Sets by Juliet: Working on the underwaters

Hi! My name is Juliet Parlette, and I am the head coach of the Rochester Mayo Girls Swim and Dive team. I have held this position since 2010. I have also coached at the Rochester Swim Club, and high school and club teams in Pennsylvania and New York. I am happy to share with you some of my favorite sets  – my go-tos – that I have relied on over the years to focus on specific things with my team. 

Like lots of you, I have everything on the swimming spectrum in my pool at once – the fast ones that want to work really hard, the fast ones that have to be cajoled into working hard, the beginner swimmers aren’t sure what they can do, the beginner swimmers that just want to go all out all the time, and the ones that have gotten a taste of what it’s like to be fast, but they’re not sure what to do with it. They all come to practice with different expectations, hopes and worries. The overall worry, of course, is the ever present fear, exhaustion. Or worse yet  – throwing up after a set. Over the years, I have hopefully developed some sets that have challenged and empowered my swimmers, but not terrified them. On top of that,  I like us all to be working on the same thing at the same time, so I just have to adjust my workouts. I have 6 lanes, and therefore 6 workouts, but I will be sharing the ones from my fastest lane, aptly named the Rockstars. 

I decided to first use a set that worked on underwaters, our beloved 5th stroke. We all want our swimmers to use them and maximize their potential to pull, or stay,  ahead in a race. Then Leon Marchard’s 500 free at the NCAAs happened and we saw how it could truly be a superpower. Any swimmer not using underwaters to the best of their ability is just simply not going as fast or efficiently as they could. 

Before I get into the set, I want to share a drill that we do everyday that is not part of this set. I call it Streamline Kick (SLK). A swimmer pushes off in a tight streamline on their stomach, and they stay in that position for the entire 50 (or 25 as the case may be). When they need to breathe, they roll over, without breaking streamline and roll back. The goal is to take a quick breath then roll back, not kick on their back for any amount of time. There is no swimming into the wall either:). This drill requires strong core muscles, needed for strong underwaters, and breath control, important for all parts of swimming. This drill is usually done in warm up, as part of a series of 50s or 75s, where I do a 50 of this with a 25 or so of just straight kick on back. It is a great way to get in some quick core work during warm up.

This set requires fins and for swimmers to be adept at getting them on and off quickly. In addition, rather than adding intervals, I am adding how much rest I am looking for them to get. That way, you can adjust how you like, as I do for all my lanes. I would normally do this set three times; two if we have lots of other things going on.

8 x 75  – fins – 25 shooter (Underwater the whole way), 25 fast, 25 easy. (15 seconds max rest)

6 x 50  – fins – fast (10 seconds max rest)

100 pull easy – a longer interval so they can take fins off

Fins off

10 x 25 long strong breakouts (10 ish seconds rest)

1 x 100 go fast (the intention is that they go really really fast, but with a long rest, partly to put their fins on)

There are a few objectives to this set. One is obviously to work underwaters; that should be the focus off every wall. It is also designed to really push the speed by using fast intervals, but balanced by the easy 25 and 100 pull. My favorite part of the set is the transition between the shooter 25 and the fast 25. If they are really good, there will be no breaths in or out of any wall. It is physically, and mentally, challenging –  designed to build a strong mindset. 

A few things about this set. Do not assume your swimmers know how to hold their breath. I tell them that holding their breath is as much about physical conditioning as it is your mental state. If you are not relaxed, holding your breath, albeit underwater, is very tricky. So, that is the first thing to remember. I also tell swimmers that when trying to make it the whole way underwater, I suggest holding their breath as long as they can, then exhale as slowly as possible. It takes skill, and practice, but it works. Just another notch in the mental strength belt.

I usually do these sets all freestyle, but allow butterfly or backstroke for the 50s if the swimmer is feeling it. Everything else needs to be free. 

This is a fun set to watch and cheer on. And because it is relatively short, it is manageable. If you have any questions you are welcome to reach out to me at

Happy Spring!

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