s TED talk about his feat was an interesting peak into his psyche and preparation for the climb:






To finish, I would like to share an excerpt from the book, “Rocket Men,” the story of the astronauts on Apollo 8, the first manned craft to orbit the moon and return to Earth.  NASA accomplished this incredible feat 50 years ago this month.  Author Robert Kurson’s account of the astronauts’ view of “Earth-rise” is very moving, particularly given the challenges we face and the events of 2018.


Here’s to a happy 2019, everyone!


KC Blazer Technique Quality and 200 Race Endurance

Coach Alex Morris, KC Blazers

Here is a set we used with our National group to reinforce technique quality and race endurance on 200s of stroke. The 25s and 75s should be primary stroke (Or 3 rounds prime, 2 rounds of a secondary stroke). The swimmers chose their intervals on the 75s based on the stroke they were doing and ability, then the rest interval at the end of each round designed to bring the whole group back together to start the next round

5 rounds:
4×25 on :30, 1 form/DPS, 1 build, 1 hold, 1 fast
4×75 hold form and stroke count @ :55/1:00/1:05
50 sprint kick @ :50 (body line kick w/snorkel)
3×50 choice ez @ :50
About 20-60sec Rest to regroup before starting next round

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Any Stroke ‘Best Average’ Set with Coach Gary Galbreath

Gary Galbreath, Columbia Swim Club

All the same stroke
125 @ 2:00 Fins & Paddles
1 x 75 @ 1:30 Best Avg
1 x 50 @ 1:00 BA
1 x 25 @ 45 BA
125 @ 2:00 Fins & Paddles
1 x 75 @ 1:30 BA
1 x 50 @ 1:00 BA
2 x 25 @ 45 BA
125 @ 2:00 Fins & Paddles
1 x 75 @ 1:30 BA
1 x 50 @ 1:00 BA
3 x 25 @ 45 BA
125 @ 2:00 Fins & Paddles
1 x 75 @ 1:30 BA
2 x 50 @ 1:00 BA
3x 25 @ 45 BA
125 @ 2:00 Fins & Paddles
1 x 75 @ 1:30 BA
3 x 50 @ 1:00 BA
3 x 25 @ 45 BA
125 @ 2:00 Fins & Paddles
2 x 75 @ 1:30 BA
3 x 50 @ 1:00 BA
3 x 25 @ 45 BA
The 125s were supposed to be DPS with a focus on Underwater Kicking & Pullouts
The 75s, 50s & 25s were to swim the same speed on all.

Be Aggressive and then ‘Beat the Beep’ with Coach Jorge Fernandez

Coach Jorge Fernandez, Falfins Swim Team

Here is a set the mid. dist./dist. freestylers did Tuesday 12/18. We train at Wolf Ranch Rec. Center in Colorado Springs at 6400 feet so I have to give them more rest on certain sets and repeats. The focus on the 200’s was to get out strong and steady, the 50’s focus was the middle part of the race where you have to be more aggressive getting out of your comfort zone, and the 25’s focus was to bring it home with a great tempo and legs. Also on the 25’s I had a few kids do their specialty stroke like fly, breast, or backstroke focusing on their 100 goal pace.

5×200@2:40 pink    +5×50@50 red    +4×25 beat the beep with a tempo trainer.

Regroup after beat the beep. Individuals have different times to beat. So 1 to 1.5 minutes rest before the 200’s.

4×200@2:40 pink    +4×50@50 red    +4×25 beat the beep with a tempo trainer.


3×200@2:40 pink    +3×50@50 red    +4×25 beat the beep.


2×200@2:40 pink    +2×50@50 red    +4×25 beat the beep.


1×200@2:40 pink    +1×50@50 red    +4×25 beat the beep.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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Fun Relay Speed Work

Ryan Woodruff, Lynchburg YMCA

Recently at practice about half of our group was missing for a high school meet. We had a block of about 45 minutes that I wanted to get in some good speed work. How to get them excited for it and get some good results? Wacky relays.

We had 12 swimmers split into 4 teams of 3, which allowed us to swim at a roughly 1:2 work-rest ratio. We did 5 relays followed by some active recovery swimming.

Relay 1: 450m each person swims 6×25 free (keeping it simple to get us started)

Relay 2: 450m, each swims 6 x 25 no free

Relay 3: 450m, each swims 25 no free, 75 free, 25 no free, and 75 free

Relay 4: 450m, each swims 25 free, 75 no free, 25 free, 75 no free

By this time, each relay team had won a single race thanks to my expert dividing of teams. The final race would decide who had to do the longest warm down:

Relay 5: 300m each person swims 2 x 50m free dragging a partner holding on to their ankle.

Result: all teams disqualified for various forms of cheating.

The 4-way tie mandated an immediate 50 fly swim-off by a single swimmer from each team.

I got way more energy and effort out of them with this strategy than I would have with a traditional set!


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Product Review: FINIS Backstroke Start Wedge

Ryan Woodruff, Lynchburg YMCA

Over the last few years since wedges were introduced, a number of different devices have become available.  Different pools offer different brands and styles, but most in-season meets in our area don’t have wedges. Thus we seldom got to use a wedge.  I have two Junior-National caliber backstrokers on my team, and several more who are close.  It was frustrating to me that we would get to a big meet and have to fiddle with a new device that we were unfamiliar with and practice a start that we have never done before, all to avoid the catastrophic “back flop.”

In steps the FINIS Backstroke Start Wedge to solve that problem.  The FINIS wedge straps on to any kind of starting block and is easy to set up.  It is very durably constructed and performs its function well.  The straps allow for manual adjustment of the height of the ledge and can quickly be moved to suit a swimmer’s preference.  The first day we used it, the straps stretched a bit upon first getting wet, but since then they have not stretched at all.

The price point ($249.99) is still a bit high, but it is much more affordable than other devices — some cost 2-3+ times more, and because the FINIS wedge doesn’t have many moving parts that can malfunction or get jammed up, I think it will last many years.  Like the other products, the FINIS wedge CAN be used in competition.

We now use the FINIS Backstroke Wedge on an almost daily basis.  The walls in our pool are particularly slippery, and my swimmers insist on using it whenever possible.  If you value being able to practice the way you want to compete, this will make your  backstroke starts better.

Here’s a video from GoSwim with a demonstration of how easy it is to set up.


Disclosure: I received no compensation for this review other than being provided a sample product and I receive no commission for sales of this product.