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Precious Seconds

posted December 2, 2006 @ 3:25 PM  |  Technique, Tips, and Drills category

~By Scott Rabalais

Only 25 yards to go…keep my stroke long…legs are getting heavy…six strokes to the wall…don’t look up…need to breathe…three strokes, two, one…

You’ve made it to the wall, finishing the seventh 100-yard repeat in a set of 10 x 100. Your interval is 1:30, which means you have no more than 90 seconds to swim 100 yards, rest, and then start it all over again. And, the coach is keeping an eye on your times and has demanded all swimmers keep an even pace through the set. Your repeats have been held in the 1:19-1:21 range, but keeping the times there for the final three swims looks to be a daunting task.

Your ability to maintain or improve on your pace in this situation will have much to do with how you spend the time resting between 100-yard repeats. While these short rest periods are the physically restorative breaks during the set, they’re also an opportunity for productive mental and physical exercises.


If you are swimming at or near your physical limit, you are experiencing labored breathing as you touch the wall. Relax and allow your breathing rate to decrease on its own; do not force yourself into irregular or deep breathing patterns. In situations that allow you extended rest periods, talking and socializing is more than encouraged. However, when your rest period is only 10 seconds, excessive talking can interfere with your ability to breathe, recover, and, ultimately, maintain your pace in a set. Save the chatter for after the set or workout, when you will have more time – and breath – to talk about the set!

In particular, watch your breathing during the last two or three seconds before pushing off into the next repeat. Synchronize the breaths so that you will submerge your body immediately after inhaling without significantly changing your breathing rate. Watching the clock as it approaches your send-off time and anticipating your breathing rate is much like anticipating your last few freestyle strokes as you approach a flip turn. It’s all about timing and keeping your breathing in rhythm with your actions.

The arms and shoulders should be kept in the most relaxed position possible during the rest period. Avoid lifting up both forearms to hang on the wall as this can add to shoulder fatigue. Instead, if in deep water place one hand on the wall and allow both arms to hang loosely. If in shallow water, keep the body low in the water, a more weightless position that will keep your body accustomed to the water temperature.

Should you encounter muscle stiffness in some area of your body, it may be advisable to perform a quick stretch as you recover on the wall. For example, if you experience tightness in a triceps muscle, bob underwater two or three times, maintaining your breathing rate, as you stretch your triceps over your head. Your ability to stretch between repeats will be largely dependent on the time between swims and whether such activity will take away from your ability to perform during the next repeat.


As your hand touches the wall at the end of a repeat, a few mental calculations and evaluations, all of which should take just a few seconds, should begin:

1) Determine your repeat time. You may need to recall what the clock read when you left on the previous repeat and do a little subtraction to calculate your time. Don’t wait until you touch the wall to begin the math; as you are approaching the wall, begin to consider what time you will see when you finish the repeat.

2) Evaluate your repeat time. Were you surprised by your time? Was if faster or slower than expected? In what way should you improve or adjust your efforts on the next repeat based on the previous one?

3) Set a goal for the next repeat. Your goal may be time oriented, or it may reflect technique or effort. As the set becomes more challenging, your goal may be to keep the same time for the next 100-yard swim. Or, perhaps your streamlines are falling apart on your turns and wish to improve them. Maybe you want to swim the first 50 slightly slower and the second 50 a little faster. As you start each repeat, have something in mind on which to focus.

4) Be prepared. Always think ahead, and know when it will be time for you to push off the wall. Don’t just follow those around you, as they may be off of the interval or miscounted their number of swims. Be precise and accurate in your send-off, moving to submerge one second before the intended send-off time so that you are actually pushing off exactly on the send-off time. Structured sets demand structured thinking, particularly when there are a half-dozen swimmers in your lane!


Let’s say you’ve made it to number 10, the last repeat of the set. Your best 100 time during the set is 1:19, and you know you can improve on that with a little extra effort. So, use your final rest period to rev your emotional engines and psyche yourself up for a great finish. A little self-talk (mentally, please) can go a long way toward improving your performance. Be your own cheerleader, and consider a quick "shout-out" for your teammates!

During other parts of the set, you may have to keep the emotions in check. For example, early in the set Speedy Sally is swimming next to you at the same pace, but on the fourth 100, she takes off and goes a 1:17. While you may want to be competitive and decide between 100s to go with her, you also consider maintaining your current pace so that you can get through the set in a consistent manner. You know your limits, and you don’t want to test them too early.

When on the wall between swims, stay mentally positive. Ignore the comments from swimmers who complain or talk negatively about the set. Keep your focus squarely on what you wish to accomplish, taking one repeat in a time, all the while aware of the overall task at hand.


By staying on top of your game during rest periods, you will allow those around you to train more effectively as well. By keeping quiet during short-rest intervals, others will not feel obligated to carry on conversations with you that will compromise the focus of both swimmers. If you leave at the proper send-off time, those behind you will be able to stay on schedule as well. And, the better you perform by maintaining or improving your pace, the better those around you are likely to perform.

When you follow the above suggestions, waiting for you at the wall will be a reward that is near and dear to every hard-working swimmer… MORE REST!

Scott Rabalais is a collegiate and Masters swim coach in Savannah, Georgia. Rabalais is Fitness Editor for SWIM Magazine and Vice President of USMS.


All Dynoswimmers need to read this article. It speaks to every swimmer at every level who at one time or another struggles with repeats.

Posted by Dean O. on December 2, 2006 @ 3:41 PM


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