What Is A Swim Set? (And how to read them)

If you are trying to improve your swimming or attempting to make your pool workout time more interesting and productive, then you may have downloaded or even purchased a swim set to follow.

Swimmers across the globe, from your local swimming club to Olympic swimmers, follow swim sets every day.

In swimming, a set is a predetermined number of repetitions of a particular stroke or combination of strokes. Sets are usually prescribed by a coach and followed by swimmers in practice. There are different types of sets, and each has its own purpose.

At first, especially to the uninitiated, these swim sets are full of jargon and may seem impossible to read, let alone follow in the pool.

You could swim your entire life, but these prescribed swim sets still baffle you.

If you swim alone, it’s hard to remember certain sets unless you have a swim coach screaming them from the pool deck.

In this article, I want to demystify the jargon of swim sets, explain why they are so important, share some great swim sets and finally, give some tips on how you can follow a swim set without a swim coach.

I will cover:

  • What is a swim set?
  • How do you read a swim set?
  • Do swim sets help me swim faster?
  • How do I record my swim sets?
  • How do you write a swim set?
  • How can I remember my swim sets in the pool?
  • What is a good beginner swim set?

What Is A Swim Set?

A swim set is a planned number of repetitions performed on a specific stroke or combination of strokes.

Swimmers usually follow sets during practice as prescribed by a coach. There are several types of sets, each with its own function.

How Do You Read A Swim Set?

Swim sets can be very difficult and hard to read at first.

Here is an example of some lines from a swim set, with the jargon explained.

This is based on a 25m pool.

  • 1 x 100 FR: 20-second rest
  • 8 x 75 on 2:30
  • 5 x 50 descend: 15-second rest
  • 10 x 25 with:10-second rest
  • 10 x 25 on 1:00
Swim SetDescription
1 x 100 FR: 20-second restYou will swim 100m front crawl, once. Then rest at the wall for 20 seconds.
8 x 75 on 2:30You will swim 75m, eight times. You will leave the wall every 2 minutes 30 seconds.
5 x 50 descend: 15-second restYou will swim 50m, five times. You will gradually get faster after each 50m you swim. 15 seconds rest between each rep.
10 x 25 with: 10-second restYou will swim 25m, ten times. You will have a 10-second rest after each 25m.
10 x 25 on 1:00You will swim 25m, ten times. You will start every 25m rep at 1-minute intervals.
This Table Shows How To Read Swim Set Jargon

Swim Set Abbreviations

There are lots of short-hand abbreviations used in swimming sets to communicate instructions to the swimmers.

Here is a list of some of the most common swim set terms and their meanings:

Swim AbbreviationDescription
FR or FreeFreestyle, Front Crawl
F or FL or FlyButterfly
BK or BackBackstroke
IMIndividual Medley
K or KickKicking i.e. legs only
P or Pull or ArmsArms only
DES or DescendSwim faster on each repetition
ST or Stroke or OTFAny stroke other than front crawl
CH or ChoiceAny stroke you want
S or SwimAny stroke you want, just move through the water.
A List Of Common Swim Set Abbreviations

The above abbreviations and swim set jargon can be very intimidating, especially if you have never competed or had a dedicated swim coach.

When starting out, I recommend you use very simple and easy-to-read instructions to get yourself into the habit of following an easy swim set.

For example, you might see a swim set that looks like this:

  • Swim four laps at an easy pace
  • Swim two laps at a moderate pace
  • Swim one lap at a fast pace
  • Repeat

This swim set is designed to help you gradually build up your speed. The first four laps are easy, so you can warm up and get used to the pace. The two laps at a moderate pace help you push yourself a little, and the last lap at a fast pace is meant to really get your heart rate up and help you build up your speed.

It is very basic and simple to help you get accustomed to following swimming sets and instructions.

Do Swim Sets Help Me Swim Faster?

A well-designed swim set will help you to progressively improve, and with time and practice, to swim faster.

For me, I believe a swim set that includes kick sets, pull sets, and drill sets are essential to help a swimmer build speed.

If you have poor technique, it does not matter how powerful you are in the pool, as you will never reach your full potential.

With good technique which is practised through a drill set, with kick and pull sets which work the arms, combined with a well-designed main set and finishing with a speed set, you will see an improvement in your swimming speed with practice.

To learn more about what is considered a fast swimming speed, I have covered this in greater depth in this article, What Is A Fast Swim Speed? (From Beginners to Olympians)

How Do I Record My Swim Sets?

It is important to log and record your swimming sets in order to monitor progress.

Typically, the best way to record your swim sets is to use a swim log.

A swim log book is a notebook where you can track your progress while swimming. You can record the different swim sets you do, as well as how many laps you complete and what your time was. This can be really helpful in tracking your progress and seeing how you’re improving over time.

I have created a swim log you can download for free.

I have created this in Google Sheets as this is so easy to use on your phone or desktop. Click here to learn more and how to download my free swim log book.

How Do You Write A Swim Set?

