Constructing Workouts for the Advanced Age Group Swimmer by Ken O’Reilly (2000)


Ken O’Reilly, ASCA Level 3, is beginning his fourth season with the New Jersey Swim Team where he has just been named the new head coach/CEO. He is also beginning a teaching career in the Paramus School System as a computer applications/keyboarding teacher. Ken has served as the head age group coach at the NJ Wave for the past three years. He is the former head coach and aquatic director of the Greater Bergen County YMCA. In addition, he has experience working at the Swim with Schubert Swim Camp. Throughout his 11 years of coaching experience, he has coached all different ability levels and age groups including a number of USS Top 16 Age Group swimmers, one number-one-ranked swimmer, NJ State Champions, NJ State Record-holders, Junior Championship swimmers and YMCA National swimmers. Ken holds an undergraduate degree in business administration from Manhattan College and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Montclair State University, Len has also recently been married to the beautiful Monika Anisko.



I have spent the past 10 years trying to learn as much as I can about the coaching of Competitive Swimming. Much of what I have learned and continue to learn has been the combination of ideas of other coaches, trial and error, and a few of my own ideas. Coaching is very much a copycat profession. What makes a program your own is the many different ideas created, borrowed and combined to form a new mix.  The truly creative individuals tend to help us have major breakthroughs.


After reading, experimenting, attending clinics, and working with and sharing ideas with other coaches, I have come up with my own combination of ideas that has helped me to improve as a coach. The ASCA provides excellent resources for the developing coach. I have had the good fortune to talk with or work with some excellent coaches including Mark Schubert (swim camp), Ernie Maglischo (Maglischo coaching clinic), John Collins (clinic), Frank McElroy (employer), Ken Stopkotte (clinic) and many excellent local coaches. I thank them all.


I would like to share some of the thoughts and ideas I have either borrowed or created on constructing workouts. The article is geared toward less experienced coaches to help give them a framework to work from but may also be helpful to a more experienced coach as it lends a different perspective. I am often surprised at the number of coaches that do not know how to construct a good workout. It took me 8 years of trial and error to come up with this type of format for a typical aerobic workout and this is what works best for me.


The following format for an aerobic workout is only one suggestion as there are many different ways to construct workouts. The yardage will vary depending on the age and ability of the athlete. The following is geared toward the advanced age grouper (10-12yrs old).


Format for and Aerobic Workout:

  1. Loosen up 800-1000 yards
  2. Pre-set 600-1200 yards
  3. Main Set (aerobic) ~3000-5000 yards
  4. Kick 600-1000 yards
  5. Secondary set 200-1500 yards
  6. Cool down 100-400 yards

Total                 ave. + or – 6200-7000 yards



Major part of Warm-up.

W/loosen up totals 1200-2000 yards or 20-30 minutes.


Pull/drill/swim/mix strokes, etc.

Could be more than 1 set.

Helps prevent injury.


This set is meant to be a further warm-up before the main set so they do a total of 1200-2000 (20-30 minutes) before they do the main set; it is usually a lower end aerobic set that is progressive in nature. ie. EN1, pulling, drilling, swimming, mixing strokes, sometimes even more than one set.


Main Set

40-60+ minutes.

3200+, up to 4-5000 yards for advanced age groupers.

Improves endurance tremendously!!!

Long set / descending.

Range of energy systems (En 1/2/3).

Short Rest Intervals.

Swimmers start and finish together.

Establish a base send off time per 100 for each stroke for a 40+ minute set.

Maximize yards/minute relative to the stroke being swum.

Manipulate all 3 training variables:





This set is purposely designed to take 40-60+ minutes on short rest intervals. For the advanced age grouper the set usually averages about 3200+ yds, although occasionally up to 4-5000yds. By making the set this long and descending within the set you work through a range of energy systems ie. EN1, EN2, EN3 typically. Most of the set would be EN1 and EN2 with only the fastest repeats being in the EN3 range (I got this idea from both Frank McElroy and Ernie Maglischo). This type of set improves their endurance tremendously. The set is designed to be long so the swimmer can’t go too fast at certain parts thus making sure there is EN1 work along with fast aerobic work. The swimmer needs to pace and descend in order to finish the set properly. You could also make this set several short sets combined together but send them from one set into another with less than a minute rest. Sometimes I would do a long swim like a 1000 Neg. Split, then send them right into another set for a cumulative effect. The length of the set should be reduced for slower lanes so that all lanes finish together.


