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Adding Variety to Your Training - dive into the individual medley!

I am probably like most of you reading this, when I get in the pool it is primarily about fitness and enjoying myself so why should I torture myself with butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke? It is important to seize the opportunity to be mentally and physically tougher; I look at training the individual medley (IM) as another way to get out of my comfort zone and challenge my body in variety of ways!

Besides getting sighs of admiration and looks of jealousy from fellow swimmers in the pool, training IM will benefit you in many other ways.

1. Recruiting, and thereby building, a variety of muscle groups:

I am sure you can imagine the different muscles you engage when swimming butterfly and breaststroke but, until you do it, you won't really know!  Swimming primarily freestyle relies heavily on your pectoral, scapula and lattisimus dorsi muscles (one of the reasons you see swimmers with those rounded shoulders and "hunched" back) as well as  your quadriceps. If you add just a little bit of IM to your workouts, even a couple of times a week, you'll force your body to recruit a variety of different muscles groups: deltoids, lumbar, abductors, adductors and hamstrings.  These new muscle groups will soon adapt to being "called up" and you'll see improvement in your IM swimming rapidly – as well as some toning in new areas!  Training breaststroke and doing underwater pullouts off each wall will challenge your lung capacity and mental toughness in order to hold your breath when tired.  Training butterfly will challenge your coordination and strength. Training backstroke will challenge your stroke tempo and your mind as you won't always know exactly where you are in the pool!

2. Improves motivation:

By training different strokes you will likely begin to see improvement in other areas of your swimming.  This new strength and confidence you are building will permeate into your workout overall.  Training something different and new keeps you mentally fresh, as well as challenged, so you'll enjoy going back to the pool to create new challenges for yourself.  One of the major complaints I hear about swimming is the monotony of it, which is why I always encourage changing strokes, kicking, pulling, using equipment, drilling and training with a team or even just a training partner.


Tips for training IM

Negative split: if swimming a 200 IM, try to make the 2nd 25 faster than the first or a 400 IM, make the second 50 faster than the first – in other words…build into it.

Build 3 cycles off the wall: changing muscles groups can be confusing and hard on the body so as you transition from fly to back, back to breast and breast to free, build the first few strokes with each getting stronger than the last and then hold steady. With about a quarter of the distance to go, begin to pick up your tempo so that you are finishing your length strong and with good tempo; compare it to changing gears as you climb a steep hill!

Conserve your legs: Particularly on the butterfly, which is the first stroke and thus you'll have a bit more energy, try to swim more from the body and don't hammer the legs – you'll want them in the breaststroke and finishing leg of freestyle.

Cover all aspects of the stroke: Don't just swim it; you need to drill it, kick it, sprint it, and pull it (maybe not fly if you aren't a seasoned swimmer).

Train two strokes together: do some sets that just involve fly and back or back and breast.  You don't always have to swim an entire IM.  You can also mix up the order.  For example a set where you swim 50 fly-50 breast.  I have a coaching friend who loves to do "free IM" sets where the fly is replaced by free – this can give a great indicator of how fast you might actually go if you were to race the same distance.

Modify: As I am getting into shape, if I can't do a lot of fly work I will kick or drill the fly at a strong effort and swim the other 3 strokes.  Plan it in though, and don't just start drilling mid set – stick to your workout and build up your mental toughness.

Example IM based workout:

300 as 75 free/25 stroke drill in reverse IM order (br, bk, then fly)

200 IM as 25 drill/25 swim

100 IM kick

6 x 150's as: 50 stroke drill/50 free/50 flutter kick on your back STRONG on rest :15-20 seconds

Main Set (to shorten the workout you could just do 1 round of each to make it 1050 yds v 2100)


1 x 150 as: 25 fly as 3 kicks-1pull/50 bk/25 breast w flutter kick/50 free (80% effort) on rest :20

1 x 200 free hold smooth on rest :20


1 x 150 as: 25 fly /50 bk/25 breast /50 free (85% effort) on rest :30

1 x 200 free hold smooth on rest :30


1 x 150 as: 50 fly/50 bk/50 breast (75% effort) working transition btwn each stroke on rest :40

1 x 200 free strong (90+% effort) on rest :40

Warm down

400 IM as drill/kick/drill/swim maximum distance per stroke                         


4000 Stroke Drills & Pointers:


3 rt arm only/3 left arm only/2 full strokes

3 kicks in streamline – 1 full cycle focusing on a leg driven stroke

Fly has 2 downward kicks/cycle: one as your hands enter & one as they exit.  Try to breathe every other stroke to help hips stay high.

Back: Rt or Lt arm only – concentrate on rotating to both the working and non-working side

Spin drill – while sitting up in the stroke, take 8-10 strokes turning over as fast as you can. This works on great hand speed and accelerating into your catch

Backstroke requires a fast steady 6 beat kick so working on kicking on your back will be very important.

Breast: Breaststroke arms with a flutter kick – focus on driving shoulders, elbows and then hands forward quickly…lunge forward into an almost streamline position

3 kicks in streamline – 1 full cycle teaches you to hold a good line and maximize your kick

Glide between each stroke; the best breaststrokers in the world don't swim harder, they have the best efficiency between stroke cycles!

Freestyle: Rt or Lt arm only – concentrate on rotating to both the working and non-working side

Long Dog Drill – no above water recovery…just slide your arms to the forward position under the water, focus on setting up a high elbow catch and connecting it to your hip drive as you pull.

To maintain a balanced position in freestyle (hips high) keep your eyes looking about 65 degrees downward and lean into the stroke from your sternum.

posted on 7/25/2013

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