There are many resources online where you can download pre-written swim sets. However, you may find these too intimidating (or confusing) and would like to write your own.

In order to write a great swim set, you need to identify what your objective is.

For example, are you hoping to improve speed, endurance, kick strength, or technique?

Depending on what your objective is, you can tailor your swim set so that it focuses more on the repetitions that will help you reach your goal.

A really good swim set will have the following elements. [source]

1. Warm Up

This will generally make up around 10-20% of your swim workout. It is essential to warm up to avoid injury.

2. Drill Set

Drill sets are so important to promote good technique and aid in swimming progression, whether it is swimming faster or farther per session.

Generally, a drill set should be around 5% of your workout.

Drills are simple exercises that help you perfect your technique.

3. Kick & Pull Set

It can be very beneficial to isolate your arms and legs to work on kicking only or arm strokes only.

Generally, swimmers will use a kickboard or a pull buoy to isolate their arms and legs so they can work on specific aspects of their stroke.

4. Main Set

This is the main body of the workout and generally is around 50% of the swim session.

The design and type of the main set will depend on the swimmer’s objectives. For example, if you are looking for endurance, you will focus on distance. However, if you are focusing on speed, then you will incorporate shorter yet more powerful laps.

5. Speed Set

I have recently started incorporating speed sets into my swimming and I am already seeing a significant benefit.

Speed sets comprise short sprints to maintain power. Not only do they feel great, but you can build stamina and speed.

6. Cool Down

After your main swimming workout, it is essential to cool down and allow your body to stretch and relax to avoid injury.

If your self-designed swim set covers all these elements, you can be confident that you have designed a good swim set.

Review Your Set

If you are designing your own swim set, it is important to keep a log of your swimming and to note how you are progressing. This is to ensure that your custom swim set is meeting your goals.

You can download a swim log for free here.

How Can I Remember My Swim Sets In The Pool?

Having all these beautifully designed swim sets is not useful if you cannot remember or follow them in the pool.

Unless you have a coach who is screaming the set at you or are comfortable bringing paper into the pool that will get soaked, it is hard to follow a swim set.

I have found two solutions to help me remember my swim sets:

  1. Have swim sets that always follow a standard pattern
  2. Use a waterproof swim set guide.

1. Have Swim Sets Follow A Pattern

A great swim workout will cover:

  • Warm Up
  • Drill Set
  • Kick Set
  • Pull Set
  • Main Set
  • Speed Set
  • Cool down

If you can remember these aspects of a swim workout, it can be much easier to remember what your plan is.

In addition, if your swimming workout follows the above pattern, you know you will have done a good workout as you have ticked all the boxes of a good swim set.

Remembering the exact number of lengths you are going to do is trickier, but I have found a nice solution to this by using a waterproof swim set guide which I can bring to the pool deck with me.

2. Use A Waterproof Swim Set Guide.

It can be so hard to write a swim set and then try to remember it in the pool unless you bring some notes with you to the pool deck.

Of course, bringing paper to a public pool is a recipe for disaster. However, I have found a really neat solution.

A company called Scale Swimming has waterproof training sets you can bring to the pool deck.

They are easy to read, well organised, but, most importantly, waterproof! So you can flick through them with wet hands while in the water.

They also have a variety of options available from beginner to advanced swimmers, so there is something for everyone.

What Is A Good Beginner Swim Set?

To help you get started, below is a beginner swim set, written in simple terms so you can easily follow along in the pool.

Swim Set 1 – Beginner Level

Total Distance: 500m

Pool Length: 25m

Warm Up

  • 2 x 25m: FR Easy – Swim two lengths easy front crawl.
  • 2 x 25m: FR Kick – Swim two lengths front crawl, legs only. Use a kickboard to support arms.
  • 2 X 25m: FR Arms – Swim two lengths front crawl, arms only. Use a pull buoy to support legs.


  • 4 x 25m: Streamline Position – Swim four lengths. Kick off the wall and hold an underwater streamlined position for as far as possible. Then surface and gently swim to the pool wall.

Main Set

  • 6 x 25m: FR: 20 Second rest – Swim six lengths of front crawl with a 20-second rest between each length. Using the feeling from the drill, try to implement a streamlined position as you swim.

Cool Down

  • 4x 25m: BR Easy – Swim three lengths of easy breaststroke.

Don’t forget to record your workout in a swim log book so you can record what you did, how the swim set felt, and what you might improve.

Final Thoughts

Designing your own swim set can be a great way to progress in your swimming and achieve your goals. However, it is important to remember that not all swim sets are created equal.

Make sure you cover the key elements of a good swim set: warm-up, drills, main set and cool down. Additionally, try to follow a pattern with your swim sets so you can more easily remember them.

If you find remembering swim sets difficult, consider using a waterproof training set guide from Scale Swimming which will help you keep track of your workout while in the pool.

Happy swimming!

Emma Moore

Hi, I am Emma, and I am obsessed with all watersports, from swimming to surfing and everything in between. I spend my free time in the water or preparing for my next water travel adventure.

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