How do you set up a practice to train for 1500?

A long-time friend of mine emailed me his latest 3000 yard workout, sharing his results for some 500 repeats he made with the 1500 triathlon swim as his target. His (traditional) approach is to jump in the pool and just swim hard, with some rest intervals in there to break up the distance and permit harder-than-race-pace efforts – basic interval stuff. He does this regularly hoping for some improvement in times.

He asked how I might design a 3000 to 3500 yard workout, in comparison to his. This was my reply:

Here is an example of a set I might design with 1500 tri-swim training in mind, using your 7:13 for 500 yards pace as a reference point for target pace.

12 minute warm-up starting at ‘walking’ pace and moving toward a variety of strokes and tempo as my body loosened up. Maybe 600 to 800 yards. I don’t count. It is pretty consistent that it takes me about 11-12 minutes for first level of feeling warmed up. Then 25 minutes marks the next level of settling in – just about the time I am starting the main set.

Maybe another 300 yards or so of 25 slow tempo Focal Point work + 25 brisk tempo with a selection of Focal Points (FP). I would choose the Focal Points to correspond exactly to what drag reducing micro-skills I intend to focus upon in the upcoming main set. I would pick Focal Points A, B, and C to use for this day.

Then here is an entry-level 2100y set, using a Tempo Trainer:

6x (50, 100, 150), with 6x nasal-breaths rest at wall, or till nasal breathing slows to oxygen-uptake emphasis. (For more on nasal breathing, read Grant Moleneux’s Effortless Exercise ebook).

(I chose 16 SPL as my appropriate SPL for this distance, in a yard pool. And I ran some numbers through my pace calculator to come up with tempo combos that would produce a certain incremental increase in pace for each repeat.)

1. hold 16 SPL + 1.16 Tempo (for approx 21 sec / 25 yard pace), with Focal Point A
2. hold 16 SPL + 1.14 Tempo (for 20.5 sec pace), with Focal Point B
3. hold 16 SPL + 1.12 Tempo (for 20.1 sec pace), with Focal Point C
4. hold 16 SPL + 1.10 Tempo (for 19.8 sec pace), with FP…
5. hold 16 SPL + 1.08… ? (19.4 pace), with FP…
6. hold 16 SPL +

Depending on how I was performing that day up to #4 I would either continue to step up tempo or hold at a certain tempo and keep working there. I would judge in terms of not only how successful in holding the target SPL + Tempo combination but in what expense in HR. If I saw that it was getting too ‘expensive’ for the intended distance objective (going anaerobic too early), then I need to work at a certain tempo to deepen the base there. It’s not about avoiding suffering, but about doing what most effectively trains the body to distribute energy evenly across the intended distance. Pace management is energy management. It’s not about being tough, its about holding focus and learning to distribute energy in a way that is appropriate to the distance and the objectives for that distance (a triathlete who needs to get out of the water ready for more, versus a pure ow swimmer who wants to burn it all up by the finish line).

As my neural threshold improves (my ability to hold the intended SPL + Tempo combo consistently on every 25) I can adjust difficulty in 3 general ways:

  1. I can adjust the variables SPL and/or Tempo to start the set at a slightly faster pace.
  2. I can increase the distance of the repeats (rather than 6x (50, 100, 150) I could do 4x (75, 100, 125, 150) for instance).
  3. I can decrease the amount of rest in between the intervals.

#2 and #3  essentially lower the rest/work ratio over a span of time until rest disappears (thus swimming 1500 non-stop with a certain SPL x Tempo combo) and HR stays under control.

Then I sometimes like to finish with 6-8x 50  (with Finis PD fins) with 25 underwater dolphining (apnia to half-way mark), and 25 Skate position kicking, or 25 backstroke kicking with slow, controlled arm switches (practicing perfect backstroke timing, arm entry and catches). Because my knee is still recovering I need to be careful about how much kicking I do.


I post this 1500 pace practice example because I too appreciate seeing how others do their practices to get ideas and compare notes.

The thing about TI training from a neurological perspective, we see that there is a nearly endless way to design and personalize practice sets to achieve very specific stroke control and drag reduction skills that directly affect your performance. By all means, challenge yourself with tough sets – and do it intelligently. Math, in this case, is your friend.

You could certainly take this main set above and use it yourself (tweaking distances, the SPL and Tempo combo to suit your event and personal metrics) until you saw how you could adjust it to make it even more effective to provoke your improvement. You’ll gain a great deal of insight into your own pace control ability it. Once you grasp the principles behind how it was designed, you can more confidently and creatively design your own sets that address exactly what you need to work on, at your performance level.


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