Ultra Short Race Pace Training (USRPT) in triathlon swimming with Tim Floyd | EP#165
Tim Floyd is a swim coach specializing in triathlon swimming with his squad Magnolia Masters. He has coached both amateur and professional athletes, and over the last few years has used Ultra Short Race Pace Training (USRPT) as a cornerstone of his training program.
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In this Episode you'll learn about:
- What is Ultra Short Race Pace Training (USRPT) and how can it be used in a triathlon swim training program?
- What are some typical USRPT workouts?
- What is the anecdotal and scientific background of USRPT?
- How could you include USRPT in a typical training week?
- How could you include USRPT over an entire triathlon season?
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What is USRPT?
- USRPT stands for Ultra Short Race Pace Training.
- It came from an exercise scientist named Brent Rushall, who is a Professor at UC San Diego.
Brent was looking at swimmers and the science behind how swimmers typically train.
There's a fairly big divide in swimming around what the best protocol is to be a fast swimmer - do you pursue volume in the water, or race pace high intensity with less volume?
- The USRPT website gives a guide to Brent's ideas around the swimming training protocol.
- Brent argues that you can get more efficiency and the same increases in speed from doing half the volume of a traditional 'swim volume' approach to training.
- This debate also exists within triathlon - for example a common training set for Ironman would be 10x400m in the pool.
- For swimmers, a typical college programme will have 20 hours a week to train an athlete.
- I found when I came to work with triathletes that they typically had 3-4 hours a week to train for a swim.
In reality, it's not enough from a swimming perspective to cover everything you need.
- A sprint triathlon swim (750m) would be considered a distance event in pure swimming, and a half Ironman (1900m) would be the same.
Typically, open water swimmer events start around 5km - so an Ironman swim is getting in the ball park, but would still be considered a distance event.
- Distance swimmers, on the low end, would be swimming 60,000m per week. On the high end, it would be 85-90,000m per week.
- So in reality, triathletes don't have enough time for the sprint distance race, so the training ends up looking fairly similar whether it's a sprint triathlon or a half Ironman.
- A set I may use in the build to an Ironman from a USRPT perspective would be:
25x100 yard where the athlete (pro level) would try to hold 58-59s per 100 yards - ideally done off 1:20.
We'd have them do this over and over again until they fail. Once they fail one, they'd sit out the next one as then jump in the one after that.
If they fail a second time, your body is telling you that you've made all the adaptation to that training load for that day that you can, so there is no point trying to continue.
- In USRPT, 100yards (or metres) would be the longest repeat that you would do. We use 25s, 50s and 75s as well.
- For age groupers that are doing 100m repeats at around 2 minutes, you might shorten the set to 17-18 repeats of 100 yards. More is not necessarily always better.
- The brain is playing a fairly large role, and it can effectively focus on any one skillset for about an hour.
So if you have a 45 minute main set, along with warm up and warm down it would be the ideal set time.
- It's about getting work done effectively in the time that you have!
- I have personally been around swimming - both as a competitor and a coach for many years, and I've never seen anything as effective as USRPT in the short run.
Tim Floyd's work in triathlon
- Right now I coach Bilage Chocker, who is based in Switzerland.
Previous athletes I've worked with are Matt Hansen and Cody Beales.
- I usually do a pro camp every January, and this year we have Justin Dares, Patrick Brady, Jocelyn McCauley, Stephen Kilshaw and a couple of other first year pro's and ITU guys.
- In the age group coaching space, I focus on triathletes and open water distance swimmers. I'm not too focused on things like flip turns, underwater dolphin kick or streamline on the wall.
Typical training week
- Typically if the triathlete is swimming 3 times a week it's quite difficult to utilise USRPT.
It'll help you improve, but you will see a plateau fairly quickly and become maintenance swimming.
- With swimming, it's all about getting the feel for the water and a fine sensitivity to everything going on.
The only way this happens is getting in the water continuously and repeatedly and not being out of the water for more than 1-2 days.
- I usually suggest people need 4 days a week minimum for swimming.
- Typically the way I run the programme is:
Monday: Dense, aerobic swim as they'll likely be tired from a heavy weekend of triathlon training. This swim helps them to recover better.
Tuesday: USRPT style set. Usually a lot of 25's (40-60 repeats), at race pace or above it, and 50's (20-30 repeats). For an athlete pacing 2 minutes per 100, I'll be shooting for 54-58s per 50. As the athlete goes through these, I'm looking for one part of stroke they can work on right now to get faster. When they're tired and their stroke is starting to breakdown, I'll have them focus on improving that one aspect of their stroke. This is where you make big changes in stroke mechanics.
Wednesday: Day off
Thursday: Easy recovery day - doesn't need to be longer than 1500m. Broken up with fins on, kicking work etc.
Friday: USRPT style set. Focus more on longer endurance aspect of swimming. E.g. 15x100m at 2:20, trying to hold 1:58 (for the athlete swimming at 2 minutes per 100m) and see how many you get through.
- One of the shortcomings of a pure USRPT programme is that the brain likes variety, and if we don't get it athletes can easily get stale.
We want to try and come at training from different perspectives and change up the USRPT set's to stop this happening.
