Speed with Unique Challenges

Ryan Woodruff, Lynchburg YMCA


Each round of this set, we swapped in a mystery set that the swimmers did not know ahead of time as the “unique challenge” in brackets.

The last challenge was “Save your partner”. Each swimmer had to swim a 100 off the blocks under a certain coach-determined time. Fail to make the time and your partner has to do it too. It was a somewhat clumsy attempt to get some peer-pressure motivation going.

The rest of the set worked well, with some of the unique challenges being a bit off-the-wall.

FPA = Fastest Possible Average

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


If you are a coach who loves good quotes, you’ll want to check this out: https://swimmingwizard.com/e-books/

How to swim the 200 free

Ryan Woodruff
Head Coach
Lynchburg YMCA

This was an effort to help some of our swimmers “figure out” the 200 free.  We followed up with a set specifically designed to practice for this event.  That set will come in a later post.

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How to swim the 200 free

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One of the best ideas I ever had (or maybe stole)…

Ryan Woodruff
Head Coach
Lynchburg YMCA

I probably got this idea from somewhere, but it is pretty simple so maybe I came up with it myself…

Want to use video to help your swimmers improve their technique? Great — buy an iPad and start filming.  But there is a better way…

If you coach teenagers, they probably all have a camera phone.  Have them pair up. Give them a prompt on what to work on (i.e. examine freestyle breathing technique, looking for horizontal head position) and give them 10-15 minutes to film each other and give each other feedback.  Peer Coaching!

The benefits are many:
1. Tons of feedback for EVERY swimmer in your group, something that would take an individual coach hours to do by himself.
2. A chance to use a rapid feedback loop in a way that isn’t easy to do in a normal workout.  Do it…watch it… do it again, better… watch it… do it again better still.
3. The teaching swimmer learns as well. Teaching is one of the best ways to learn.
4. Team bonding! Swimmers enjoy working together and helping each other improve.

I promise you… give this a try and you will love it.  If not, I will give you a full refund of your purchase price for this post.

12 Books Every Swim Coach Should Read

Ryan Woodruff

Reading books and articles from outside my areas of expertise have helped make me a better coach. Here are some of my favorite non-swimming books that I recommend you check out, in no particular order.

Note: All links in this article are Amazon affiliate links, meaning that clicking on the link for the book titles and purchasing the book will kick some loose change to the Swimming Wizard without costing you a penny extra.  Thank you for your support!

  1. Bowerman and the Men of Oregon by Kenny Moore. Bill Bowerman is to American distance running what Doc Counsilman is to American swimming; an innovator, a standard-setter, and a legend.  This book is written by a former runner of his and will inspire you to be a better coach.
  2. Make It Stick; The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel. Ultimately, as coaches we are teachers. This book will improve your understanding of how to make the material you are teaching “stick” so that your athletes can effectively put it into practice.
  3. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. This book examines how to become a master coach by maximizing the development of the innate abilities of those under your instruction.  It really made me think about how I coach
  4. Inside-Out Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives by Joe Ehrmann. If you have ever doubted your purpose as a coach or questioned why do this in the first place, Ehrmann will transform your coaching by explaining how you can transform the lives of your athletes.  I have read this book at least 4 times and plan to read it again.  Should be required reading for anyone going into youth coaching.
  5. When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss. There is perhaps no bigger legend in American coaching than Vince Lombardi.  This tome peels back the layers to examine the complex man behind that legend.
  6. Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim Grover. An inspiring read from the personal trainer to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade. I am currently reading this book to my team, chapter by chapter. It will make you uncomfortable by challenging your notion of your capabilities . Read it to find out if you are a Cooler, a Closer or a Cleaner.
  7. Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. For all who coach young women, this book will open your eyes to what it is like to be young and female.  Especially recommended if you have a daughter of your own.
  8. The Hard Hat; 21 Ways to Be a Great Teammate by Jon Gordon. Great teammates don’t just impact you today; they impact you for the rest of your life. Also recommended by Jon Gordon:
  9. You Win in the Locker Room First – 7 C’s to Building a Winning Team and
  10. The Energy Bus – 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy
  11. Wooden by John Wooden.  Who better for the Swimming Wizard to recommend than the Wizard of Westwood?
  12. Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson.  I admired Jackson’s calmness on the sidelines through all of his success in the NBA. Great read for any coach who wants to be a better teacher, mentor, and person.


