Middle Distance Training by Don LaMont, El Monte Swim Club, California (1972)


My topic is on “Middle Distance and Distance Training” and I would like to break it down into four  sections:

  1. Conditioning
  2. Pace
  3. Strategy
  4. Tapering


Conditioning for a distance swimmer is sometimes very lonely and very boring and I think that variety is  an important  part  of their  program… For instance, sharing a Workout with the rest of  the team can sometimes provide a lift. Working different strokes even though over a longer distance, can achieve variety… but you have to remember  – there is  no  substitute for mileage.


Total yardage will depend on certain variables: Pool size,  time available  for  workouts,  number of swimmers training, etc.


I don’t believe there is any set amount of yardage that a distance swimmer must cover in order to excel as that type of swimmer, because some train as little as 12,000 mtrs. a day, while others go 16,000 – 17,000,


Rick DeMont is a classic example of a cycle swimmer and who can argue with success. While Doug Northway, a surprise Bronze Medal winner at Munich, is a 15,00 mtrs. a day man whose times have improved so fast over the last six months that it scares you. In our program, we average around 15-16,000 a day and that’s going 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening.


The stresses or demands of practice must, as closely as possible, reflect the stresses that a competitor will face in an actual racing situation.


In short, this means that if you expect a swimmer to swim fast in a competitive race, you should train him under conditions that approximate actual competition.


Now, I know that sometimes this is hard to do, and I think motivation must be maintained at a high level throughout the training period,


I am not going into the concepts of motivation, but basically, it means that a swimmer must feel that the rewards outweigh the pain,  hurt and agony of his efforts,


No matter who the coach might be.    I think they all agree on one basic concept – MILEAGE. For a distance swimmer, there is no substitute for mileage!


Some of the main series that might be used during workouts would be:


  1. 10 X 500 @ 5:30

2, 30 x 200 10 R.I.

3, 8×800 @10:00


4, 4-5×1650 @ 22:00

5, 60 X 100 @ 1:10

  1. And on occasion, a 3,000 for time – As a constant improvement in 3000 times would indicate improvement in physical condition.


The problem of how to pace distance events is sometimes a constant worry to swimmers in this category.,. “Should I go out hard and hope to finish well, or should I take it easy over the first couple of hundred and swim hard over the rest of the race?”


There are arguments in favor of both race plans…and yet, some swimmers have a great ability to swim each 100 at an even pace.


The best exhibition of pace that I have ever read about was a while back when Kare Moras set a world record for 800 mtrs. Free, her times were: 1:05.6; 1:08.5; 1:08.7; 1:08.3; 1:08.0; 1:08.4 and 1:06.5 , Her second 400 mtr was swam in 4:31.4, Which was three-tenths slower than her first 400 meters.


It could be said that the person who has the courage to go out hard and seems to enjoy the pain of holding on at an even pace after that is likely to be a great distance swimmer. I don’t believe there is any stereotyped plan of action to suit all swimmers.


Mike Burton, I think is the greatest example of someone who endures pain both in workouts and in a race. Mike is not afraid to hurt! Some great times have been done by swimmers doing a negative split – i.e. The second half of the race is swum faster than the first half of the race.


Two examples of this would be in the Olympic Trials in the 400 meter free where both Rick DeMont and Tom McBreen were 2:01+ on the first 200 and 2:00+ on the second 100.


I think a common mistake for many inexperienced middle distance and distance swimmers is to go out at a terrific speed and then not be able to hold on for the second half of the race, I recently read an article on a swimmer who in


in the heats of a 260 meter freestyle went 56 for the first 100 and 70 for the second 100,,, simply because his coach told him to go out fast, His best time was therefore 2:06. In the finals, he decided to ignore instructions and went out in 59,1 and came back in 62.3 for a total time of 2:01,4.

What had happened, of course, was that the swimmer had tried to swim a 200 at his best


100 pace (and had gone into oxygen debt too early) consequently, his capacity to perform had decreased to a minimum.


Experts say that when the heart-rate gets around 200 or more beats per minute, it is close to being in a state of failure. The heart, therefore, does not have time to fill after each contraction. It is now believed that the most efficient heart rate for prolonged work is around 160-170 beats per minute.



The swimmer should build his oxygen debt slowly as he swims the race and then only go into extreme oxygen debt in the final stages of the race.


There are several methods for learning pace – Fartlek Swimming is one method of acquiring it. This requires the swimmer to return to the original pace after he has made a break in speed.


This can also develop a good fast break skill. Interval training is another method of acquiring pace. The amount of rest should be minimal 30 sec, to 60 sec. rest period for longer repeats and as little as 5 sec, or 10 sec. rest for shorter distances is a good starting point.


Pace must be practiced in workout and should be learned as soon as possible. This knowledge will enhance the learning of strategy.


Third, we have strategy! Without some form of strategy, the swimmer is vulnerable. Strategy should be taught at all levels of swimming, from the age· group swimmer to the national swimmer.


Basically, there are three types of strategy and all others would be variations of these:


  1. One strategy is to work early in the race and break up the field.
  2. A second strategy is to swim with the field at the beginning and work the middle of the race.
  3. The third strategy is to swim with the field the first 3/4’s of the race and work the last part.


I would probably have to add the negative split strategy which involves swimming the second half of the race faster than the first half of the race. This strategy is definitely on the increase, as judged by the Olympic Trials. This sounds simple, but is hard to do.


All strategies require making a move at a certain point. It is vital that once the decision has been made to make a move, it should be done without hesitation. The best way to develop strategy is to work on it in workouts. Each repeat can be done at a different pace can be practiced. You can work on negative splitting as well as Fartlek or broken swims.


Strategy for a race should be an individual effort, not a team effort. Above all, coach and swimmer should get together as the final decision for strategy lies between these two. And the best strategy for any swimmer is the one that the individual can do most effectively.


Tapering: The final two or three weeks of the long or short course seasons are the ones which ‘tell the story’ of a swimmer’ s success.••and will sometimes drive a coach right out of his mind. He wonders once in a while if he is doing the correct thing for his team’s taper.


Peaking or tapering really mea s to decrease quantity and increase quality. You may have several peaks through the year. The final peak is for the Big One, the Nationals, and for this, swimmers will normally take a two to four week preparation.


If you have been going mileage, the distance swimmer is able to handle tapering easily while a sprinter may tend to get beaten up and would require a little more rest. Too much rest or taper may be harmful to a distance swimmer. It may impair his ability to swim steady 100 1 s or even splits and may hinder his feeling for pace.


Along with “Physical Peaking” there is “Psychological Peaking” that goes on and this is written or spoken propaganda. It is with this use of words that you can get a swimmer mentally ready for the Big Meet.


To summarize: You should think of how to combine quality and quantity and I recommend you to start with quantity followed by quantity quality and finally quality.


By the use of interval training you can have a multitude of training possibilities. The number of series that are possible are uncountable so there is no excuse for repeating the same workout on two consecutive days.

Hard work has been, is, and always will be, the number one reason for success and, by the same. token, almost nobody has reached the top without it.

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