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by Dan Thompson

July 4, 1993

Training tips for sprinters

Sprinters of the world, unite! Masters swimming is tailor-made for you.

Are you a born sprinter? Do you have more in common with Carl Lewis than Janet Evans? Do you know how it is to have explosive overdrive but to hang on for dear life in any race beyond a 50? If you answer in the affirmative to the above questions, then Masters swimming is a fast-twitch package heaven-sent for you. Just think of it . . . 50s in every stroke, the 100 IM, and a short- course season spanning September through May!

The prospects are enticing, but do you lack the time and inclination for the back-and-forth lap swimming of workouts past? No problem. If Mr. Lewis can be a speeding locomotive without 10K training, then you needn't train for the Channel to be in top sprint shape for a 50 yard blast. Four sessions per week of focused sprint work will do the job. Here are the ingredients:


The time-constrained sprinter may view stretching as a luxury training item. But quick-twitch muscles are less fish-like in their elasticity than those of your slow-burn compatriots. Take ten minutes to stretch out before every practice.


Pump iron if you really must, but remember that you already possess natural fast-twitch power. By using stretch cords, you can harness that power in ten minutes per day. Do four sets of 20 repetitions, using heavy cords and a butterfly pull-pattern. Stretch back far enough to get a major triceps muscle-burn.


This is but preparation for the speed set that follows. Go far enough that you are loosened and have a feel for the water. Use stroke drills, and introduce speed play by pace-building every third 25.


Believe it or not, you can train to race 50s by doing sprints of half that distance in practice. Apart from warm-up and warm-down, this need be your only set. It is staggeringly simple: 8 x 25 kick, a full recovery, and then 16 x 25 swim. The key is to use long rest intervals, with a work-to-rest ratio of at least 1:4. Otherwise, lactate build-up will hamper your explosiveness.

Pure sprinters need a heavy kick, so work the kick set. Learn to stay aggressively focused. You can be sociable some other time. If your stroke falls apart, just stop, warm down, and go home. You're into power swimming, not punishment.


Weeks have gone by and you are feeling strong enough to handle a greater training overload. Now is the time to bring out the magic potion, if there ever was one, for the Masters sprinter. Instead of adding yardage to the program, simply keep the yardage where it is but add resistance! Adding yardage will train your speed-endurance, but what you're after is raw speed itself.

You can get that raw speed by training hard against drag forces greater than those ever encountered in competition. Track sprinters do it by sprinting in sand dunes and by using parachutes. We do it by wearing sleeveless sweat shirts and by using hand paddles. On our kick sets, we do the same by holding the kickboard like a barge, underwater with the flat surface forward.

Resistance efforts like this one are a genuine form of weight work for the sprinter, and should be carefully added to every other workout. They will keep your training time short and will add an overload that makes ordinary sprinting seem easy by comparison. On top of that, they will satisfy the hunger of the primal sprint beast within your soul.


On this type of program, you are always ready to rumble. The danger is in over-resting. Ten days out from the big meet, drop the cords and resistance work. Taper back the number of sprint repetitions, but maintain your intensity and speed. Five days out, switch from 25s to 12 1/2s.


The exuberance that sprinters are known for is a gift that sometimes works against them. It goes without saying that any training program, especially this one, should be entered into cautiously and progressively. Also, there is no suggestion here that you give up fitness conditioning, which we all know is good for your health. If time allows and you are looking for speed, you can graft this regimen into your endurance program.

Dan Thompson swam IM for Harvard in the late 1960s. He has coached a sprint-oriented Masters team, the Texas Sprinter-Beast. Last year, he gave up his Austin medical practice to become Head Age-Group Coach at Texas Aquatics. Dan has used minimum yardage training with great success. At age 44, he set a USMS national record of :23.63 in the 50 yard butterfly.


  • Technique and Training