The Swim Your Name Set

Richard Heselton

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How often do we ask for feedback?

Ryan Woodruff

Head Coach
Lynchburg YMCA

How often do we ask our athletes for feedback? As the ones actually performing the workout, an intelligent athlete is the best judge as to whether a workout was effective.  Recently I had my team perform the following set:

The group did an excellent job on the set.  When we concluded, I asked them to consider ways in which the set could have been improved.  Here are the suggestions that I got:

The first suggestion was most popular — they would have preferred to have been able to choose the drill they got to do rather than the ones I prescribed (at the bottom of the first picture).  Overall, I was pleased with the level of thought they put into this and the fact that the suggestions didn’t all make the workout “easier.”

Overall, it was a good moment of trust and communication between athletes and coach.  I highly recommend you give it a try sometime.

The M & M Set

Ryan Woodruff
Head Coach
Lynchburg YMCA

This is a fun concept for practice you can do any time, but I like to save it for a special occasion.  In this case, we did it on New Year’s Eve.  I buy a bag of M & Ms, and write a set on the board that corresponds with each color in the bag.  I pick a swimmer to pull an M&M out of the bag (without looking) and then we do that set.  Then, I replace the set with another one in case the same color gets pulled by the next swimmer.  The sets can be anything you want, but I like them to be creative, different, or at least something that we don’t do very frequently.  Use it as an opportunity to be creative.

The Blind Goal Workout

Ryan Woodruff
Head Coach
Lynchburg YMCA

Do you want to get a group of kids motivated and swimming fast 100s at practice? Try this workout for a psychological test.

? x 3 x 100 for time

Before practice, the coach writes down a goal time for each swimmer for 100y of one of their prime strokes. The goal time should be extremely challenging (i.e. their lifetime best practice time or maybe even a true lifetime best in some cases). The coach does not reveal the goal times but instead folds it up and pins it to the bulletin board. The group performs fast 100s in groups of three on 4-5 minutes of rest, with ez 200y swims between rounds. For each goal time met, the group receives a point, and the set continues until a group point goal is met. Coach reads the swimmers’ times after each 100 and states whether or not they have reached the goal time, but does not reveal the goal.
You will find out how psychologically strong your team is if you set the goals high enough. If they experience some early success scoring points, they will be more motivated. Should they hit a drought, some group members may give less than their best and no longer strive to swim really fast. If this happens, you may reveal the goal times and then give the group a final opportunity to achieve them. Seeing the goal times will help some athletes and others may be discouraged.

Regardless of how it shakes out, you are bound to get some fast swimming and some great fodder for discussion about goals (and how hard it is to not have them), expectations, and motivation.

If you give the Blind Goal Workout a try, please let me know how it goes.

Stopwatch Roulette

Ryan Woodruff, Lynchburg YMCA

This is a fun idea to try at practice someday just for variety. Write a set that can be done in any quantities like the one below.  Start a stopwatch and hand it to a swimmer.  The swimmer stops the watch randomly and whatever digit is in the hundredths place is the quantity for the first part.  Repeat for as many times as you need.


