WoW #10 – Phoenix Aquatic Club Making a good situation great

Thank you Don Wagner from Phoenix Aquatic Club for contributing to our Workout of the Week blog (click on image to view full size).

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Coach Overview

The kids in the group are varies from 13 to 17 and by skill level I adjust the intervals. The period of training we were in was aerobic endurance, power, strength and speed and we do it all year while adjusting the volume depending on where we are.

This workout can be done any day of the week. There are days where we go long but that is adjusted depending on how they look.

Clive Commentary

This practice from Coach Don Wagner at Phoenix Aquatic Club is a general session which reflects the type of work the club’s age-group program (13-17 years) does year-round, although the sprint and distance swimmers have specialist workouts at least 2-4 times each week. The indicated swim + rest times are not as ‘fixed’ as they appear but are varied on an ad hoc basis by Coach Wagner depending on the skill level of the swimmer.

The practice looks very straightforward but some complex methodology lurks beneath the seemingly simple content.


The warm-up is a nice 500-400-300-200-100 progression though choice (500), then IM, followed by descending the distance through the three ‘form’ strokes. Swim coaches like ‘round’ numbers and it’s amazing how many possibilities are contained in the simple equation 1+2+3+4 = 10 and its derivatives.

42 x 75s…

Coach Wagner’s vast experience is vividly on show in the construct of the next set. 42 x 75s are arranged in a reducing distance progression which also demands a reducing interval as well as an insistence on descending swim times within each sub-set.

The inter-set reducing distance (16x, 12x, 8x, and 4x) indicates that greater average speed is expected; the reducing interval (1:20, 1:15, 1:10, and 1:05) imposes deeper stress on the musculature; and the intra-set descent demands control of effort and stroke while increasing the speed. These are all training qualities which demand a high degree of sophistication from the swimmers and have to be learned over a number of years.

Note that the deeper muscle stress caused by the reducing interval is quantitative, not qualitative – it imposes a larger training effect but maintains the intensity level at which it works. Qualitative change would necessitate more rest rather than less so that different fibre and energy conversion combinations could be encouraged.

As the set progresses the swimmers’ heart-rates would increase as the muscles call out for more oxygen. The assumption that the average speed is expected to increase and the prescribed demand that sets are descended mean the stroke rates would increase on a stepped basis – from set to set, and within each set.

The set concludes with a further reduction in both repetitions (2) and also in rest interval (on 1:00) so the speed is expected to rise and the pressure to produce increases. The symbolic “!!” is Coach Wagner’s short-hand for “haul ass” so, basically, the set finishes at “give it all you have left”. For well-conditioned swimmers this should mean tending towards the middle or top end of the lactate tolerance zone. It spans a large range of stroke rates so is a fine indicator of swimmer health, fitness, motivation and commitment; those who wallow in the lower ranges are either in a comfort zone or in systemic distress.


In previous commentaries I’ve indicated freestyle strokes rates for the different training intensities. Backstroke’s different body position and limb lever efficiencies (it’s easy to move the hand and arm across the front of the body – freestyle – but impossible to move them across the back) produce a different set of constraints so the forces acting on the body demand a different level of response.

The ‘main set’ (every set is a main set!) is two rounds of 4, 3, and 2 x 100 followed by a 200 kick. The 100s are on a descending interval and the swimmers are challenged with descending the swim time. More than one layer of complexity then. Excellent. Add a prescribed pattern of stroke count and you’d have an amazingly developmental set. Layered complexity forces development.

Energy demands, reflected by heart rate or lactate levels, are caused by the frequency of limb motion (stroke rate). For backstroke they look like this (click for full size):

Backstroke SR range (restricted)

So, if you were copying Coach Wagner’s set you could easily monitor the training effect of the set for each individual swimmer. It may be different to the responses shown by Coach Wagner’s swimmers and it may be different from swimmer to swimmer within your group. The trick to individual improvement is individual prescription.

The ‘layered complexity’ – changes in sub-set distance, in intervals, in control of descent, and in “last step step-up” – produces a fine example of excellently designed training methodology.


After 12 x 25 drills on choice (presumably a recovery type of exercise) the swimmers are hit with 3 x 100 on 2:30 for best average. That’s a great challenge and will produce more than ‘simply’ a physiological effect. Psychological resilience and persistence are built in to this design.

And it doesn’t end there:
12 x 25 FOB (Kly kick on back) repeats the choice drill recovery from earlier and segues in to 16 x 50 kick for best average. That’s great. Just when they thought it was safe to go back in the water hit their legs. That’s what happens during races so it may as well happen during training.

“And one more thing …”
12 x 25 medley with parachutes might seem like an enjoyable way to finish the practice and I’m sure it was. But …. there’s that pesky little “!!” again. No chatty, sloppy, lazy, little swim down here. Grab your parachute and “haul ass”.

The Urban dictionary defines “twisting the knife” as ‘making a bad situation worse.’ They’re obviously not swimmers – for training purposes they have it completely upside down. It makes a good situation great.

There you have it for Commit’s Workout of the Week (WoW)! If you’d like to receive future workouts via email, you can add your name to the mailing list for free at

If you’re a coach that would like to contribute to this series, please email with your request. Thanks!


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