Why Descend?

More motivating for the swimmers.

Increases the coaches and swimmer’s confidence.

Works through a range of energy systems.  (esp. EN1 – low end aerobic.)

Prevents injury.

Develops a sense of pace.

Better for technique.


Late in the Season – Age Groupers

Some Aerobic sets with mixed speed work.

Occasional VO2 max sets.

Some dove Sprints of lactate sets (300-400 yards per week.)


Rick Stacey – 3 forms of Aerobic Training

1)  long steady swims of 1000-5000 yards each stroke.  (Tech focus)

2)  Over distance Repeats – 300-1000 yards each stroke.

3)  Short rest repeats, 50-300 yards each stroke working on lowering base send off times.


Building Up your Main Sets

Start mixing sets with easy intervals, drills, and kicks but keep them moving.

Short sets done consecutively with less than 1 minute rest.

Get them to ask for more!

Don’t force it.  Sell it!!!

Have group records for repeats and sets.



Have them race.

Kicking relays.

Time them and put pressure on them.

Give them goals times.

Establish kicking records.


With older swimmers I would do the kick set after the loosen-up (90% of the time without boards). Older swimmers do a better job kicking early in practice, whereas younger swimmers are more disciplined. Older swimmers can do a short recovery swim or set here (300-600yds).


Secondary Set

Short aerobic set (600-1500 yards) or short sprint set (100-300 yards), alternate through the week.

If aerobic, descend to something fast on short rest.

Get them to work hard when tired.

Helps ability to finish races strong.


Either sprints or another short aerobic set. It is important to make this another aerobic set a few times a week ~600 to 1200 yards, sometimes 1500. It gives them the ability to finish their races strong by forcing them to work hard even though they’re tired (usually includes something fast on short rest). The secondary aerobic set has proved real valuable in getting them to finish those middle distance and distance races strong. If aerobic, it’s also usually descended, working through a range of energy systems. Sprint sets should be very short (100-300 yds.) and done less frequently, although not left out (usually less than 600 yds. total per week for the age grouper, seniors need more).


Weekly Format

1 day each stroke + IM + Best

Distance Free/IM/Back/Breast/Fly/Best

Best on day with most space available.

Rotation of strokes/emphasis allows hard work early every day.

Straight sets and mixed sets each stroke.

Work on weaknesses and strengths.

Kids can shine at least 2 times a week.


Fly Day is Friday is Fun Day

  1. Shorter workout. Workout is perceived as not as difficult but it is still challenging.
  2. Everyone loves fly day; helps to develop a positive attitude toward fly.
  3. shorter repeats / sets help to maintain fly technique.
  4. Opportunity for the coach to work technique.
  5. Good for weaker swimmers.
  6. Occasionally time some swimmers to challenge.
  7. Better flyers do tough fly sets and longer repeats (100/200/300+) on best stroke day.
  8. Kids get a break at the end of the week (Friday) – regenerates them for Saturday morning.
  9. Usually and extra 1-2 fly sets during the week. (Since most fly sets are under 1000 yards.)
  10. Occasional test set, timed swim, or IM success drill for variety.
  11. Stress the hip action (back of legs visible) breathing every other, big kick on entry, timing (“Head under before the hands”)



Sometimes during the workout it may be indicated approximately how fast the swimmer should go with a % of effort such as  ¾ speed (75%) or 7/8 speed (88%) especially on longer swims.


The workouts do not necessarily follow a set pattern or cycle but what I do is try to change the emphasis of the workouts enough throughout the week so they are not always using the same strokes, muscle groups or energy systems. If  I see them start to break down I might give a recovery type workout or change the stress by doing a different type of workout such as IM’s or drills. Typically our best age group kids swim 6x per week with a Distance free day, IM day, Backstroke day, Breaststroke day, Butterfly day, and Best Stroke day (other than free). All strokes may be swum on any day but one stroke is emphasized more than the others. The kids are very comfortable with this weekly format. Every kid has days to shine. For instance, the kid that is a strong breaststroker but weaker in the other strokes can be a hero at least 2x per week. The best swimmer in the group is humbled a little on their weak stroke day. Due to the changing of the strokes and muscle groups and the long aerobic sets, including a good amount of EN1 (low-end aerobic) work along with faster aerobic work, we are able to work very hard nearly every day. The swimmers kill themselves in workout even on their weakest stroke days.


