The Ultimate Guide of Test Sets for Swimmers

The Ultimate Guide of Test Sets for Swimmers

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Interview with Dr. Rodrigo Zacca on test sets for swimmers

Below is an interview with Dr. Rodrigo Zacca on test sets for swimmers and his team’s latest research study:

  1. Zacca R, Azevedo R, Silveira RP, Vilas-Boas JP, Pyne DB, de S Castro FA, Fernandes RJ. Comparison of incremental intermittent and time trial testing in age-group swimmers. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Jun 22.

His team did other research on critical swimming velocity in swimmers

  1. Swimming Training Assessment: The Critical Velocity and the 400-m Test for Age-Group Swimmers.

Do you think swim coaches should do test sets of their swimmers? If yes, why?

Sure, the main purpose of test sets (or another type of data collection) is to provide a basis for action or recommendation. Test sets can help coaches and team sports scientists to a better understanding performance of each swimmer, and therefore enhancing their success by planning methods for improving it during next training period. A complete and exhaustive annual training periodization to improve performance related factors for both age-group and elite swimmers is mandatory for a successful competitive season. We know that it is not simple. Thus, regular test sets to assess and monitor progression (or regression) are crucial to providing an objective feedback for swimmers. It is also an opportunity to create a competitive atmosphere during training sessions, improving swimmers’ confidence, highlighting the importance of trying to improve their personal best results, creating a champion mindset.

How often should a coach do these tests?

Regularly, whenever relevant. The challenge is to integrate these test sets into the overall training plan since the interval throughout the season of each test set can vary according to its nature and must be in balance with training and competitions. However, test sets before and after each training period can give us relevant information. Likewise, some test sets are equally useful and relevant when performed even during a given training period.

What are the common tests coaches perform?

Given the relationships between swimmers´ workloads and performance, test sets have become important in age-group and mandatory in high-level swimming. Thus, before selecting which test set to perform, it is important to identify what we want to measure. Several different types of test sets are available, some of research evidence, some from coach expertise and others from both, i.e., evidence-based practice (the use of current best evidence in conjunction with coach expertise and swimmers values). Best evidence consists of empirical evidence from several scientific methods such as randomized controlled trials, qualitative research, case reports, scientific principles and expert opinion. Typically, coaches perform integrated test sets, evaluating both biomechanical and physiological domains (swimming economy, technique, aerobic power and capacity, anaerobic power and capacity. Capacity is related to the total chemical energy available to generate work from a specific energy system, i.e., the amount of total work done is taken into consideration regardless of the time factor. Power refers to the rate of energy synthesis, i.e., the maximum power at which an energy system can operate. The minimal swimming speed that elicits V̇O2max (vV̇O2max), usually assessed through the classic 7 x 200-m incremental intermittent swimming step protocol to provide a measure of aerobic power, can be also obtained by a single 400-m time trial test. These test sets are examples of common tests coaches perform, both broadly comparable in terms of physiological and biomechanical characteristics, but not directly interchangeable. Also, follow-up appointments from land-based test sets are as important as pool-based ones, providing relevant information about strength and power for coaches.

What do you know about the validity of these tests?

There is one quotation that I appreciate: “Only at race-pace velocity will the techniques and energy systems employed be trained to transfer directly to competitive swimming tasks.” It is not a matter of aerobic or anaerobic set isolated, swimmers need to train to swim well while sustaining the output necessary for a specific event. However, prior to sustaining that output, we need to build it. Thus, test sets should evaluate at least the most relevant performance-related factors (pool- and land-based). Again, what do we want to measure? What do we want to know? Several test sets are available for swimming and open water, some valid, some not. So, ‘take-home-message’ for coaches: test sets are decisive for success, but we need to know what we are measuring and why…

How should coaches set up these test sets?

First, define what to measure and why chose reliable protocols, collect and analyze data; make and implement these decisions. Some factors may mask the results of a test set like accuracy of data collection (time, stroke rate, power, etc.), ambient humidity and temperature, amount of sleep prior to each test set; type of warm up, swimmer’s emotional state and training experience, swimming environment (pool, sea, lake, river…), time of day, time since swimmer´s last meal and so on….

At what age should coaches test their swimmers?

