Learn how to prepare for a 200 metre swimming event from one of the World’s leading coaches.

200 metre swimming events

The preparation for 200 metre swimming events has some differences as well as similarities for males and females depending on their stage of development. It is also the case when preparing for butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle or the individual medley.  The duration of the race and the specific requirements of the stroke determine the variations in the training approach.

Duration of the race is an important factor in training design considering at the senior international level this may range from 2 minutes and 30 seconds to 1 minute and 45 seconds, resulting in a 30% variation in race time.

200 metre swimming events have the elements of a sustained sprint mixed with a significant contribution of aerobic endurance.

It is too long to be classified as a sprint yet too short to be called a true middle distance event. If a swimmer goes out as fast as they do in a 100 metre sprint they will be unable to maintain the necessary speed for the remainder of the race so controlled speed is called for however there is a fine line between too fast and too slow.

It is an endurance event for the 100 meter swimmer and a sprint event for the 400 meter swimmer when we look at the freestyle events. As a general observation at the international level we see a greater proportion of swimmers both male and female swimming 400/200 combination and being successful at the 200 than we see 200/100 combination and being successful at the 200.

This is a general observation and history shows us that many freestyle sprint men have been successful at the 100 and 200 freestyle events at the Olympics and World Championships.

It is common in the form stroke events for swimmers to be successful across both the 100 and 200 which is probably reflective of their training routine.

All events lasting 30 seconds or longer need to have energy delivery from all systems.

• Alactic ATP-PC (absolute speed).
• Anaerobic glycolytic (sustained speed or speed endurance).

• Low intensity (aerobic efficiency/recovery).
• High intensity (aerobic power).

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Requirements for preparing and racing 200 metre events

• Deliver energy at a constant rate.
• Maintain constant speed.
• Efficient stroke mechanics.
• Ability to lift rating and maintain efficiency.
• Speed endurance.
• Aerobic development across the entire range is essential.
• Lactate production essential for speed.
• Lactate removal essential for maintaining speed.
• Race pace training essential.
• Identify optimum stroke rates and stroke counts for each 50 of the race.
• Speed training specific to the 200.
• Conditioning of the legs is vital.
• Conditioning of the upper body is vital.
• VO2 sets are of major importance from the mid teenage years onwards..
• Breath holding conditioning is very important. Up to 25% of the race can be swum under water in the form stroke events.
• Skill training specific to the stroke is important.

Stages of progression

Juniors 11-12
• Males and females same.

Age grouper 13-15
• Males and females similar
• Females may need more and (or) longer short rest sets.
• Good practice to train everyone for 200 as shortest event.
• Not appropriate for swimmers who demonstrate true sprint characteristics.

Youth 16-18
• Greater differentiation between males and females.
• For males this is a period of great physical change. Growth spurts of 3 and 4 centimetres are not uncommon.
• Greater response to anaerobic training stimulus. This may influence training volume.
• Adjustments to training cycles and structure of high intensity aerobic sets.
• Females also continue with anatomical change. Sometimes the change may reduce the female’s ability to swim faster due to changes in body shape.
• Sometimes requires patience and persistence to work through this period until the physical changes have run their course hopefully resulting in a positive outcome.
• Maintenance or an increase in aerobic conditioning.
• Greater emphasis placed on race pace training.
• Strength and power development through dry land program becomes a priority.

Mature 18+
• Continue with the adjustments implemented during the youth phase.
• Monitor changes in anaerobic responses to training as both males and females may develop more sprint characteristics as they get older.
• Racing and refining of race strategies such as pacing become a greater priority.
• Maintain and monitor dry land strength program.

Training the Age Group Swimmer for the 200

The information above provides a valid approach to prepare the young teenage swimmer for 200 metre swimming events.