We have very few recovery days, perhaps 2-4 a season. The result has been a very strong IM and Distance group. Many of the kids have their Junior Olympic time standards in their worst strokes, which aren’t that bad anymore, as well as their best. The swimmers often win their races and the group has produced numerous State Champions, Top 16 swimmers and State Record holders.


Some other ideas for practice, which may be helpful, are as follows:


  1. Train the majority of the swimmers for the 400 IM, even the distance freestylers because by switching the strokes so much you are changing muscle groups and the emphasis of the work, thus less likely to overtrain people while having more versatile swimmers. IM work must include straight sets in each of the four strokes, not just IM sets. This type of training is often neglected.


  1. Do a minimum of 1 technique set and 1 hard interval set in each stroke rotating the strokes through the week. For example, you can do a 4000 yd. set where 1500-3000 of it is breaststroke mixed in. Late in the year you can do more specialty and IM switch type workouts.


  1. From mid-season on, occasionally (not often) do sets like 3x (300 moderate @5:00, 500 Fast @ 6:00). The kids would generally descend these (although they should all be fast) sometimes coming very close to best times or breaking best times in workout. You should be careful, as it is a very stressful workout. If you overdo it you may have to follow it with a recovery style workout or a lower pressure workout.


  1. Late in the season it is sometimes good to do a major aerobic set with some speed work mixed in. For example, 4×200 IM@2:55, 4×75 Breast – hard descend to 4@1:30, 4×200 IM@2:50, 4×50 Back – hard descend to 4@1:00, 4×200 IM@2:45, 4×25 Fly – hard descend to 4 @:30. Each set of 4×200 IM’s gets faster and each mini stroke set is descended to race pace.


  1. Late in the season a few dive sprints off the block are very helpful. I limit the amount of sprinting with our age groupers. We usually do 3×125 Max lactate one day a week in their choice of stroke (usually major) the last 3 weeks before our one week rest, not taper, for the state meet. They go in 2 groups with a lot of rest. Although, the majority of our workouts are aerobic and on short rest focusing in on Distance and IM swimming, I do believe that some sprinting is necessary and helpful for the age grouper.


  1. Rick Stacey in his article on Age Group training makes an excellent recommendation on endurance training. He recommends three forms for all strokes and IM. They include long steady state swims of 1000 to 5000 yds in all strokes, over-distance repeats of 300 to 1000 yds in each stroke and short rest sets in all strokes and IM working on lowering the base send off time per 100.


  1. I usually establish a base send off time per 100 for each stroke that swimmers can go off on for a 3200+ set. The longer the set, the tougher it gets. For instance, our fast lane in the age group program will go off on a 1:15 base in Free, a 1:25 base for IM, a 1:25 base for Back, a 1:40 base for Breast, and a 1:30 base in Fly (which actually gives them extra rest for fly). Some swimmers can handle faster. Your base time can even be odd such as 1:17 for free. We used to do this. Your 100’s would be on 1:15 or 1:20 depending on the set, 200’s would be on 2:35, 300’s on 3:50, 400’s on 5:10, etc. This is a good way to gradually lower the base times per 100 for each stroke.


  1. You have 3 variables to manipulate when working on endurance and you should manipulate all 3, not just the speed variable. They include volume, rest, and speed. Speed is obvious. By doing the repeats faster the swimmers will improve. However, by cutting back on send-off times you are manipulating the rest variable also forcing improvement in endurance. You can also manipulate volume to improve endurance. For instance, you can start with a set of 20×100 Free @ 1:15 early in the season and bring the swimmers up to 40×100 Free @ 1:15 over the course of the season. We did this the past season and 5 swimmers were able to complete this set successfully. The other lanes went on 1:20 or 1:25. If you only manipulate one of these variables, rather than all 3 the swimmers will plateau early.


