What is USRPT?

By now, I am sure many of you have heard your friends and family talk about the demands and benefits of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and if you haven’t, then you have done well to avoid it! HIIT workouts are short (usually no longer than 30 minutes) and require quick bursts of energy, combined with short resting intervals, to burn maximum fat and calories.

Sounds good right?

Well there is a whole swimming methodology based around HIIT - Ultra Short Race Pace Training (USRPT).

The basis of USRPT is that you only train at race pace (or faster, ideally!) to create optimal training stimulation that will increase race performance and allow you to swim faster times. This method relies on the saying, quality over quantity - so don’t try and swim to the moon and back- concentrate on speed and intensity! Oh, and don’t worry about drills, or kick boards, if you don’t do it in a race, then you don’t do it for USRPT.

This is actually how 99% of swimmers don’t train. Most swimming training methodology only covers up to 50% race-pace at best. More conventional methods were described as outdated and were more suited to land-based exercises by Dr Brent Rushall back in 2011 (the brains behind this madness!). One example of an athlete trying to change the game using USPRT is Michael Andrew. The youngest American male professional swimmer is trained by his dad Andrew, a master of staying on top of the latest research and training methods. This allows Michael to train less than an hour at a time and it seems to be working for him!

Who is USRPT for?

"USRPT is typically targeted for intermediate to advanced swimmers"

Firstly, let me just say, USRPT is typically targeted for intermediate to advanced swimmers, looking for increased race performance and better overall times. This is due to the method relying on strong foundations - like already well-developed technique and endurance capabilities. However, USRPT can be designed to any swimmer who is looking to:

1. Increase their personal best time for the 50m or 100m on any stroke, or IM

2. Have limited time to train, but still want a demanding and intense swimming workout

3. Looking to break away from conventional training and try something completely different

USRPT - In Practice

This section comes with a warning - one thing swimmers seem to get wrong, is executing a USRPT set. There are many USRPT examples or articles claiming to present the best implementation of this method, when all they are really doing is swimming a few really fast laps with large rest intervals. Any USRPT training must be calculated and regulated with your own personal best time in mind. The example below is for a butterfly swimmer with a 100m best time of 1 minute:

16 x 25m

Target time: 15 sec

Interval time: 30 sec

Note: This session isn’t designed for the swimmer to complete all 16 repetitions. If the swimmer starts hitting 16s times, this is considered failure! The swimmer then skips the following 2 reps and re-joins from this point. The session stops prematurely if the swimmers hits two consecutive failures or 3 failures overall!

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The Science Stuff!

First, let me congratulate you on making it this far! And secondly, this maybe the section where I lose most of you! But stick with me, it is all for your benefit! Training at short intervals allows swimmers to maintain low levels of lactic acid in the blood- the stuff that makes your muscles tired- whilst also maintaining high levels of glycogen in the muscles (our fuel!). The conventional swimming methods deplete the glycogen levels in the muscles, which in turn drastically reduces your training capabilities, whereas USPRT provides a solution for this flaw! The shorter recovery times in USRPT allow the body to also repay the oxygen debt of training sufficiently and adapts the body into restoring its energy systems in a relatively short amount of time. This overall training effect will result in greater speed endurance, which allows you to win a race before tiredness can stop you!

Let’s Finish This Up!

This lesson on USRPT was not to sell you the idea, it was to open your mind to an alternative training method that can  produce results, but also provide you with the possibility to change up your training plan and try something different from the ordinary. USRPT may be testing of your dedication to the sport, but it can really increase motivation and passion for being the best swimmer you can be!