How To Taper Race Pace Training for Swimming

How To Taper Race Pace Training for Swimming

I shared a Dive Quality set on the blog back in December, and I thought it would be fun to revisit a sample workout style post with an explanation of a Race Pace Taper workout that our sprint group completed this afternoon, Friday, February 12, 2016. We are 6 days out of from the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association Championship Meet, and this year's version will feature a multitude of fast efforts from our team as we always swim "lights out" at our conference meet.

As in the previous sample workout I will detail every inch (or yard) of today's practice to give you an idea of how I construct workouts, how they are meant to flow together (sometimes easier written than done), and the goals of each set. As per the usual, this workout and main set specifically produced some FAST swimming, and I am confident that we are once again, as in the previous five seasons, going to see some big drops from our team at the meet next week. 

12, February, 2016. Liberty University Swimming & Diving Race Pace Taper, Sprint Group

12, February, 2016. Liberty University Swimming & Diving Race Pace Taper, Sprint Group


  • 200 Choice going 100 with Tennis Balls, 100 with Finis Agility Paddles

  • 400 Social Kick

  • 6 x 100 @ 1:20 with Choice of Gear, 25 under water 75 "normal swim" above water

We always warm-up with some form of a 1,200 here at Liberty, with the warm-up divided into three parts that flow together to set the tone for the goals of the main set. That is to say, the 1,200 warm-up varies from day to day depending on the main set and the end goal of the workout; often I will write the main set first in my head and then work backwards to the warm-up, asking myself "What should we promote during the 1,200 to eventually ready the body for today's main set?" The three goals identified today: 

  • Set a preferred technique or work a specific skill, in this case the theme of the day throughout the entire workout was the infamous early vertical forearm (henceforth EVF) or high elbow catch, and I wanted the EVF to be the technical centerpiece of the main set. Starting the workout with tennis balls forces the brain to "turn on" what little sensory receptors are located in the forearms, a catalyst that moves the athletes towards thinking about a high elbow catch to engage the forearms from the very first 25.

  • It is Friday! We often social kick every Friday, and the goal today was fun, smiles, etc.. Swimming can be a chore at times, and a good social kick on a Friday with some upbeat music mixed in can do wonders for the mood and morale of a team.

  • Ready the heart, lungs, etc. with the 6 x 100. The goal was increased blood flow to the muscles and a rise in the core body temperature. I wanted to see some fast swimming on the main set, and we as coaches know through a plethora of research that a proper warm-up will absolutely lead to faster racing, whether in practice or a meet. We have all heard the tales of the infamous "Cold Turkey" best times and so forth...If fast swimming is the goal, unless aided by a rush of fight or flight hormones (that "warm-up" the body for action in their own right), I do believe an athlete will have better luck chasing after the wind than swimming fast with no warmup, certainly more often than not.

10/12 x 50 

These 50's served as a drill set and continued the theme of setting the correct stroking/sculling patterns and the EVF. The odd 50's were scull/fly pause drill by 25, with the even 50's going yanko drill/pull by 25. The first half of the 50's were performed with the Finis Anti-Paddles (M.P.), the second half with C.O.P.I.A., which stand for choice of paddles if any. Some athletes may want to feel the open hand on water after the anti-paddles, while others may prefer the feel and propulsion of a larger paddle. Taper as we know is quite the individual prescription, thus we let the paddle choice up to them. For a detailed explanation of fly pause drill, please see the 1:50 second mark of this video. Yanko drill is one I learned from Rick DeMont during my stint as a volunteer at Arizona in 2007. In this drill the athlete wears a snorkel and a buoy, rotating through the following: 

  • Left arm breaststroke pull (opposite arm out front)

  • Full breaststroke pull

  • Right arm breaststroke pull (same)

  • Full breaststroke pull

  • Etc.

As for the 10/12 x 50 and the 5/ breaststroke pulling is much slower than freestyle pulling our breaststroke crew went 10x50 and the freestylers the set of 12. Our sprint group at Liberty is diverse in the sense that of the eleven members in the group this year, only two of them go 50/100 free and then a 100 of stroke, and we have three (the breast crew) that go 100/200 Breast and 200 I.M. 

