Coaches Corner


By, Elaine Krugman

May 2023

Are you an intermediate or advanced competitive swimmer interested in improving your race times? Try Ultra Short Race Pace Training (USRPT).  Although this high-intensity method of training has been used by Olympians, such as Michael Andrews, several All-American Masters swimmers have had a lot of success with USRPT. Since it is so demanding, some of the older Masters swimmers designate just one day a week to USRPT and utilize other training methods on other days in the pool.

USRPT was developed by Dr. Brent Rushall, Professor Emeritus of my alma mater, San Diego State University. Although he started writing about it back in the 1970’s, it started getting a lot of publicity beginning in 2011.

When training USRPT, you will be swimming no slower than your goal race pace. It is the opposite of what I have written about in some of my previous tips and flex sets, because you won’t be doing any drill or kick sets, or technique-focused work. You will only practice your race pace.

Warning: This style of training is not for everybody! If you are recovering from injuries, have chronic physical issues, or are unable to swim at your maximum effort for any reason, USRPT may not be for you.

The premise for USRPT is that race-specific high intensity swimming will yield the optimal performance results and fastest times in competition. Do you want to swim fast in your race? You need to swim fast in practice!

For a brief look at the science behind USRPT, check out this bulletin. Dr. Rushall proved that this method of training results in greater speed endurance.

The goal of USRPT is to achieve race pace performance and a 1:1 work to rest ratio. For example, if your goal is to race a 100-yard freestyle in 1:00, you will need to average 15 seconds per 25. That is your goal time. For a USRPT set, your interval would be :30 for 25’s: Swim 15 seconds, and then rest 15 seconds, to achieve a 1:1 work to rest ratio. You will repeat these intervals for a predetermined amount (16-30, for example) as long as you can make your target time of 15 seconds. If you fail, sit out the next 25 and begin again on the next interval. If you fail a second time, the set is over. If you don’t fail to complete the predetermined set of 25’s, the set was too easy. Next time, decrease your target and rest times. If you do fail to complete the set, but were able to do several repeats, keep setting the same target time each time you swim this set until you can complete it. Beginners can start with a set of 16 x 25’s; topping out at 20 is recommended for Masters swimmers.

USRPT can also be done as 50’s, which is the recommended way to train USRPT for middle and long-distance races. Rather than a 1:1 work to rest ratio, however, you would set your interval as your 200 pace 50 (your 200 race goal time divided by four) time plus 20 seconds of rest. If you don’t make your goal time, sit out one 50 and try again. The set is over when you fail a second time.

Try training USRPT for butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke as well; but, to avoid injury, don’t forget to listen to your body for signs of repetitive stress.
To get started with USRPT, check out my Flex Set of the Month.


May 2023

If this is your first time doing Ultra Short Race Pace Training (USRPT), please make sure to read my Elaine’s Tip of the Month in this newsletter.

Before you swim this set, do your usual competition warm-up, since you will be swimming race pace. Swimming a cool-down at the end of this set is also important to flush out the lactic acid from your muscles.

16 x 25 freestyle RI: Equal to your goal swim time for each 25.
Total yardage: Varies; see below

Explanation of set: What is your goal race time for the 50 freestyle? In order for this set to be effective, you must set a realistic and achievable goal! Let’s say, for example, your race goal is :30. Your goal time for each 25 would be :15. For a 1:1 work to rest ratio, your rest interval (RI) would also be :15, for an interval time of :30.  As long as you are swimming the 25’s at :15, you will continue repeating 25’s until you have reached a total of 16. If you don’t make your goal time, sit out one 25 and try again. The set is over when you fail a second time. If you succeeded at completing the set by swimming every 25 at :15, followed by :15 of rest, set a faster goal time the next time you do this set. If you failed very early in the set, and it was too difficult to do repeats, adjust your goal to a slower time with an equally slower rest interval.

Flexible options:
  • Increase the number of repeats to a set of 20 x 25’s.
  • To train for 100’s, divide your race goal time by four for your 25’s goal time.
  • Swim the set as all butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke, adjusting your goal times appropriately for each stroke.
  • Swim the set as 50’s to train for middle and long-distance races of any stroke, adjusting your rest interval to 20 seconds of rest (rather than a 1:1 work to rest ratio). To train for a 200 race, divide your 200 race goal time by four, for your 50 time plus an rest interval of 20 seconds. If you don’t make your goal time, sit out one 50 and try again. The set is over when you fail a second time.

