Eleven things you should never do to a sprinter…

Sprinters are unique individuals and need correct training to improve their natural talents.  Here are eleven things that will help a coach or a swimmer to improve the natural speed of a sprinter.

1. Never train speed at the end of a practice.  Speed work should be done fresh so that true top speed can be attained.

2. Never swim easy between sprints.  The energy that needs to be replenished in speed work requires inactive rest.

3. Never sprint more than 200m in total combined sprint distance.  Speed work should not be trained the same way that aerobic swimming is trained, so excessive speed work is counter productive.

4. Never sprint at less than 100% effort.  For adaptation to occur a swimmer must push themselves to their true maximum effort.  Anything less will not cause the adaptations that will improve speed but will simply keep them at the same speed or slower.

5. Never sprint with less than 24hrs between speed training sessions.  Recovery between speed sessions can be quite fast but less than 24hours will not allow enough time for adaptation to occur.  For example; if there is an important sprint set to be done in the evening session don’t do the same type of work in the following morning.


When Michael Klim broke the world record for 100m free on the lead off leg for Australia in Sydney he used dolphin kick for his last 20m.  He was known as a butterfly swimmer when he broke the world record for freestyle.

6. Never sprint with more than 5% drag resistance.  This is a grey area but too much drag will cause a swimmer to begin to change their swimming style which will likely be slipping water due to the weight of the drag.  I encourage assistive rather than resistive but both have been shown to cause adaptation.

7. Never have less than a ratio of 1:16 work to rest ratio during speed work.  The amount of rest required is quite long which is why most coaches ignore this side of proper speed training.  I believe that this is because most coaches only measure the amount of ‘work’ done by how many meters they have done per week.  Loads of rest do not add up to many meters however inactive rest is essential.

8. Never exceed 15s in pure speed training for each bout.  Ideally it should be 10s but if you consider a push off or a dive as not part of the ‘sprint’ a 15s window would be good.  The ‘a-lactic’ energy system of sprinting lasts about 10s before it begins to drop off dramatically.  Exercise Physiologists have often used swimming coaches training styles as examples of how not to train!


Many coaches now train dolphin kicking as much as the other four strokes. Thus it is known as the fifth stroke.

9. Never train while sick or over-tired.  This should be ubiquitous for any type of swimmer.  Training while sick will impact your immune system doubly.  This could lead to the type of fatigue that is seen in swimmers with chronic fatigue syndrome.  One day off is no big deal…two weeks off is.  Be aware of the signs of illness and over-tiredness.  For illness; sore throat, swollen glands and more than normal coughing.  For over-tiredness; decreased appetite, difficulty sleeping, short temper, unhappy faces and apathy.

10. Never over-train the primary sprint/racing stroke in aerobic sets.  This statement is generally for Freestylers but applies to all strokes.  If the sprinter trains their speed work on freestyle then they should not use freestyle as their aerobic stroke to avoid neural muscular fatigue and overuse injuries.

11. Never train aerobically too fast.  The competitiveness that some swimmers have should be curtailed so that they swim aerobically slow enough to ensure they are not entering too high a heart rate zone.  This will impact both speed work and anaerobic work.


Two world record 50m Free sprinters.  Matt Biondi’s first sport was water polo. Alex Popov was first a backstroker. These two sprinters taught coaches a great deal about how to train for speed.


About Coach Gary

I competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul representing Canada and coached in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics for Great Britain. I have a degree in History and a minor degree in Psychology from University of Calgary. I have travelled extensively and have been very lucky to see so much of the world while representing Canada and Great Britain at swimming competitions. I am very proud of the fact that I coached a swimmer to become number one in the world in the fastest swimming race in 2002. I pride myself in my ability to find new and interesting ways to teach swimming. I am an accomplished artist specialising in sculpture, I have another blog called 'swimmingart' where I publish some of my swimming drawings. I have three young children; all boys. I have recently taken up painting and yoga....but not at the same time. You can see my new paintings at: https://www.artgallery.co.uk/artist/gary_Vandermeulen
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