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On Test Sets

With a new season ahead and many weeks spent training outside the pool during the global pandemic, we were told by a lot of coaches that their athletes now have an even greater desire to make some big-time improvements in the pool.

This discussion seems to bring up some "old questions" on what to do and how to measure things? How do we know that our athletes are improving?

In June 2017, ProSwimWorkouts recorded a special episode of the Swim Brief Podcast titled "On Test Sets" with Chris DeSantis, Paul Yetter and myself weighing in on this very topic. This blog post for the Poolside Pass is an "addition & update" of the existing information.

I have certainly used "test sets" in the past while following lactate testing protocols with National Team athletes or tracking other aspects in our daily training. Testing gives you a snapshot of the current status of the athlete, either in terms of the total performance characteristics (i.e. a set of 15x100 best average) or a single, isolated parameter (time at 15 from a dive or turn splits). Both these aspects of testing can be used as "educational tools" to help involve the athlete and help them better understand the training process.

Many coaches have favourite sets which they use regularly to assess the current status of their swimmers. Traditionally popular are the timed 3000 or sets like 10x200. Whatever the distance and repetitions, if the same set is used regularly, then (potentially) valuable information is gained. The more data collected and tracked in a set the better for understanding how things are truly going but remember that all data can be “off” - no test set is perfect.

"Training is testing and testing is training" -Vern Gambetta

Of course, nowadays, technology is providing a lot of opportunities to track many aspects of our training and racing. I certainly try to evaluate which of these tools are providing us with an "easier way" to collect & access information that is really helping us at getting better. However, in recent years my own view on testing has somewhat evolved while listening to and exchanging with Coach Gambetta. I think the quote above probably best explains this "change of heart".

Don't get me wrong - I will continue to use "test sets" where appropriate and also "experiment" with new ways & tools that potentially provide value to our athletes. But at the end of the day, all data from these "methods" are simply numbers and won't replace observing and talking with the athletes. We set standards for ourselves and everything we do in training is testing to reach, uphold, or improve the targeted quality and/or intensity.

You can listen to episode 3 of the Swim Brief Podcast, read through some of the additional resources provided below, and browse test sets tagged workouts in our archives. And of course feel free to start a conversation with your opinion(s) and experience(s) in the comments.

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This post was written by Nico Messer founder of ProSwimWorkouts

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