The reasoning underlying this approach is:
• 200 metre racing requires considerable aerobic and anaerobic conditioning
• The swimmer benefits from training across the entire range of energy systems
• This approach conditions the swimmer to swim up to the 400m and down to the 100m
• The broader range of conditioning provides the swimmer with the advantage of being able to specialise later in their career in the 200m and longer events or in the shorter 50m and 100m sprint events, depending on their physical characteristics as determined by their maturation.
• The majority of swimmers in this stage of development improve their sustained speed from significant amounts of aerobic training as well as specific or absolute speed from anaerobic conditioning.
• It is difficult to tell if the immature swimmer will evolve through their growth and development as a sprinter or a middle distance swimmer when they are in their pre adolescent and adolescent years.
• Because of the latter, the coach is being most responsible when training the young swimmer in a way that prepares them to choose the most suitable option in events when they are physically mature.
• Experience demonstrates that the majority of younger swimmers develop a healthy approach to training in all its facets if the above philosophy is followed by the coach.
• Through training for the 200m events swimmers are exposed to conditioning sets which enable them to identify heart rate ranges which will elicit the various training responses across the aerobic range. Through this skill they learn pace control, how to sustain effort without succumbing to the effects of fatigue and to maintain efficiency over a broad range of swimming intensities. They also learn how to control speed through efficient energy delivery.
• Training for the 200m events provides the swimmer at a young age with the option of competing in a variety of events. Be it in single stroke or multi stroke combinations (Best stroke and second best stroke) and/or individual medley’s.

Race Pace Training

The importance of race pace training cannot be under estimated. As stated earlier racing over 200 metres is about maintaining a high velocity for about 2 minutes, which requires sound aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. Race pace training combines both the aerobic and anaerobic components of energy delivery at race speed.

Effective race pace training synchronises desired velocity with optimum stroke rate and stroke count. 200’s are most effectively swum at constant velocity/speed, it is therefore recommended that a swimmer performs their race pace sets according to the previously mentioned parameters for a minimum total distance of 800 metres in any given set.

800 metres is recommended as a general guide and many highly trained individuals may be subjected to considerably higher volumes at such speeds with the ultimate volume of the set being determined by the coach.

A non-negotiable however is that the set must be performed at race pace or slightly faster in order to elicit the specific training response. Once the swimmer cannot maintain the pace the race specificity of the training is lost.

When swimmers are first being subjected to 200 race pace training they may not be able to manage the volume required at the pre-determined speed so the set’s total volume needs to be reduced, broken into segments or adjustments to the work to rest ratio need to be made.

The work to rest ratio and the speed determine the pressure or overall intensity of the set. The objective should be to achieve the required number of repeats at race pace with the desired stroke counts/stroke rates with the shortest possible rest between repeats.

Most race pace sets for the 200 events are performed as 50 metre repeats as they are long enough to stimulate both the anaerobic and aerobic responses required from this type of training.

Early season
4x(4×50 pace 1.30 + 200 recovery 3.30)

Mid season
3x(6×50 pace 1.15 + 200 recovery 3.30)

16×50 pace 1.15

Early Taper
3x(4×50 1.10 + 150 recovery 3.00)
Set 1 – 1st 50 build, 2nd pace plus 1sec, 3rd/4th at pace
Set 2 – 1st 50 dive pace, 2nd build, 3rd/4th at pace
Set 3 – 1st 50 build, 2nd/3rd/4th at pace.

End Taper
2x(3×50 60 +100 recovery 2.30)
Both sets descend to pace on the 3rd 50.

Like all training set design it is up to the coach’s experience and creativity to come up with the combinations of set volume, repeat distances, work to rest ratios and times which will suit the individual and hopefully achieve the desired outcome.

Training is one thing but it is absolutely vital to race, especially the 200 metre swimming events where sustained high speed is an essential requirement. Swimmers have to develop the ability to repeat the skills they learn and practice in training under competition conditions. There is no substitute for the pressure of racing and it is only in this environment that the pacing skills encountered in training can be consolidated. Maintaining composure under the pressure of competition can only be achieved in the race situation.

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Leigh Nugent