- For example, the next week you may do 75m's at 1:25/1:26 instead of 100's.
You're always trying to tweak what the athlete is doing each week, and have a dialog with them about what they should be thinking about.
- You only want to focus on one change in the mechanics at one time. Once that change is in place, then you move on to the next piece you want to work on.
Structuring USRPT intervals
- If I'm looking at an athlete in the pool, I'd look at a lot of variables in the lead up to a USRPT set to choose the pace they need to aim for.
- The recovery between sets is sharply defined in USRPT as 20 seconds.
The first reason for this is physiological - you want to give the body enough time to rest and recover where it's not being sent above lactate threshold.
- USRPT aims to get the maximum change but also where you recover the fastest. You're not going way above threshold, generating a lot of lactate acid that takes time to clear before the next workout.
- We're trying to get workout after workout in where you're getting small adaptations over and over again, while recovering really quickly.
- The second rationale for the 20 second rest is related to the brain. You need to give it enough time to analyse what it just did, adapt, and then go and do the next repeat.
You need time to plan how you're going to improve for the next repeat. You're trying to improve your stroke and the mechanics throughout, and this resides in the brain.
Using USRPT over a season
- 3 months out from a race is when we start increasing the USRPT sets.
- The big focus where I work (Texas) is Ironman Texas, and April is the start of the triathlon season here. So we'll train from January to April in USRPT style swim training.
- We will then get out of it for a while and go into more 'orthodox' training - but we typically still don't do any repeats over 150m. The workouts aren't being driven by the pace I'm telling the athlete to hold.
However I will be manipulating the interval to get them to swim faster.
- If we have the 2min/100m athlete, and over the course of the USRPT block we get them down to 1:50/100m, when we go out of USRPT into more orthodox volume training, they will typically get 5 seconds/100m slower, until we return to USRPT.
It's tough to maintain a really high level of fitness for a long period of time, it's not sustainable. You have to have that variety and people need a break.
- The orthodox, volume training block usually lasts 2-3 months, and we will come back into USRPT in August/September, until around November.
USRPT compared to other methods
- When I first started coaching triathletes I discovered the limitations with the time you had to train the swim.
I'd previously just coached distance swimmers, so I was going from having 20 hours a week to train, down to 3-4.
- I made a list of everything I wanted to hit on when coaching a distance swimmer: e.g. how are the mechanics, how are the turns, do we have anaerobic capacity and aerobic capacity etc.
From this i triaged it - what is the most important and least important thing to do.
- The most important thing for the 2min/100m swimmer is not just technique. Technique is important, but at that point you don't have the strength and conditioning in the water to get to the technique.
You just need to get in and swim - ideally with a team having a coach on the deck who can guide you.
When you're pushed to go faster in the pool with other people, your body will find some natural efficiencies anyway.
- Once you've improved your fitness we're going to try and improve your technique. You will do this and get a little faster, then we'll be back to trying to improve your fitness. It's a constant trade off.
- It's not until an athlete is going around 1:05/100m that technique stars to outweigh gains in fitness.
Similarly to the bike, when you're going at 40km per hour you want to improve your fitness but to go faster you're looking for gains at aerodynamics.
- There is no one perfect stroke; being in the water is an exceptionally dynamic environment. It's always changing and there is a lot of instability, even more so in rough open water conditions.
You should be teaching the athlete that it's a spectrum of movements that you become efficient at executing. It's not one perfect stroke, it's the ability to respond efficiently in this dynamic environment.
- Compared to a traditional programme, USRPT work has got to be hard!
The first thing that gets cut is the drill work. If you're severely lacking in fitness to begin with, it doesn't make sense to incorporate a lot of slow drill work.
- Technique and fitness become so intimately intertwined. When you're starting out, if you don't have the fitness we can work on technique all you want but it won't do much.
- Dave Salo's book Sprintsalo (can be found online for free) was where my coaching started. It's basically his idea around race pace training.
I knew the work had to be hard - it wasn't a traditional swim programme but it was closer than USRPT is.
- I'd see triathlon coaches often give their athletes a lot of hour long swims or 4x1000m sessions. I knew even if I messed up the training a little, I'd get people better than the triathlon community was prescribing!
- USRPT works better than what I started out at, and what I started out at worked better than the triathlon community was doing at the time.
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon?
- I usually go on Twitter because I follow a lot of coaches on there that are doing interesting things. I like to piece together a bunch of things!
- What is your favourite piece of gear or equipment?
- There's a company called Aquavolo that make sensory mitts. They look like they're made of mesh bags. They diminish your feel of the water so you look for the feel more. When you take the mitts off, you have an outsized sense of feel for the water.
- Who is somebody in triathlon or swimming or endurance sports that you look up to?
- Dave Salo - a coach who since the early 80's has been trying to do some innovative stuff within swimming, and hasn't worried what his critics have said.
- The methodology Tim describes is a relatively well-adapted version of USRPT, so it's likely to be different to the USRTP you may read about on some websites.
- The concept of doing intense swim training at short distances so your stroke doesn't fall apart, with appropriate recovery, has a lot of merit.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Tim Floyd
Connect with host Mikael Eriksson
Hi! I'm your host Mikael,
I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.
I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show.
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