No set at all--how weird or harmful is this?

edited January 4 in Beginner Questions
So here's the thing--most of the time, I don't do sets. I get in the pool, swim freestyle for a certain amount of time or a certain number of yards, then get out. With some exceptions for working on technique, which I recognize I should do more of, that's what I do. Last year, I did a bit over 400,000 yards that way. Not a tremendous amount, but respectable given that I also ran 1,000 miles. My pace is meh, about 1:51 per 100 yards if I'm doing under 3,000 yards, about 1:56 consistently up to 9,500 yards, which is the longest I swam last year. In the years that I've trained swimming, which has been off and on throughout my life, this is how I've always trained. I've never had any major injuries and over the years I have gained a lot of strength.

I've never swum competitively and have zero interest in doing so in the future. What I would like to do is swim some open water distance. Currently I have my sights set on Anacapa Island to Oxnard. My plan is to gradually increase my current 14,000 or so yards per week to 20,000, increasing open water as a proportion from my current near-zero to something greater than that.

What do you think? Should I worry about not doing sets and change how I train, or should I keep doing what I do, which is put my head down and swim. Are there others who successfully do as I do, scratch their heads and shrug at the complexities of other people's sets?

Thanks for answering a newbie question,



  • I'd like to know an answer to this as well,
    because I have no pool near by I have to always swim in open water which means I can't measure distance to carry out any sets
  • Hi Jon

    You and me both. I started swimming again in 2009 and my time per 100m was well over 2m. At a push I can now do about 1 mile at a 1:43 pace but I am wrecked – I am much more comfortable at about 1:50. Like you I enjoy just getting in and swimming . Over the last few years I have increased my distances and my speed has dropped. I managed to do the Dorney Lake 10km in 3 hours 15 mins. in 2012 and 3 hours exactly in 2013 (an hour behind the race leaders).

    What is my point? It is horses for courses. I am still genuinely impressed by swimmers that glide past me at a regular 1:30 or even 1:20 pace but I have come to accept that at 46 I am not going to be a fast swimmer. However, I have taken to OW swimming and I enjoy it immensely.

    I have read a lot about animal sets, etc. here and elsewhere and quite often it all just seems to smack of bravado and BS. It is a similar thing to all the nonsense about not wearing wetsuits. Some people are able to cope with cold water better than other and if you are cold then just wear one.

    All of my training led to me doing the EC in 2013 in 14 hours. It was far from easy but at no point did I feel that I needed to give up (if that makes sense) and I think that was down to the way I trained. The fact that I can now swim from England to France is proof, I believe, that I am a good swimmer if not a fast one and that is fine by me.

    Have fun!

  • It is my absolute belief, and everything I know about exercise & coaching confirms it, that anyone, regardless of age or current skill, strength or ability level, will benefit from introducing interval training to their workout. I've been a competitive cyclist & a runner previously. It applies to ANY endurance sport, and is the basis of all endurance sport training.

    No-one has said that succeeding wasn't possible without doing intervals, only that you will be fitter and faster and more adaptable if you integrate them into training.

    It's a matter of intent. Would you like to be a better swimmer? Note, I don't say faster.

    Let's say fitter and faster aren't of interest to you. They often aren't, because people find their own speed sufficient, and they are of the belief that they can swim forever.

    Because you all are conflating speed with adaptability. That is the most important benefit of intervals. You will be better able to respond to changing or unexpected circumstances. Need to add 10% to make the Cap? Missed the tide up the river and have to be able to increase for the last 1000 metres? In open water swimming the unexpected happens almost as a guarantee. The better you have trained your own capability the more adaptable you will be. the more adaptable the more likely to finish.

    (I know this guy who got pulled under the pilot boat, twice, during his English Channel swim due to bad weather, and had the longest swim ever BACK to the pilot boat in English Channel swimming. Speed meant nothing on the day).
  • Saying that @loneswimmer how would I interval train without a pool? Would it be a sensible thing to do?
  • Hey @gnome4766. The easiest way is time or distance based speed changes. Assuming you wear a watch, or know your location really well, you can do your 10 to 20 minute warm up swim, then add speed changes for 90 secs to say 5 minutes, with 30 seconds of easy swimming inbetween. If you know the location and can measure distance easily, let's say you come up with a 1k marker/bouy/turn, you could do an easy 1k out, hard 1k back, 500 m hard, 500 metre easy & repeat.

