How to Get Into Freak Level Shape This Season

How to Get Into Freak-Level Shape This Season

Ready to take your swimming to the next level? Here is what you know before setting off to completely dominate your training and the competition.

You’ve decided that this is going to be the season where you take things to a whole new level in the pool.

With lofty goals affixed on high, an unshakable resolve to do whatever it takes, and all the support you could ever need around you, you charge into the season ready to smash your personal best times and turn some heads while doing it.

So you know that you are going to have to escalate the work you are doing in the pool in order to smash some best times.

But where do you start?

How to Get Into Freak Level Shape This Season

This is the point where a few classic mistakes are made:

  • An all-or-nothing approach is taken. An example: a swimmer who typically trains 5x per week hops into the national group lane and is expected to train 9x per week plus dryland. Some might survive the shock-and-awe approach, most will not.
  • There is a huge increase in work done at the highest levels; which is hard to sustain. It’s tempting to think that in order to sprint faster you can just double the amount of sprint work you do each week and that you will improve accordingly. The reality is that your body can only handle so much work done at the absolute highest intensity. Even at the highest levels you don’t see elite swimmers doing more than a few hundred meters per workout at 100% intensity. High to low 90’s, maybe, but full blast?
  • Increased intensity with brutal form. Work done in the pool is not created equal. At the highest levels of effort your technique and form will strain. It can be tempting to toss technique aside at the expense of “high effort” work, but this proves to have diminishing returns. It waters down the high powered work you’ve done with great form, and opens the door for shoddy technique. High effort swimming done with poor technique is not the same as high effort swimming done with great form. Not even close.

See Also: How to Fix Your Bad Training Habits

Volume vs. Intensity

The secret to getting into even better shape is to escalate volume before you increase intensity.

So let’s say currently you are swimming 9x per week, which is what we could consider a fairly advanced level, with a majority of those practices done with a significant amount of race pace, or close to race pace, yardage.

That’s a lot of high intensity training.

The temptation is to add another couple high intensity workouts—but what this typically ends up doing is cutting short recovery between practices leading to the increased likelihood of burn out.

Instead, add 1-2 low intensity sessions.

You could strap on some fins and do a couple 1k’s kick at a cruising speed. Throw in a bunch of technical work. Drills, sculling, super slow swimming with perfect pace and killer technique.

Why slow pace?

Why take it so easy as volume is increased?

Well, even though there is a tendency for coaches to drive their swimmers into the ground with endless reps at a high intensity, having a strong aerobic foundation is key for performance in competition and more importantly, in training.

With high intensity training there is a point where doing more simply robs the energy and recovery necessary for the next session, and when adding training time you want to avoid costing recovery for your next practice.

The low intensity swimming that centers around cruise kick, drill and scull work not only doesn’t cost recovery, but strengthens your aerobic system.

But, but—I’m a sprinter! I don’t need no stinking aerobic work!


A strong aerobic system improves recovery between those tough sessions and during those tough sessions.

Just how much of a role does aerobic work factor in your sprints?

According to this research, your aerobic system is responsible for 13% of the energy in a 10-second sprint, and 27% in a 20-second sprint.

How to Get Into Freak Shape This Season

Regardless if you possess a 20-point 50m freestyle like world short course holder Florent Manaudou you still need aerobic work to punish the sprints.

5 Rules for Getting into Freak-level Shape:

1. Sleep and diet are an absolute priority. If you aren’t doing your best to recover between your workouts recovery will suffer, performance will suffer, and progress will halt. Eating and sleeping aren’t just things you do in between bouts of aggressive training—they are the fuel and the recovery to your workouts. Eat to perform, sleep to perform.

2. Volume before intensity. Remember what we just talked about in regards to improving your aerobic system? Level up your swimming with low intensity work first.

3. Scale slowly. Yes, we want results and we want them now goshdarnit! Your body is capable of amazing feats of resiliency, but we don’t want to add sessions if it is costing you performance in your existing practice schedule.

4. Form above everything else. If form is deteriorating to the point of complete failure rest. Great technique is the easiest and most overlooked way to swim faster. More swimming shouldn’t be done at the expense of shoddy technique.

5. Before you do extra, maximize the opportunities you already have. Extra and bonus work is great, but only if you are already maxing out the training chances currently presented to you.

In Summary

I can understand that the idea of doing more aerobic work might not seem “hard enough” or challenging to the point that it would drive improvement.

Low intensity aerobic work, when done with purpose can be a great recovery tool while also developing a broader foundation for the high intensity work you are already doing.

Try adding 1-2 chill workouts to your practice schedule over the next couple weeks and you will find yourself coming back stronger after the big sessions, while also fine tuning your technique in the water.

Take Your Swimming to the Next Level

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

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