For an excellent database of workouts, go to the USMS Swim Workout Library

Mindful Swimming
March 2023

What do you think about when you swim?  For many swimmers, it is a time to zone out, stare at the black line on the bottom of the pool, and forget about everything while racking up yardage.  For others, as the endorphins kick in, their creativity flows with ideas or problem-solving.

An excellent case can be made for the merits of both approaches; however, if your goal is to improve your stroke technique, consider trying mindful swimming.  Save the stress-reducing, zone-out period for your cool down; and, go for a long walk to get your creativity flowing or solve problems that are keeping you up at night.

What do I mean by “mindful” swimming?  It is constantly thinking about your stroke technique, especially during warm-ups, drills and slower-paced sets.  Try picking just one thing to concentrate on for 25 or 50 yards, and do it to the best of your ability.  Then, choose another technique for the next 25 or 50 yards.  If you try to think about doing everything perfectly at the same time, you will tense up.  Eventually, each piece will come together to make for an improved stroke.  (Tip:  Have somebody video your stroke periodically to make sure you are on the right track!)

At the end of your workout, check in with yourself and see how you feel.  You may just discover your mindful swimming was a wonderful stress-reducer, allowing you to approach your thoughts from a fresh perspective once you have left the pool!

To get started on mindful swimming, check out my Flex Set of the Month.


Mindful Swimming
March 2023

The purpose of this set is to improve your stroke technique by thinking about key components throughout. Make sure to do your usual warm-up before you swim this set as well as a cool-down at the end of your swim session. While you are doing your warm-up, be mindful concentrating on a different technique for each 50 or 100 yards.

8 x 150 D-K-S, IM order, twice through RI:15
Total yardage: 1,200

Explanation of set: D-K-S is drill, kick swim. If you can swim all four strokes, the first 150 will be 50 yards of butterfly drill, followed by 50 yards of butterfly kick, and 50 yards of full butterfly stroke.  Rest for 15 seconds before repeating this for backstroke, and then breaststroke and freestyle.  Repeat the IM order by doing different drills and kicking on your back.

Flexible options for butterfly:

  • Unable to swim full butterfly? Try one-arm butterfly and use your healthy arm if you are injured.
  • Butterfly with a breaststroke kick
  • Substitute one of the other strokes for each butterfly D-K-S
  • Watch this video to improve your dolphin kick, and kick on your back, side, or front.
  • Check out this playlist on YouTube for other USMS videos for ideas and inspiration for improving your butterfly.

Flexible options for backstroke:
Flexible options for breaststroke:
Flexible options for freestyle:

These stroke technique tips are from USMS coaches and can be found in the Articles & Videos section of the website. (Click the link under each stroke for the full article or video.)

Terry Heggy on Freestyle:Stroke length—If you lift your arm into the recovery too early (mid ribcage), you’ve cheated yourself out a significant part of your pull.” 
My suggestion: To confirm that you have pulled far enough, lightly touch your thigh with your thumb at the end of each stroke.

Linda Irish Bostick on Backstroke: “…the very best backstrokers keep their heads still. To fix this, I have swimmers balance a cup of water on their heads while swimming.”
My suggestion: Watch this video to see how to do it properly.

Andrew Sheaff on Breaststroke: Better breaststroke is all about superior streamlining. Master these two critical skills to streamline effectively. Minimize excessive lifting of the head and shoulders to breathe and diving upon returning the head to the water. Come up high enough to get a breath, then bring the head back into line while avoiding diving down under the water. This will ensure the spine is moving as straight as possible through the surface water.”

Linda Irish Bostick on Butterfly: “Arm recovery and hand recovery are common sources of trouble for butterfly… Single arm butterfly with side breathing is one of my favorite drills to fix this problem.”
My suggestion:  Watch this video to see how to do it properly.

For an excellent database of workouts, go to the USMS Swim Workout Library