  1. During aerobic sets, especially the main set, try to maximize your yards per minute relative to the stroke being swum. Keep in mind a 45 minute backstroke set is just as productive as a 45 minute freestyle set regardless of the total number of yards swum as long as the yards per minute are maximized for the particular stroke being swum. Swimmers often get cheated out of Fly/Back/Breast sets by coaches doing more Free and IM sets to get the yardage in, however, yardage is relative to the stroke being swum.


  1. 85-90% of workout sets are descended to work through several energy systems and to develop a sense of pace. This introduces stress gradually in the workout helping prevent injury and overtraining. It is also a highly motivating way for the swimmer to train. The fast repeats help both the coaches’ and swimmers’ confidence.


  1. When descending a set, the 1st 1/3 is for Form or Technique, the 2nd1/3 is for Form and Speed, the last 1/3 is for Speed (hopefully holding good form.) By getting them to do the sets this way early season, and sticking to this during the season, you are teaching them to train with good strokes, which is very important !


  1. Only allow 1 swimmer to the bathroom at a time, and never during an important set or the main set.


  1. Never allow a swimmer to kick instead of swim a practice or set. I can’t believe the number of coaches (even experienced) that put a pair of fins on a swimmer and give them a kick board when they complain of an ear infection or a sore shoulder. That’s fun for these swimmers and could cause other swimmers to create ailments that don’t exist. Not swimming workout the way it was designed should be a negative experience not a positive one. This way the swimmers don’t want to repeat the negative experience. Swimmers with an ear infection should be made to swim head up breast or free in the slowest lane. They hate it and the ear infections heal fast. Swimmers with a sore shoulder should do single arm drills with the bad arm at the side. They also hate this and even though the ailment might be legitimate, it will prevent other swimmers from inventing problems. A proper loosen-up and pre-set will prevent shoulder problems. Most coaches don’t build into their workout properly thus resulting in the onset of stress too quickly. Also, rotating strokes, muscle groups and types of work will prevent shoulder problems. I have never had a swimmer with a serious shoulder problem (younger or older). If a swimmer comes in with a sore shoulder, they are asked to do single arm drills as mentioned above, although this almost rarely happens.


  1. Be consistent, honest, and set high standards. Keep it positive and have fun!


I would like to give examples of a week of workouts to show the rotation of strokes. We have 17 in this group and usually have 2 lanes. Sometimes we will get a third lane for part of the workout. On Mondays after the first 55 minutes of workout we get 2 additional lanes, so we put off the main set until this time and do a Best Stroke workout since we have more space. I will include the send off times for the slower lanes also. Sets are always adjusted for the slower lanes so all lanes start and end sets together. This is fair since they all work hard for the same period of time, and also prevents the fastest lane from waiting for the other lanes to finish a set (which wastes time).


Mon. 5:05-7pm (25 yds)

1)   400 Fr/300 Bk/200 Br/100 Fly @ :15 rest

2)   8×50 (25 Fr/25 Bk) @:50 – Sprint the turn (flip turn, explode off on back)

3)   40×25 Fly-zoomers @ :25  (36@:30-other lane)

*every 8th on :20 (:25 other lane)

4)   4×75 Bk-drill (25 RA, 25 LA, 25 Technique) @ :15 rest

4×50 Brst-drill (3 kicks/pull) @ :10 r

4×25 Fly-drill (3 under/2up) @ :05 r

5)   4x [ 300 Fr @     3:45  4:00  4:20  4:30 (4 lanes)

200 IM @    2:50  3:00  3:10  3:20

3×100 Best-str (1to3)@ 1:30  1:35  1:40  1:50 (Brst may do 25 fr/75 brst to make times)

notes:  Descend 300’s and 200’s by round, descend each set of 3×100, :30r btwn rds.

Lanes 3 & 4 skip last 300 and only do 2×100, lane 2 skips 1×200 IM

6)   100 ez                                                                    6300


Tues. 3:30-5:10pm (25 yds)

1)   800 Fr -every 3rd 50 is 5000 count free drill.

2)   4×100 Fr – paddles + fins @ 1:25 1:30

*Hyp. 3-5 by 50 working Technique.

