Short rest? Long rest? Alex Kostich continues his look at swimming intervals

Credit: Matthew Stockman/Allsport
In part one of this story, Alex Kostich went in search of the reason why swimmers perform interval sets with much less rest between intervals than cyclists and runners.

In this installment, former Olympian Clay Evans continues to explain the importance of interval training in his own swim program, Southern California Aquatic Masters, the largest club in the United States.

We have 700 swimmers currently enrolled, with about 30 new swimmers a month. Most of these people have never been in an organized workout, much less know how to read a clock. My first priority with them is to get them in the water. My second priority is to teach them how to use a pace clock. My third priority is to teach them to swim!

Nine times out of 10, if I tell one of these swimmers to swim 5x100s on a 2:30 interval, they end up doing the first one on 2:10 with 20 seconds rest. Their next one is 2:20, and their last three are barely under the interval; they have no concept of pacing, of holding back, of knowing their own endurance capabilities.

"And that is my first order of business with all my swimmers; to teach them the discipline of Ascending your effort, descending your time. It takes days, if not weeks, to teach them the concept.

Evans believes that there is a time and place for repeat sets with lots of rest, and he cites his own experience prior to the Olympic Games in 1979.

My hardest workout was a 1,500 warm-up followed by 10x75s on a 5:00 interval at race pace. By number seven or eight, I was trembling I was so tired!

"But I would learn to sprint, and learn to feel what it was like to go a certain speed for an isolated short burst of time. I still believe this type of training is helpful; at least once a week its good to allow for a workout like this.

"You have to train above, and below, your chosen distance. For a distance guy, doing 10x400 on a 5:00 interval is a great way to learn pace, to gain endurance. But sooner or later that guy is going to have to race, or out-sprint someone at the finish line, and thats where sprint training with lots of rest will come in handy.

Bonnie Adair, a three-time national swimming champion and USMS Coach of the Year (1998) considers herself a sprinter. She favors a different approach to interval training, insisting on giving her swimmers more rest so that they can better perform on their chosen drills.

When I was swimming, no one knew any better, and I was a victim of the old way of training. You know, for us, 20 seconds rest between any distance was considered a luxury, and five to 10 seconds was more the norm.

As a sprinter, she found this method of training frustrating, as she was always too tired to perform peak times in workout.

Now that she is a coach, Adair believes that more rest is actually better, for sprinters and distance swimmers alike.

With more rest, a swimmer can focus on their stroke technique, which tends to fall apart under short intervals when fatigue sets in.

Also, with more rest, they can train at a higher level of performance, swimming faster times per repeat and getting closer to their race pace. You know, instead of going 60 percent or 70 percent effort throughout their workout, they end up going at 90 percent effort for part of the workout, which is closer to simulating race conditions.

In addition, they increase their heart-rate and burn a lot more calories than someone who may be training at 70 percent effort.

This type of quality approach to interval training is just recently gaining popularity on the U.S. swimming scene. While Evans claims that the rest of the world has yet to catch up to the swimming community in terms of interval workouts, the swimming world is also changing.

By allowing athletes more rest to perform faster times in practice, coaches today seem open to the idea that more distance, less rest is not always the best approach. Until more is known, mixing quantity with quality training is probably the most effective way to develop endurance while gaining speed.


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