6 Freestyle Swim Workouts and Sets

6 Freestyle Swim Sets and Workouts

Get your freestyle on with this collection of my favorite freestyle sets and practices.

Freestyle is the most common stroke performed in training, the fastest stroke, and the one that most of us learn first.

Over three decades of swimming and coaching, I have done a metric butt-ton of freestyle sets.

Below are some of my all-time favorite freestyle swim workouts.

I included some distance-oriented swim sets, some power-focused sets, a pull-centric workout, and more. (Fair warning: I love freestyle kicking, and this is reflected in the sets.)

A couple of quick notes before we dive in:

  • The freestyle sets below do not include warm-ups, pre-sets, or warm-downs. They are strictly the main freestyle-focused portion of the workout. Make sure you get yourself primed properly for the set, and take time to warm down following the work.
  • The intervals and distances are adjustable (feel free to even do the sets with different strokes) and can be altered to suit your conditioning levels and goals in the pool. Use these freestyle sets as inspiration for your own swim workouts.

Alrighty, let’s get after some challenging freestyle sets!

1. Short rest speed work with paddles

This set was done long course meters and was one of the meat-and-potato sets I used over the course of 2019. Pick an interval for the 50s where you gotta hustle to get around :10 rest, and go up the ladder of repetitions, trying to maintain speed.

On the final round, you are essentially doing a fast broken 500. You will need a set of swim training paddles for this set (PAD = training paddles).

As you get better at this set, make the intervals faster.

  • 2×50 free fast w PAD @:40
  • 1:00 rest
  • 4×50 free fast w PAD @:40
  • 1:30 rest
  • 6×50 free fast w PAD @:40
  • 2:00 rest
  • 8×50 free fast w PAD @:40
  • 2:30 rest
  • 10×50 free fast w PAD @:40

2. Paddles and Fins Cruise and Speed Work

Swimmers love wearing fins and paddles, and I am no exception. This set, largely aerobic in nature, includes some bursts of speed and has you descending effort within each round.

The challenge comes in maintaining technique and nailing those underwaters as fatigue accumulates over the course of the set.

This freestyle set can easily be done without swim fins and paddles, but who doesn’t like swimming with superchargers on their hands and feet?

Think of “strong” as 80% effort, and “fast” as 95% effort.

8-12 rounds:

  • 75 free swim cruise (fins + paddles) @1:30
  • 50 free strong (fins + paddles) @1:00
  • 25 free swim fast (fins + paddles) @:30

3. Six-Beat Freestyle Kick Deluxe Set

In the months before Covid shut down pools, I was spending a lot of my time in the water focused on making 6-beat kicking a standard feature of my swimming.

(I was inspired partly by a talk Bob Bowman gave about Michael Phelps adopting six-beat kicking as a teenager. His freestyle, according to Bowman, went ballistic soon after.)

This freestyle set mixes in some cruise kicking (with a kick-board) along with a descending freestyle swim that is to be done with a six-beat kick.

  • 5×150 free as 100 swim with a six-beat kick, 50 kick cruise @2:30 (descending the 100s swim to all-out)
  • 100 easy choice
  • 5×100 free swim @2:00 (6 beat kick—try to match #5 from the previous round)
  • 100 easy choice
  • 3×100 free swim @2:00 (6 beat kick, all faster than the fastest from the previous round)

4. Power Up Your Freestyle with a Chute

One of my favorite power development tools for faster swimming is the swimmer’s parachute. Also known as a drag chute or resistance chute, they are available in a few different sizes (aka resistance levels), the parachute dangles past your feet, “catching” water, creating extra resistance, and giving you the sense of swimming with a small child on your back.

Studies [1. 2] have found that training with paddles and a parachute helped create a more balanced and fluid freestyle. An additional perk of swimming with a chute is that when you remove it and swim without it, you will have an enhanced sense of speed in the water.

This set alternates doing short repetitions of freestyle swimming with a parachute (with generous rest to ensure solid effort and form) with 100s of kick and swim.

3 rounds…

  • 6×100 freestyle as 50 kick/50 swim cruise @1:45
  • Extra :30 rest
  • 6×25 freestyle swim fast with swim parachute + paddles @:50
  • Extra :30 rest

5. Descending effort freestyle pull set

Swimming requires a high degree of upper body endurance and strength.

One study found that between 66 and 70 percent of propulsion in the water comes from the upper body. Which means we need strong and well-conditioned back, shoulders, and arms to get through the water.  Which further means pulling! Lots of pulling!

I’ve done plenty of different pulling sets over the years, and this one ranks among my favorites. You start off at a moderate pace, and as the distances get shorter, and you get less rest, you should push yourself to quicken the pace.

Here’s an example of the set on a 1:30/100m interval.

  • 500 freestyle pull with paddles on 7:30
  • 400 freestyle pull with paddles on 6:00
  • 300 freestyle pull with paddles on 4:30
  • 200 freestyle pull with paddles on 3:00
  • 100 freestyle pull with paddles on 1:30

If a 1,500m main set is too short for your liking, you could always do a second round on a faster interval or add a second side to the ladder. In the example below, the interval on the way back down is :05 seconds faster to provide an added challenge:

  • 100 freestyle pull with paddles on 1:30
  • 200 freestyle pull with paddles on 3:00
  • 300 freestyle pull with paddles on 4:30
  • 400 freestyle pull with paddles on 6:00
  • 500 freestyle pull with paddles on 7:30
  • 400 freestyle pull with paddles on 5:40
  • 300 freestyle pull with paddles on 4:15
  • 200 freestyle pull with paddles on 2:50
  • 100 freestyle pull with paddles on 1:25

6. Race pace freestyle set

This two-part main set is a derivative of a Bob Bowman set that Michael Phelps used over the years to improve his 100-meter butterfly, and it’s a set that I have enjoyed using to improve my freestyle stroke.

The set has you doing cruise kick (are you getting sick of all the kick stuff yet? ? ), choice drill, and race pace.

For the drill work, I typically alternate between closed fist freestyle (a great drill for encouraging a high elbow vertical forearm) and long dog freestyle (pulling normally but recovering completely under the water, somewhat like doggy paddle).

Those two drills are among my favorites for freestylers, but choose drills that are appropriate to the technical aspects of your freestyle stroke that you would like to improve upon.

The kick reps are to be done cruise and to keep your heart rate rolling.

30×50 freestyle on 1:10

  • 10 rounds [1 – kick cruise, 1 – drill choice, 1 – 100 race pace]

More Swim Workouts Like This:

Looking for even more guides and resources for improving your freestyle stroke and speed?

Here are additional workouts and guides to get you started:

Train Your Ability to Sustain High-End Speed with this Set from Olympic Coach David Marsh. This set for sprinters is one of the workouts that Dave Marsh used at Auburn to turn them into a sprinting powerhouse.

3 Sprint Swim Sets with Nick Brunelli. Nick was a stalwart on the national scene in the United States for a decade. Even though he never made an Olympic team, he did retire in 2012 with over a half dozen world championship medals to his credit. Here are a few of the sets he used during his training for the 2012 US Olympic Trials.

Improve Your 100m Freestyle with this Epic Race Pace Set. Combine a deadly warm-up with race pace work with this workout designed to help you crush your 100m freestyle.

How to Develop an Unstoppable Freestyle Kick. The top athletes in the pool are not only fast swimmers, they are fast kickers. Here is your guide to a faster freestyle kick.

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of YourSwimLog.com. He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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