Go anaerobic from time to time 1

I have traveled around the country extensively in the last few years and, on almost every trip, I will try to hook up with a local Masters team for a workout.  Of course, I always like to meet new swimmers, as they are the friendliest group of people I’ve encountered!  But I also enjoy experiencing the workout of another team.  In most of my experiences with other Masters teams’ workouts, the focus is on aerobic sets.  Of course, these should make up the bulk of most workouts, but it seems exceedingly rare for most Masters teams to do much, if any, anaerobic sets.  I understand the aversion, as anaerobic sets are very painful!  However, anaerobic activity is important to perform from time to time in swim practice.

Before getting into the details of the benefits of anaerobic workouts, let’s quickly define the difference between aerobic and anaerobic activity.  “Anaerobic” means “in the absence of oxygen” or “without oxygen.”  When performing anaerobic exercise, your body is using more oxygen than it can provide to your muscles.  Thus, anaerobic exercise is fueled by energy stored in your muscles.  To the contrary, aerobic exercise is fueled by oxygen carried to your muscles through your blood stream.

The benefits of anaerobic workouts are being more highly touted in recent years and for good reason.  Regularly incorporating anaerobic exercise into your workout routine provides many benefits.  Below just a few benefits of anaerobic exercise are listed and briefly described.


Improved muscle strength

Short, intense bursts of anaerobic activity actually increase the fast twitch muscle fibers in your body.  Fast twitch muscle fiber is what your body uses when you need to perform intense activity, such as an all-out 50 freestyle or the sprint to the finish at the end of an open water race.

Increased Muscle Mass

Intense exercise creates small tears (micro-tears) in muscle fibers.  As these micro-tears are repaired, the muscles become stronger, more toned and larger.

Increased Metabolism

Most people are aware that, at rest, muscle fibers burn more calories than fat.  As muscle mass increases, you will create hungrier tissue which results in a small boost in metabolism.  Additionally, in the hours after intense anaerobic activity, muscles burn more calories.

Increased Energy

Glycogen is stored in muscles as energy.  Anaerobic activity increases the amount of glycogen that your body can store, thus giving you more energy when your body needs it!

Decreased Soreness

Initially when one starts incorporating anaerobic sets into workouts, soreness is inevitable.  But once anaerobic activity becomes a regular part of your workout routine, soreness is minimized due to the fact that your body gets better at tolerating the waste products of anaerobic exercise such as lactic acid and your muscles become stronger.

Improved Joint Protection

The additional muscle mass and strength allows for your muscles to better carry your weight and protect joints, helping protect you from injury.


The above listed benefits are just a few of the many that your body will experience when incorporating anaerobic sets into your swim workouts regularly.  If you aren’t doing much or any anaerobic sets, ask your coach or workout partner to start offering more of them and watch your health (and speed!) improve!

During anaerobic workouts, aim to work out at 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate.  Virtually any swim workout set commonly referred to as a “sprint” set or “max” set would achieve this.  To quickly provide an example of a couple of anaerobic workouts:

  • 8 x 50-meter (or yard) sprints at your maximum pace with three to five minutes of rest between sprints.
  • 5 x 100-meter (or yard) sprints at your maximum pace with four to six minutes of recovery between sprints with the following instructions: #1 and #2 straight through, #3 and #4 broken at the 50 for 10 seconds, #5 broken 50-25-25 with 10 seconds rest between each break.

Have fun getting stronger, healthier, and faster!

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