3)   4×500 Fr @ 6:30 (other lane 450’s on same interval)

3×500 Fr @ 6:20 (450)

2×500 Fr @ 6:10 (450)

1×500 Fr @ 6:00 (450)

4)   100 ez                                                                    6300


Wed. 5:05-7pm (25 yds)

1)   500 Fr (Streamline past flags)

2×250 Rev IM (100 Fr/75 Br/50 Bk/25 Fly) @ :15 r

2)   2x [ 2×50 Fly @   :45   :50

100 Free @ 1:20 1:30  (round 1)

1:15 1:25 (round 2)

2x [ 2×50 Bk @    :45   :50

note:  2nd lane skips 1×50 Bk & 1×50 Brst

100 Free @ 1:20 1:30 (rd 1)

1:15 1:25 (rd 2)

2x [ 2×50 Br @     :50   :55

100 Free @ 1:20 1:30 (rd 1)

1:15 1:25 (rd 2)

3)   5×200 Free @ 2:35  2:45  2:55 (4 only)

5×200 IM   @ 2:55  3:05  3:15 (4 only)

3×200 Free @ 2:35  2:45  2:55

3×200 IM   @ 2:45  2:55  3:05

1×200 Free @ 2:35  2:45  2:55

1x 200 IM  @ 2:35  2:45  2:55

4)   12 x50 Kick -Ch (1to4) @:55  (11@1:00)

5)   2x [ 100 Free – Smooth @ 1:45

4×50 Free – Fast @ :35  :37 ½  :40

6)   4×25 ez @:25                                                          7100


Thurs. 5:05-7pm (25 yds)

1)   500 Free (wall breathe)

300 Bk – 3-5+ dolphin kicks ea. Wall

2)   6×50 Bk – drill @ 1:00

# 1-3  Up, Bk, Around drill

4-6  3lt/3rt/6whole

3)   2×400 Bk (1to2) @ 5:40  (350 same interval)

3×300 Fr (1to3)  @ 3:45  4:15 (2 only)

4×200 Bk-zoomers (1to4) @ 2:45  3:05

note: keep zoomers handy, :30r to put zoomers on,

5×100 Fr –  3@ 1:20  1:30 :10r to take zoomers off.   2@ 1:15 1:25

6×50 Bk-zoomers (1to3) @ :40  :45

4)   2x [ 100 kick -moderate @ 2:05

4×50 k-fast @ :50

5)   2×100 Fr  @ 1:25  1:35

2×100 Bk @ 1:20  1:30

2×100 Fr  @ 1:20  1:30

2×100 Bk @ 1:15  1:25 (1 only)

1×100 Fr  @ 1:30  1:40

1×100 Bk @ 1:10  1:20

6)   Relay – Towing Partner (25)

7)   100 ez                                                                     6125


Fri. 4:50-6:05pm (25 yds)

1)   600 Free (wall breathe Hyp. 2-4 by 50)

4×75 Fly – drill (25 3under/2up, 25 2/2/2, 25 Hyp. 2) @ :15r

2)   6x [ 12 ½ Streamline & Fast Breakout @ :15

25  Sprint Turn @ :30

12 ½ Strong Finish @ :15

25 Drill @ :30

notes:  3 rounds Free, 3 rounds choice.

3)   800 Free – Neg. Split @ 10:00 (700-750 other lane)  Build from ¾ to 7/8 speed.

4)   20×75 Fly-Free-Fly (1to4) @ 1:15  1:25 (18 only)

5)   100 ez                                                                     3750


Sat. 7-9am (25 yds)

1)   500 Free – every 3rd 50 is Catch-up Hyp. 3

300 Brst – (3/2/1 x 1000 count glide by 100)

2)   12×25 Brst-pull – zoomers @ :30

* Fast Hands drill on recovery

3)   4×200 Brst @  3:20  3:40 (3 only)

1×400 Free @ 5:20  (350 same interval)

3×200 Brst @  3:15  3:35

1×400 Free @ 5:20  (350)

2×200 Brst @  3:10  3:30

1×400 Free @ 5:20  (350)

1×200 Brst @  3:00  3:20

4)   400 IM – kick @ :20 r

6×50 Ch-k @ :55 (5@1:00)

4×25 Fly -k on back @ :25  :30

5)   4x [ 75 Fr – Smooth @ 1:10

3×25 Sprint -Ch @ :20  :25 (no free)

6)    100 ez                                                                    5800                 Week total…  35,375  n



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