Special Sets Presented by VASA: Post-Holiday Workouts

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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One of the more innovative thinkers in swimming is Sandpipers of Nevada coach Ron Aitken. Following are some sets he does with his athletes during the post-Christmas holidays and run-up to the championship meet season.

The profile of Sandpipers of Nevada, a Las Vegas program in existence since 1968 and age group home of Olympian Cody Miller, has become much higher as of late. Not only did Miller gain an Olympic gold and bronze medal in Rio, but the four-time Nevada state champion club earned USA Swimming Gold Medal status for the first time in 2016.

A driving force behind the Sandpipers success has been executive director and head coach Ron Aitken. In 2016, he was named USA Swimming Development Coach of Year, head open water coach of the U.S. World Junior Team, and he sent 10 Sandpipers to Olympic Trials.

Since a change in Sectional meets to December, the Sandpipers have altered their seasonal training. “Generally, we take a break during the holidays, so we shave and taper in December off of our summer work. Whereas most programs take a summer break, we take more of a winter break,” he says.

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“We have a set of 20 100s that we do in a USRPT style,” says Aitken. “I break each swimmer’s best time in the 500, 1000 or 1650 into 25, 50, 75 and 100s. Starting from the 100, they hold pace. As an example, Erin Emery, now a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, would have held 58s (her 1000 pace) on her 100s and given a 20-second rest. If she missed the 58, she would have dropped to 75s, taking a one-minute break. If she missed the 75s, she would drop to 50s, then drop to 25s if she missed that. Ideally, I want swimmers to eventually hold 20 100s at pace. Once they can do this, we make the pace faster.

“We have some other favorite sets. We kick every week starting off at about 1500 yards/meters and increase throughout the season to a 6,000 straight kick. Swimmers progress week-to-week, rotating 100s kick in Week 1, 200s in Week 2 and 300s kick in Week 3. The sendoffs are based on a 500 kick for time. I’m a believer in distance freestylers being able to kick the entire race.

“We do the same for what I call Terrible Tuesday, which I took from Tyler Fenwick (associate coach, University of Tennessee) and his Open Water Wednesday. Terrible Tuesday is an aerobic day with main sets of 100s, 200s, 300s, 400s, 500s, 1000s and 1650s, depending on the cycle of the week. We start out the season just like the kick sets and rotate repeat distances and make sets up to 6,000 to 12,000, depending on time limitations. If we don’t have enough time, we will do the remainder of the set later in the week. This is definitely over the top for most programs, but it works for us. Our kids secretly get up for these days and feel accomplished when they’re done and have done well.”

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Aitken recently polled some current swimmers and alumni, who shared with him some of their most memorable sets.

• Janet Evans Set: 8 x 200 IM, 4 x 200 free, 6 x 200 IM, 2 x 400 free, 4 x
200 IM, 2 x 600, 2 x 200 IM, 800 for time
• Cody Miller Era: 100 x 100, 4 x 1650, 16 x 400 IM, 6 x 1000
• Logan Houck Era: 34 x 400 SCM

“We have done 400 IMs for time for years,” says Aitken, “progressively adding more during each three-week period. I find those swims really get the kids up and racing distance IM. When they have to switch strokes, they are less likely to control speeds/efforts over this distance. With the freestyle distances for time, kids tend to pace the longer distance and pick it up. I like to see them put it on the line as fast as they can over the entire distance in practice.

“All sets are done with a purpose. We use color charts, and they hold paces throughout the sets with stroke counts. They must hold times or we call it MOAO (Miss One, Add One). The effort you get when they might have to go more is priceless,” he says.

About the Author:

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach whose Collegiate School (Richmond, Va.) teams won nine state high school championships. He was named a 2017 recipient of NISCA’s Outstanding Service Award.

This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of Swimming World Magazine.