The T2 Aquatics Age Group Team thinks most swimmers could have the 400 IM as one of their top events. It is one of those events where having a good fitness and skill level in all strokes helps. If you think about the 100 IM – power, quickness and underwater kicking is key. The 200 IM is a great blend of speed/power that uses all of the strokes with underwater kicking again being key. Many age group swimmers are simply not anywhere near their physical peak as far as power and speed goes and will have better success in the 400 IM than the shorter IM’s. Of course the beginning/developing swimmer should be steered towards the 100/200 IM and these thoughts below are not for those swimmers.
Train For It Without Racing It - That's OK.
There are not many opportunities for the 400 IM in the 12&Under age group in Florida, which is disappointing. At our Championship Meet 12&Under swimmers can not compete in the 200 Back, 200 Breast, 200 Fly, 400 IM (but for some reason can do the 1,000 Freestyle?)
At T2 Aquatics this does not stop us as we continue to train for all kinds of different events as 11-12 swimmers – even if we can’t race them at the Championship Level. 200 Back, 200 Breast, 200 Fly, 400 IM (and of course we train for the 200/500 Free as well). Using these events as a focus I have worked with 11-13 year old athletes that have been ranked Top 10 in the country in every event – 50 Free to the 1500 Free to the 400 IM. I have seen the same swimmer be ranked in the Top 3 for the 50 Free and the 400 IM in the same season. It is possible to swim a range of events well! If we train more for the 200 Backstroke their 50 Backstroke will still be pretty darn good. Who cares if your LSC says that you can not swim that event?
Train Individual Strokes.
We do very little IM in practice. In fact, we never do it. (More on that later.) We focus more on individual strokes without mixing things up. When it is Breaststroke, we focus on Breaststroke. When it is Backstroke, we focus on Backstroke. We rarely do sets like this:
It is just so much mixing up. As a coach, my brain goes crazy. When I want to help a swimmer with a Fly/Back turn they are doing a Ba/Br turn on the next repeat. As a swimmer how can you get into a rhythm with it always switching? Of course we often need to “mix it up” at practice but as a general rule we train individual strokes separately.
For Backstroke and Breaststroke our training repeat distances are mostly 50, 75, 100 for 9-10 year old swimmers and 100, 150, 200 for 11-14 year old swimmers. With Butterfly we train more repeats of 25’s. For more thoughts about 25’s of Fly check out this old blog post: Training 25’s of Fly. We may swim the same distances for Butterfly as the other strokes but we would generally mix in Freestyle more often(Ex. 200’s going 25 Free/25 Fly). We will also mix Freestyle into other strokes like the Fly.
Skill Development for Fly, Back, Breast.
When doing skill development or speed work we will swim repeats of 25’s and maybe 50's. The opportunity for instruction is greater since they are stopping more often. I would think of a skill set of 16x25’s 4 Drill, 4 Swim as 80% skill, 20% rhythm. I use these sets to explain what I am looking for when we do the “real” sets. They are expected to do the same skills when the repeats get faster and longer.
Training Development for Fly, Back, Breast.
When “training” the stroke we do the distances I described above but they are probably more like 30% skill, 70% rhythm. Accessing that racing stroke rhythm steadily over the set being the key.
Mixing Freestyle In: I like to link some Freestyle up with those repeats. Example: 8x200’s 50 Free, 150 Back. 10x200 50 Free, 25 KKP BR, 50 Free, 75 BR. I try to keep the distances of the “stroke” longer than 50 yards unless it is at the end of a repeat so that they can get into a proper repeat rhythm instead of just blasting off a short burst of speed. I think that if you put the stroke focus at the beginning they can blast through it and basically throw up all over the pool, then swim crappy Freestyle afterwards. Not what I generally look for! If the stroke is at the end of the repeat they can swim more of a 200 style stroke instead of a 50 style stroke.
Training IM’s In Practice.
As I said earlier, we just don’t swim IM’s. We leave the Fly training separate and train “IM” but we replace the Fly with Freestyle. This allows our developing swimmers the chance to train repeats of the Back, Breast, and Free segments a lot more realistically. I certainly wouldn’t enjoy watching many of the swimmers in my training groups swim a set of 8x400 IM’s. The Fly would fall apart and the rest of the strokes would suffer as well. I would however absolutely love to watch them swim 8x400’s (100 Free, 100 Back, 100 Breast, 100 Free). In fact, it may be my favorite set to watch! After doing a set like that we may do a short warm down, then a short skill Fly set followed by a set of 25’s Fly. I think that if we can get their skill level up in the Fly, every decent 11-12 swimmer can get up on the blocks and do a 100 Fly at the start of an IM without an issue. Swimmers also generally love to meet the challenge of beating their best 200 or 400 IM time in a set like this. They can really work it because they are not getting crushed with the Fly. Swimmers who are still developing their skill and confidence level with Butterfly can also give an awesome effort in these types of sets without stressing out about the Butterfly.
Training too much real IM or even our Freestyle IM also has the "switching it up" issue that I addressed earlier. Too much of it and I think training gets mixed up. Our best training happens with the individual strokes. As a coach I have a STRONG IM focus but we keep "IM Training" to once a week generally.
What About Intervals?
When a swimmer/group is first starting training longer repeats of stroke I generally have swimmers get anywhere between :30 between 100 repeats and :60 between 200 repeats. This leaves time for instruction and motivation - two key things for developing swimmers. When a swimmer/group has practiced training sets like these properly for several months the intervals could come down. Eventually setting it up so that they get somewhere around :15 between 100 repeats and :20-:30 between 200 repeats?
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