11 Creative Ways to Spice Up Your Swim Practice

Ryan Woodruff
Head Coach
Lynchburg YMCA

  1. Have swimmers do a number of cycles rather than a certain distance.  You can do this on a rest interval or on a regular interval. For example, instead of doing 6 x 100 free on 1:15, do 6 x 50 cycles freestyle on 1:15 or 10 seconds rest. 1 cycle  = 2 strokes of free or back, 1 cycle = 1 stroke of breast or fly.
  2. Do swims or kicking for distance rather than for time.  Instead of seeing how fast you can cover a certain distance, see how far you can go in a certain amount of time.  Example set: 6 x 3:00 swim for distance on 4:00.  Descend (increase distance) 1-3 and 4-6.
  3. Do swimming “fartleks”  Have swimmers swim for a set amount of time, and change their skill, stroke, drill or speed according to instruction each time you bang a wrench on the side of the pool.  This is good for getting aerobic swimming accomplished while sprinkling in technique work or speed work.  Especially good in a large group with lots of different speeds.
  4. Leave your stopwatch at home.  Time nothing for an entire day (or longer). This can free you up to focus on the quality of the movements your athletes are making and not worry about how fast they are going.
  5. Turn the pace clock off.  This can help your athletes focus on their movements without worrying about making an interval or going a certain time.  Put everything on an approximate rest interval.
  6. If you coach in a co-ed environment, separate the boys and girls into their own lanes and have them start at opposite ends of the pool.  Watch how not having the genders interact for an entire workout changes the social dynamics of your practice.
  7. Take the lane lines out. Do a pool open water (POW) practice.
  8. Have your swimmers write the workout.  A few days ahead of time, split them into groups and ask them to come up with the sets. Give them total time, distance, intensity, or whatever instructions (or lack thereof) that you want.  This will tell you a lot about the kind of swimmers you have.
  9. Start everything from the middle of the pool. This will add more turns to your workout and cut down a bit on excessive socializing while hanging on the wall.
  10. “Jungle Workout.” Start a set. Part of the way through, give one swimmer the details for the next set (which needs to start ASAP). Repeat again partway through that set and keep repeating.  Keep them on their toes.  Once you are done giving them sets, they have to go back and do whatever remains from each uncompleted set.  This practice will be chaotic but fun, as long as you have attentive swimmers.
  11. Write three different practices… Give them fun names.  Let your athletes choose which workout they want to perform (on an individual basis).


21-Cycle Swims for Developing Stroke Efficiency

Dani Caldwell
SUSA Stingrays, St. George, Utah

21-Cycle Swims
Short set we do with HS kids…
8 x 21 stroke cycles — stop when you reach 21 cycles, begin from that point on the next one
Rules:  you must continue stroking or streamlining off the wall — no side-glide or other forms of “cheating”
Some of our older boys were getting to 125 yards the other morning!  It was interesting how “into it” they got — they turned it into quite a competition.
This fantastic idea was originally posted in 2011.

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A Kick Set That Burns

Ryan Woodruff

I like having our athletes kick for maximum distance in a specified amount of time.  Like most teams, our range of kicking speeds is greater than our range of swimming speeds, so kicking for distance becomes an effective way to challenge each athlete when we don’t have the ability to go on 6 different intervals.  When we kick for distance, I like to put markers on the edge of the pool every 5 yards so that the athletes can determine their disance kicked to the nearest yard.

5 x 3:00 kick for distance @ 4:00 (descend 1-5)
100 easy swim @ 2:00
4 x 2:00 kick for distance @ 3:00 (descend 1-4)
100 easy swim @ 2:00
3 x 1:00 kick all out @ 2:00


11-11-11 Set

Ryan Woodruff
Head Coach
Parkland Aquatic Club

Can you have a once-in-a-lifetime set to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime day?

11 x 100 free @ 1:11
Possible instructions:
– Kick out 11m off every wall
– Breathe every 11
– Get 11 seconds of rest each time
– Take 11 strokes or fewer each length
– Use 11 dolphin kicks off every wall
– Take 11 breaths total in each 100
– Descend by 11 seconds from #1 to #11
– Be within 11 seconds of your best time on every swim
– Come up with 11 different technical things to work on and focus on one for each 100
– 11 strokes – 11 kicks – 11 strokes drill
– Start the set at the 11:11 on your pace clock
– Perform the set with 11 people in your lane
– Tell your coach 11 reasons why you liked the set!!!

Captain Jack 100s

Ryan Woodruff, North Carolina Aquatic Club

“Me? I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they’re going to do something incredibly… stupid.” -Captain Jack Sparrow

This set was inspired by the scene from Pirates of the Carribbean when the pirates trek across the bottom of the ocean. Thought it would be a good challenge to run across the bottom of the pool.