The goals/outcomes here were several: 

  • The five or six 50's with the M.P. (Finis Anti-Paddle) engaged the forearm and helped set the EVF

  • Opening the hand back up to water on the COPIA dialed in the preferred stroking pattern as the brain loves the feel of the water or paddle after not having a hand with the anti-paddles

  • Breaststrokers need to pull breast, and we continue to pull breast through a taper, although the yardage will obviously drop a bit as we go

6 x 50 Kick 

When we social kick here at Liberty we always do so with fins, and while this is great for the morale of the team and adds to the fun of the social kicking, it certainly is not the best way for breast/I.M. types to get their legs ready to kick fast breaststroke. As such, before we started the pre-set and swam maximum, all-out efforts, I wanted to give the breast types (and anyone else that desired a bit more for their legs) the chance to get loose. There was nothing special or innovative here, just be sure the legs are loose and they were given a 300 with a bit of build kicking mixed in to do so. 


For the sprint types, now the fun begins! Our typical pre-set for both our sprint and mid-distance groups here at Liberty serves several purposes, including but not limited to: 

  • Neuromuscular stimulation through PostActivation Potentiation (henceforth PAP) for the upper and lower body...Ready the brain to produce SPEED.

  • Lactate production...RACE!

  • Athletic motions, movements, reactions, etc...swimmers swim fast...athletes swim faster.

The 50 with Anti-Paddles (M.P.) going Drill/Build by 25 again continued the technical theme of EVF, and I love to start pre-sets and main sets with some sort of focused, highly technical drilling to prepare the brain to remember said technique and carry it through the main set. 

The 2 x 12.5 MAX BLAST efforts were as follows:  

  1. Kick with C.O.T.I.A.

  2. Swim with parachute or weight belt

COTIA is similar to COPIA, and in the former case the "T" stands for toys, thus the 12.5 MAX BLAST kick was performed with choice of toys if any. Our athletes know that "toys" refers to the plethora of power toys we employ, whether it be parachutes, Drag Sox, weight belts, cords, Power Towers, ankle weights, etc.. In today's specific example we did not have the Power Towers out, thus the women were free to choose between chutes, Drag Sox, weight belts, and ankle weights. As I mentioned previously, taper is a highly individual prescription and we give them quite a bit of autonomy in choosing their path; the "if any" at the end of COTIA allows them the freedom to not use any resistance on the kick if they so desired.

As for the swim, I did want to elicit a PAP response for the Mix Sprint 25's, thus they were able to choose between a parachute or weight belt for the 12.5 MAX BLAST swim effort. I will not go into PAP in depth in this article, but if the reader is unfamiliar with the concept I would encourage much independent research into the topic. To make a long and rather misunderstood physiological theory short, in layman's terms, the idea behind PAP is that a movement or motion (in this case kicking and full stroke swimming) against resistance "switches on" or "lights up" the neuromuscular system through a rather complex chain of events that then elicits a "better" (higher, faster, stronger, further, etc.) subsequent action or similar motion. In a simple example from the strength training world, one might perform a weighted box jump with a weight vest, take the weight vest off, then go a regular box jump unweighted. The theory is that you would jump higher than normal after the weighted effort or would increase the rate of force development. This phenomenon has been studied quite a bit in the strength training, track and field, and swimming literature, and is quite a long and winding road (and a highly fascinating one) if one cares to venture down said road.  

The 4 x 25's mix sprint were performed as the following, with the goal being speed, speed, more speed, and an attention to detail at the absolute highest level. As we are six days out we simply MUST pay attention to our details, from the way we push off the wall to the placement of our biceps on the streamline to the angle of attack on our breakouts. Details, Details, Details! 

  1. 12.5 MAX BLAST swim, 12.5 EZ

  2. 15 EZ, stop, pause, regroup, then 10 yard MAX BLAST finish from a dead float on a whistle start

  3. 25 EZ

  4. 25 Build to a race finish

 Main Set 

Friday afternoon is a 200 Race Pace day for both groups here at Liberty, and we carry our weekly mini-cycle through our taper, decreasing the volume of Race Pace work that we prescribe while maintaining or just slightly decreasing our intensity. I know this may come as a shock to many, a sprint group reducing Race Pace intensity slightly through a taper...I can explain in a follow-up post if need be. The goal for today's main set was to see EZ speed but slightly faster...the idea that we still wanted to tolerate a bit of lactate but not grit our teeth in the process. FAST swimming but not MAX swimming...FAST with "no muscle" might be another way to put it. I wanted to see them try to go as fast as possible without emptying the tank so to speak...Now that we are two weeks into our rest, can we go FAST without trying to go FAST? Can we go FAST without muscle? Can we hit times that a month ago required a MAX effort and do so with a lower perceived effort today?  

