Pacing control and awareness - What is it and how it can really benefit your swim training!

Do you know how to maintain your front crawl swim pace and understand how much you have left in the tank? If you don't, then in a triathlon or swim race you're likely to set off faster than your threshold or race pace, go into the red zone, and then take 10-15 minutes to recover until you can start working at race pace again.....

Pacing can be a tricky thing to initially learn and judge. For example, over a 500 metre interval, you may swim half at 1:45 pace per 100m and then the second half at 2:15 pace per 100m. This obviously gives you an average of 2:00 minutes. However, could you have swum slightly faster if your pace was more closely aligned?

It is also dependent on you maintaining your technique, and not having any stroke in-efficiencies develop as you become tired. Your fitness training should incorporate 2 elements, T paced varied swim sets and skill development.

T Pace stands for 'threshold swim pace' – a really simple concept that could improve your swim fitness, pace judgement and training motivation.

Refer back to our previous post on breathing to see what happens when you lose focus, or your breathing becomes more laboured.

So how do you become better at pacing yourself?

Its pretty simple really, during training, use the pace clock in your local pool, or your stopwatch and use it religiously. For example, if your session says 4 x 200 metres front crawl at 80% effort on 30 seconds rest, then stick strictly to the 30 rest.

Understanding variations in pace will help you to generate the feel for the right intensity. Allow this to take some time. Your race pace should feel hard, like you almost can't sustain it, but if you remain focused mentally you can.

Try doing this session in your main set next time:

2x (5 x 100 metres front crawl all on 40 rest) at the following intensity:

  1. 100m at 70% effort

  2. 100m at 75% effort

  3. 100m at 80% effort

  4. 100m at 85% effort

  5. 100m at 90% effort

Your split times should represent the difference in intensity, so the time is lower the harder you work.

If you're finishing the 100's too fast then slow down a bit, and vice versa. You should expect to see a 2-5 second difference depending on your personal race threshold speed on each of the intervals above.

We've been using pacing awareness sets and intervals for over 15 years in our coaching practices, as we believe it's integral to developing a sense of what your race pace is and how to hold onto it.

A good fitness test would be to swim 10 x 100 metre with a pace that doesn't drop or change by more than +/- 3 seconds! Ideally you should aim to get yourself to the position where you can do this consistently with just 10 seconds rest. If you're unable to do this initially, then start with 60 seconds rest, and reduce the rest by 10 seconds per week. You'll notice the progression in your fitness over the weeks.

How close are you to achieving this?

Imagine if your goal is to swim 1500 metres in 30 minutes, or to break the 30 minute barrier. You find from checking splits of your watch that you can start out at 1:50 pace per 100m. Now this would give you a time of 27.5 minutes. However, your time for the 1500 metres is 38 minutes. This is a big difference in pacing. Ideally you would want to hold even 100 metre splits all the way through this distance +/- 3-5 seconds per 100.

There could also be a few technical reasons which are holding you back from achieving this, that is, your technique falls apart gradually from the better technique you held at the start, to the end of the distance. For example:

  • Over rotation to breathe

  • Knees bending when you kick

  • Pulling too hard and fast in the catch phase

  • Crossing over the mid-line of your body underwater with your hand

Try this swim session on holding your front crawl pace

Warm Up:

300 FC

100 Single arm pull buoy (alternating arms every 25 metres)

Main Set:

all at 75%

1. 4x 100 FC pace control on @75% 30 rest

2. 400 FC @ same pace as 100’s maintaining stroke count - 45 rest

3. 4x 100 FC pace control on @75% 25 rest

4. 400 FC @ same pace as 100’s with stroke count minus 2 per length – 40 rest

8x 50m as 50 FC hard/ 50 Drill* 15 rest


  • Power push

  • Bodyroll

  • Spearing

  • Sighting every 5

Cool Down:

4x 25m sculling 10 rest

4 x 25m FC eyes closed 10 rest

Last year, we helped one of our swim clients reduce his "Threshold swim Pace" (or 1500m average 100m pace) by 20 seconds per 100 metres consistently!

This was instrumental in helping enable him to qualify for the Sprint distance World Triathlon​ Championships in Rotterdam on 17th September 2017!

That's 2 minutes 20 seconds faster over 750 metres!

How you may ask...

  1. Optimal pacing

  2. Correcting stroke inefficiencies

  3. Improving his rotation and power

  4. Enhanced his catch

  5. Working on developing a higher early vertical forearm position

  6. Better streamlining

  7. Providing him with structured training sessions

You can learn how to transform your front crawl swimming with technique and race pace training too!

Join our weekly SPEEDY SWIMMING - Squad Training Sessions at Aldershot 50m pool on Tuesdays at 8.30pm for more T pace training sessions

Our Speedy Swim Squad offers a social way to build your fitness. Our friendly coaching will ensure you feel part of the group and you'll learn new techniques and tips for triathlon and masters swimming.

Places are limited to 12 swimmers per session, to ensure you receive the best possible level of coaching available by our Speedy Swim coach. Places are going fast, we currently only have 6 spaces left so book your place now to avoid disappointment!!

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