This set is best performed in 6 to 8 feet of water. Have swimmers each grab weights or weight belts (10-20 pounds per person should do) and place them 12.5 yards down the pool.

Perform the following in rapid succession (no rest)
1) 12.5 yards sprint from a dive
2) Dive down and pick up your weight from the bottom, holding it and “running” along the bottom of the pool for 12.5 yards to the opposite side, dropping the weight by the wall.
3) Perform 5 press-outs on the pool edge.
4) Swim a 50 fast
5) Pick up your weight from the bottom and “run” it along the bottom back to the middle of the pool. Drop your weight.
6) Push off the bottom and sprint the final 12.5 yards to a perfect finish.

Rest and repeat as you wish.



Michael Kraeuter, Blue Wave Swim Team

This works best in a short course pool and if you have an even number of swimmers.

Put half your swimmers at one end and the other half at the other about the same numbers in each lane.  When you say “go” one swimmer in each lane will begin. When that swimmer reaches the other side their teammate gives them 5 seconds from when their feet leave the wall and then they push off chasing them down the pool. Their teammate on the other side will do the same for them, then the chaser becomes the chased and so on and so forth.  

If you get caught as the one being chased or you don’t catch the one you are chasing you have 5 push-ups for each.  This keeps going for as long as you would like and you can use any of the strokes.  I find it works on a few things; it makes the swimmer work both parts of the 50 it also works on their mental state of chasing someone down or being chased by someone in a race and still pushing through while staying focused on the task at hand.  They get more rest between swims depending on how many swimmers you have placed in each lane.  Fun but very hard set!

Heavy 50s

Louis C. Cavadini

Here is a little set we did that was fun and hard

24×50 (1-12 w/fins @1:15, 13-24 wo/fins @1:30)
-25 IM rotation
-25 sprint free
Place 25lb weight room plate on the bottom of the deep end (starting end). Swim 25 IM rotation, sprint back freestyle and at the flags(deep end) dive down and pull the weight back up to the surface. We used 10lb plates for the smaller swimmers.

After that set, we did a little experimenting:
8×25 @1:00 w/fins
-kick underwater with weights (use 10lbs). They kids said it worked
best if you held the weight out like a steering wheel.

The Deck of Cards Dryland Set

Ryan Woodruff
Head Coach
Lynchburg YMCA

The concept for this workout was given to me by Ron “Sticks” Ballatore, head coach of the NCAA Champion 1982 UCLA Bruins men’s swimming team.

Using a regular deck of 52 cards, have the swimmers take turns drawing a card for the group. Perform the number of reps according to the card drawn.

Hearts = Pull-ups
Diamonds = Pike-ups on a physio ball
Spades = Push-ups
Clubs = Do all three exercises above

Jack = 11
Queen = 12
King = 13
Ace = repeat the reps of the previous card drawn.

Thus, a 3 of hearts means everyone performs three pull-ups. A 9 of clubs means 9 pull-ups, 9 pike-ups, and 9 push-ups. Keep going through the deck for as long as you can take it.

The American Standard

Chris Webb, SwimMAC Carolina

1×100 fly on 3:00
1×100 bk on 3:00
1×100 br on 3:00
1×100 fr on 3:00
1×200 IM on 6:00
1×200 fly on 6:00
1×200 bk on 6:00
1×200 br on 6:00
1×200 fr on 6:00
1×400 IM

All 100's must be within 10 seconds for boys and 8 seconds for girls of the American record,all 200 must be within 20 seconds for boys and 16 seconds for girls, and the 400 IM  I like to use 30.  All  the seconds you accumulate over the records add up for a total score.

 The lowest total boy's and girl's score set the “standard”.  Set whatever time standard or “seconds over the record” that fits your group's ability. 

On a swim by swim basis for every second a swimmer misses the 10 or 8 over standard the swimmer will owe 2 burpees at the end of the entire set.

 This set helps familiarize swimmers with the fastest times in every event. 