We prescribe work with the goal of EZ speed and FAST but not max efforts throughout the year, and certainly more so during a taper. As mentioned, quite a few of our sprint types swim 200's, with some swimming 2 x 200 at the conference meet, thus we will want them going out fast with no muscle on the first 100 of that 200. Even for the 100 types, the first 25 we will want to see FAST but no muscle, the idea that 98% is plenty fast enough with the dive in order to have a bit more left in the tank coming home on the last 25. 

50 Pull with Anti-Paddles (M.P.)  

The goal again was to set the EVF and hopefully remind/train the brain to carry that EVF through the set, especially on the FAST 50 efforts when it may start it hurt on the second 25.  

12.5 with parachute or weight belt, with Anti-Paddles (M.P.), No fins, going strong but not max.  

The goal here was to add some resistance to the anti-paddle swim, which did several things:

  1. Engaged the legs with a bit of a PAP response

  2. Magnified any pulling inefficiencies and forced corrections

12.5 Same as above with choice of paddles if any 

Adding the paddles if any back to the resisted efforts reconnected the hands to the water and engaged the shoulders/core, again providing a bit of a PAP response and reinforcing the EVF that I hope the brain learned in the previous effort (and the entire workout).  

2 x 50 @ :60 Descend 1-2 to FAST but not max  

50 EZ @ :60  

2 x 50 @ :60 Descend 1-2 to FAST but not max  

Finally, the main set of the main set. The goal here as mentioned previously was fast swimming but not max swimming, and we saw quite a bit of it today. We are in a great spot and we are going to swim fast at our conference meet next week. Just how fast remains to be seen, but we will again see the big drops we have seen each year in the previous five here at Liberty. 

As for the actual 50's, while yes, they were only swimming one fast 50 at a time with plenty of recovery built in, the time achieved was secondary in importance (in my humble opinion), to HOW it was achieved. Yes, I would agree, anyone can swim FAST on what is essentially 4 rounds of 5 x 50 @ :60, going EZ, FAST, EZ, EZ, FAST...but can they go FAST with an effortless stroke and what would be considered a "slow" tempo for the individual? 

While not incredibly taxing on the body, I do love this type of training during a taper as it tells me quite a bit about where we are as a group, and the women get a psychological boost in the process from hitting FAST times that they themselves said "felt easy" to hit.  In many cases, that simple mental boost of going fast and feeling as though they were not trying to do so is all an athlete needs during a taper, and we are sure to give them the opportunity to do so every year. Swimming FAST with a lesser perceived effort is never a bad thing! 

200 M.R. + 200 F.R. Starts 

Relay starts...we had better be ready!  


I always write some quick tips/thoughts at the end of every workout, and my hope is that the "Thoughts" section is the last thing the women see when they leave the pool any given day. Regardless of the times hit in practice or the perceived success (or lackthereof) of the workout, I want them to leave the deck with positive thoughts and small reminders of Excellence. Today it was what I consider the Four Pillars of Taper, as I believe what happens in the pool over the final three weeks of the season pales in comparison to what happens outside of the pool when fast swimming is the goal. Consider the importance of the four: 

  • Sleep...If you are "tapering" but not sleeping, are you sure you are tapering? Sleep is one of the single biggest things we as humans can do to improve our performance (in anything, from athletics to cognitive endeavours), yet so many of us pride ourselves on how little sleep we get, as if the "toughness" factor of sleeping less somehow makes up for the subsequent loss of high performance (both in the physical and cognitive realms).

  • Diet...In general, any coach, athlete, professor, teacher, doctor, or parent who discredits the importance of a healthy diet for elite level athletic or cognitive performance is simply not serious about elite-level performance. We are blessed here at Liberty to have a full-time Director of Sports Nutrition, and I am proud to say that I coach for a University and Athletic Department that is serious about elite level nutrition.

  • School...We want our women to work ahead and limit the amount of stress that missing school will cause while they are at the conference championship meet. Many will miss tests and papers and so ahead, prepare in advance, and limit the academic stressors while at the meet.

  • Having written the above words, all of them, if there is one component more than any other that determines the outcome of a workout, a season, a taper, a championship meet is the power of belief and expectations. Consider the placebo, then realize that a simple sugar pill is the tip of the iceberg in regards to the effect. From fake surgeries to "sham" treatments and everywhere in between, science is discovering that the power of conditioning, expectations, and belief is much stronger than previously imagined. When our women leave the pool deck...let us leave with positive thoughts, for this power is strong indeed!


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