1508 Converting Masters Workout

One thing TI Coaches are often asked by swimmers who have migrated to Total Immersion training from traditional masters swim programs is “how can I still do these workouts we’re given, but do them in a Total Immersion way?”

The short answer is this: to keep it simple, keep the repeat distances and intensities, but identify the specific skills you will work on and the focal points and metrics you are going to use on each set to ensure that you are building those skills. What doesn’t have an apparent skill benefit to you, convert it into something that will. As needed, slow things down for a moment (by inserting a drill – read this to understand drills better) when you find your quality, and therefore your focus, diminishing below acceptable. Fitness can improve with mindless swimming, but skill (and hence, performance) will not.


I was inspired to start sharing this exercise on the blog once in a while, and a perfect opportunity presented itself to me. At the moment I happen to be back in my home state of Oregon USA for a few weeks, which means I am back in a 25 yard pool for most of my time here. At my first day in the local pool I saw the ubiquitous masters swim workout written on the white board for swimmers to follow that day.

150813 image whiteboard 600x450

Here is what was written:

  • 400 swim, 200 kick, 400 pull (build by 100)
  • 12×50 IM order 1:00
  • 4x 100 IM or stroke 1:45
  • 6x 75 IM or stroke 1:20
  • 8x 50 stroke :55
  • 12x 25 stroke :30
  • 8x 75 kick/drill/swim
  • 200 c/d
  • (3950)

Let me interpret that for those who may not be familiar with traditional swim workout notation:

Warm Up

  • 400 swim
  • 200 kick (head up, hips flat, flutter kick with a board)
  • 4x 100 with pull buoy (no rest, gradually increase effort on each 100)

Main Set

  • 12x 50 – alternate stroke types (butterfly, back, breast, free), and repeat on 1min
  • 4x 100 – alternate stroke types or stick to your specialty, repeat on 1min 45sec
  • 6x 75 – alternate stroke types or stick to your specialty, repeat on 1min 20sec
  • 8x 50 – stick to your specialty, repeat on 55sec
  • 12x 25 – stick to your specialty, repeat on 30sec
  • 8x (25 kicking with board, 25 drill, 25 whole stroke swimming)
  • 200 cool down swim
  • Total workout 3950 yards

Now, there was no additional notation whatsoever on the board. Would you know what to do with that practice? Do you know how it would improve your performance? What skills were you suppose to develop? How do you personalize it to fit your person, and your point in the season? When you got done with the workout, how would you know whether you were a better swimmer than when you started?

I wasn’t there during the masters workout that morning so I have no idea what additional instruction, what focus, guidance or personalization the live coach may have offered to the swimmers on each part of this workout. But the written instructions alone offered very little to the swimmer other than a way to divide up some distance during their time in the water.

So what I am going to do is, as some call it, to “TI-ify” the workout and make it a practice. Workouts are about raising heart rate and pumping muscles. Practice is about increasing skills that make high performance accessible. Remember what I often repeat: fitness is your ability to generate power and sustain it, skill (or technique) is your ability to apply that power precisely where/how/when it is needed. Fitness supplies, technique applies. So, while we will let fitness happen during this practice with the distance and intensity, let’s make sure it builds some performance-enhancing skills in a way that sticks too.


What do you do to convert this into a practice?

1) Identify skill sets you want to work on.

Since this practice does not imply much purpose I suggest a couple skill sets based on how the workout was laid out already:

  • a) tune-up for other strokes
  • b) maintain precision in freestyle, as interval intensity increases


2) Choose specific points in those skills you will work on today.

For the Other Strokes section there needs to be perhaps 2 focal points for each stroke style.

For example, in the Other Strokes tune-up, for each I might suggest focal points in these categories:

  • A – head position in breathing on each stroke style, and
  • B – entry point and pathway of arms as they enter the water in front of the head.

For each of these you may pick a very specific improvement or correction – in the form of a command to your muscles – as your focal point.

For the freestyle section, where precision will be challenged as intensity increases, you may pick focal points that relate directly to the parts of your stroke that tend to fail when you feel the stress of higher intensity.

3) Monitor and measure those specific skills.

There must be a feedback loop that has you set intention, take action, measure how closely you achieved the intention and repeat again with any correction needed. You either need to feel it, see it, or have some outside device or observer tell you how close you are to what you intended to achieve.


So, here is my example for how to convert this workout into a practice:

Tune-Up (aka Warm-Up)

1100 m/yd

  • 400 Silent Swim
  • 2x 100 kick in perfect Skate Position, switch sides and go directly to Sweet Spot (aka Interrupted) Breathing as needed
  • 4x 50 + 6x 50 Asymmetric Tempo Pyramid – start at a comfortable tempo, on 4x 50 slow tempo by .08 by 50s, then on 6x 50 speed up tempo by .04 by 50s. Count strokes. Goal: finish at starting tempo with lower SPL than at start. Choose 1 to 3 points (used one at a time) which will help you preserve your stroke length.

Main Set A – Other Strokes

1200 m/yd

3 Rounds – one round for each of IM stroke style, your choice which three:

  • Choose 2 focal points
  • 2x 25 drill
  • 25 + 50 + 75 – count strokes, hold SPL or improve on each length
  • 15 seconds active rest with drill between each repeat
  • 15 sec drill
  • 2x 100 with 8-12 nasal breath rest at wall, hold SPL or improve on each.
  • If desired, use Tempo Trainer (TT) set to comfortable tempo (TC) to add pace control challenge.

Main Set B – Freestyle

1150 m/yd

  • Choose 2 focal points, alternate focal points on each repeat
  • 6x 75 whole stroke, hold N SPL, use TT at TC – 0.06
  • 8x 50 whole stroke, hold N SPL, use TT at TC – 0.12
  • 12x 25 whole stroke, hold N SPL, use TT at TC – 0.18
  • Allow 8-12 nasal breaths rest at wall between each repeat, 30 seconds rest between sets

Main Set C – Freestyle Skills

  • 2x 75 6-beat kick in Skate Position with snorkel
  • 2x 75 Slide And Glide* with 2-Beat Kick, with snorkel
  • 2x 75 whole stroke at normal tempo, wth snorkel
  • Maintain perfect head position
  • Compare ease and productivity of 6-Beat versus 2-Beat Kick.

* Some explanation of Slide and Glide, and Example.

Wrap-Up (aka Cool Down)

  • Choose favorite focal point from the day
  • 200 Silent Swim


Now, with a skill-orientation to swim practice, the Total Immersion method provides endless ways to personalize such generic practices. For this particular example I have simply imagined a swimmer with certain capabilities and needs in mind and applied some TI practice planning principles to the conversion.

I might get swamped by this invitation, but I will offer it out of curiosity. If you would like to see how I might modify a masters workout you have on hand, send it to me along with the specific stroke and/or pacing (SPL, Tempo) skills you would like to work on using this practice – if I think it would be helpful to others I will convert it and post it here on the blog.  If I get overloaded with submissions I will just pick one from time to time and post it here.

© 2015, Mediterra International, LLC. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mediterra International, LLC and Mediterraswim.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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