An interesting age to start these test sets range from 11 (girls) to 12 (boys) years old, typically when swimmers are physiologically responsive to stimuli and training.

Do you think swim coaches should also do tests for power?

Yes, whenever possible. Swimming speed depends on total mechanical power generated from upper and lower limbs (which can be improved from both land- and pool-based strength/power training), propelling efficiency, i.e, the portion of total mechanical power which is used to overcome drag (related to body shape/dimension/dynamic position in water) for a given finite metabolic power (which depends on aerobic, anaerobic lactic and alactic energy pathways). Regarding pool-based strength/power training, the modulation of workloads and training intensities with parachutes, drag shorts, resistance tubes, power-rack® and other devices are welcome, and coaches know that. However, we need to find an accurate way to quantify that workload. In fact, the assessment of the “power-swimming speed” relationship (propulsive power) curve in swimming environment is not an easy job. It is possible, but not feasible for all coaches (costly devices). Regarding land-based strength/power training, the optimum power load assessment for some specific dry-land exercises could be an interesting approach.


  1. Barbosa, T. M., Morais, J. E., Marques, M. C., Costa, M. J., & Marinho, D. A. (2015). The power output and sprinting performance of young swimmers. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(2), 440-450.
  2. Billat, L. V., & Koralsztein, J. P. (1996). The significance of the velocity at VO2max and time to exhaustion at this velocity. Sports Medicine, 22(2), 90-108.
  3. Fernandes, R. J., Cardoso, C. S., Soares, S. M., Ascensão, A., Colaço, P. J., & Vilas-Boas, J. P. (2003). Time Limit and VO2 Slow Component at Intensities Corresponding to VO2max in Swimmers. International journal of sports medicine, 24(08), 576-581
  4. Gatta, G., Cortesi, M., & Zamparo, P. (2016). The Relationship between Power Generated by Thrust and Power to Overcome Drag in Elite Short Distance Swimmers. PloS one, 11(9), e0162387.
  5. Loturco, I., Barbosa, A. C., Nocentini, R. K., Pereira, L. A., Kobal, R., Kitamura, K., … & Nakamura, F. Y. (2016). A correlational analysis of tethered swimming, swim sprint performance and dry-land power assessments. International journal of sports medicine, 37(03), 211-218.
  6. Loturco, I., Nakamura, F. Y., Tricoli, V., Kobal, R., Abad, C. C. C., Kitamura, K., … & González-Badillo, J. J. (2015). Determining the Optimum Power Load in Jump Squat Using the Mean Propulsive Velocity. PLoS One, 10(10), e0140102.
  7. Malina, R, Bouchard, C, and Bar-Or, O. (2004). Growth, Maturation, and Physical Activity. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  8. Ribeiro, J., Figueiredo, P., Morais, S., Alves, F., Toussaint, H., Vilas-Boas, J. P., Fernandes, R. J. (2017). Biomechanics, energetics, and coordination during extreme swimming intensity: effect of performance level. Journal of sports sciences, 35(16), 1614-1621.
  9. Ribeiro, J., Toubekis, A. G., Figueiredo, P., de Jesus, K., Toussaint, H. M., Alves, F., … & Fernandes, R. J. (2017). Biophysical Determinants of Front-Crawl Swimming at Moderate and Severe Intensities. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 12(2), 241-246.
  10. Silveira, R. P., de Souza Castro, F. A., Figueiredo, P., Vilas-Boas, J. P., Zamparo, P. (2016). The Effects of Leg Kick on the Swimming Speed and on Arm Stroke Efficiency in Front Crawl. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 1-26.
  11. Zacca, R., Azevedo, R., Silveira, R. P., Vilas-Boas, J. P., Pyne, D. B., Castro FAS, Fernandes, R. J. (2017). Comparison of incremental intermittent and time trial testing in age-group swimmers. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000002087 [Epub ahead of print]
  12. Zacca, R., Fernandes, R. J. P., Pyne, D. B., Castro, F. A. D. S. (2016). Swimming training assessment: the critical velocity and the 400-m test for age-group swimmers. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(5), 1365-1372.
  13. Pyne, D. B., Lee, H., & Swanwick, K. M. (2001). Monitoring the lactate threshold in world-ranked swimmers. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33(2), 291-297

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