    Some of the Sanducove guys do similar where the island is ~1700m: Swim easy to first corner (300m), go hard to second corner (500m), easy to 3rd corner (150m), hard to 4th corner or slipway.
  • gnome4766 said:

    Saying that @loneswimmer how would I interval train without a pool? Would it be a sensible thing to do?

    What loneswimmer says above is good advice. I do something similar when I train in open water, the sea in my case. I have found the use of the Tempo trainer from finis gives me something to pace off especially when I am out there on my own. I set it to my fast pace and use this when swimming hard then ignore the "beep" when I do the slow return portion.
    Good luck.

  • It s harder to do interval training in OW but if thats all you got then it is possible, and you can still play with swim toys, ie pull buoys fins and paddles, its just not as accurate way of doing it.
    You also can use GPS to get acurate distances and then once you got an idea of how long it takes to do a distance base your interval times on this.
    To be honest though, Its far better in a pool (50mtr if possible)
  • Some quick thoughts, based on 40 years of (track) coaching experience:
    1) Intervals are not necessary, but they will help your speed.
    2) Swimmers are too anal-retentive WRT time/distance. Perceived effort can be just as valuable.
    3) Interval training for those who hate interval training:
    a) Do "fartlek" (Swedish for "speed-play"). This means you go as hard as you feel like at any given instant, varying speed/effort/distance as you want. Note that too many people turn this into a series of short sprints and short rests. The hard efforts can be anything from a short sprint to many minutes. Ditto the rests. This is especially useful if you are not pool training.
    b) Do continuous swimming, but do it as follows: Swim at a solid pace, but every X minutes, go hard for Y distance or time or until you are too tired to maintain. e.g. Do 1 hour, then every 5 minutes, go hard for 50 (or 100 or 150 or whatever) yards and DON'T STOP - just keep going. No dawdling during the "rest" period. You can increase the total time, shorten the rest period, lengthen the hard period, or some combo as you get fitter. Ultimately, you might be able to get up to something like 2 hours, with 200 yards hard efforts every 5 minutes, although it might also kill you - it's much harder than it sounds if you aren't slacking during the (brief) rest period.
    c) See the two workouts I posted in the "Lunch-time set" thread and adapt accordingly.
    4) You can "quantify" workouts that aren't exactly measured/timed by taking the overall time and multiplying it by perceived effort on a 1-10 scale where 1 is very easy and 10 is all-out. This is a modification the the "TRIMPS" system ("Training Impulse") that Dr. Eric Bannister of Simon Frasier University in Canada came up with.

    Just a few quick thoughts...

    "Ordinarily he is insane, but he has lucid moments when he is only stupid." - Heinrich Heine
  • gnome4766 said:

    Saying that @loneswimmer how would I interval train without a pool? Would it be a sensible thing to do?

    @gnome4766, in OW, after about a 10 min warm-up, I'll do stroke sets. 10 strokes easy, 10 fast, 20 easy, 20 fast, etc, up by 10s till I hit 100, then back down. That's one way you can do intervals in OW. Also, if you have a GPS watch, you can set it to beep/buzz every XXX meters, so that way you know your exact interval distances.
    Finally, if you're swimming with some friends, you can set up some buoys (easily made with milk jugs painted pink and tied to weights) a set distance away, then race each other. Say five sets of racing to the far buoy, then easy back to the start buoy. Set up three buoys in a triangle and race to the middle buoy, then easy pace-line to the next, then race back to the start.
    Or with the buoys set up and 2-3 other friends, swim paceline through the course. Each time you pass a buoy, the lead swimmer pulls to the side and the next swimmer is the leader and sets the pace.
    Just some ideas. If you don't have buoys, but landmarks, you can do the same.

  • Thanks @IronMike in enjoying the climbing sets in open water.
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