  Do this set once per cycle and compare times. Have title belts/ and or plaques with a ceremony for the top girl and boy that rewards their well rounded IM racing focus.

Tennis Ball Drill

Ryan Woodruff, North Carolina Aquatic Club

To improve your feel for the water, hold a tennis ball in each hand while you swim or drill. Instead of feeling the water with your hand, use your forearms to catch water. This drill is particularly good for freestyle or butterfly, but can be used for back and breast as well. The effect is similar to anti-paddles, but in cheaper and more convenient form. After using the tennis balls for a few minutes, put them away and go back to swimming with an open hand. The shifting sensation can be instrumental in improving feel for the water.

Wrench Bangs

Ryan Woodruff, North Carolina Aquatic Club

Often at practice it is helpful to have a tool to communicate with your swimmers while they train. I like to use a normal laneline wrench to bang on the stainless steel gutter. I use it to have the group change speeds during a long swim, shift from one drill to another, stop to kick, or any other task we are doing. Use one bang for a certain command, two for another command, and so forth. Swimmers can hear the wrench bangs far better than a whistle or any other noisemaker I have heard.

MoCo 50s

Ryan Woodruff, North Carolina Aquatic Club

MoCo 50 = MOmentum COnservation 50

A MoCo 50 is an exercise in body position, streamlining, and efficiency. The idea is to conserve your momentum (keep it for as long as you can!) by using terrific body position. Here’s how to perform a MoCo 50:

1. Dive off the blocks with your best streamline.
2. Glide until you come to a stop (no kicking).
3. Immediately sprint into the wall and turn at full speed.
4. Streamline and glide until you come to a complete stop.
5. Immediately sprint into the wall with a perfect finish.
6. Slowest time and/or least distance swum wins!

The Perfect MoCo 50 = 1 stroke swum into the turn and 1 stroke swum into the finish).

Can you do it?

9 Ways to Train I.M.

Ryan Woodruff

We all know that I.M. is a great way to put some variety into your training. Here are some ways to put a little variety into your variety.

#1 – Reverse I.M. A commonly used version, simply swim the strokes in reverse order.
#2 – Free I.M. Good for masters swimmers who are fly-reluctant or for any time that you want to get good back, breast, and free training without the butterfly. Simply substitute freestyle in for the butterfly portions of the I.M.
#3 – Inside-out I.M. Swim the strokes in the order Back-Fly-Free-Breast
#4 – Fat I.M. – Do these for lengths that are 25% longer than your standard I.M.-125s, 250s, 500s, etc. Double up on one of the strokes (this is the Fat stroke). A 250 Fat I.M. (Back) would thus be 50 Fly/100 back/50 breast/50 free.
#5 – Lemon I.M.
#6 – Emily I.M.- For swimmers with knee injuries/pain or whose breaststroke is not a focus of your efforts for improvement. Swim backstroke double the normal distance and leave out breaststroke altogether. Yes, this is named after a swimmer.
#7 – Baltimore I.M.s
#8 – Skinny I.M. This is the opposite of Fat I.M.s Swim distances like 175s, 350s, etc. Cut the distance of one stroke in half.
#9 – Gator I.M. Alternate stroke and free. A 300 Gator I.M. would be 50 fly/50 free/50 back/50 free/50 breast/50 free.

Do you have any other interesting or creative ways of training I.M.?

More Fun With PVC Pipes – Kick Sticks

Chad Onken, YMCA of the Triangle Area

Here is another “fun” thing we do at YOTA. We have a 4 foot piece of 1/2 inch PVC piping that we drilled holes into on each side. We strung through a mesh bag on both sides. We use these “kick sticks” to focus on proper body position and core stability while kicking. The resistance of the mesh bags adds a bit of a challenge. We'll do a series of fast and moderate kicking, with a majority of the kicking underwater (no breath) or with a snorkel (proper head position). It breaks the monotony of using a kickboard or kicking on your back. You can kick with fins, shoes, snorkels – the possibilities are endless. It's a great tool to focus on strong, fast legs…..