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Pacing 101 for swimmers is an easy to follow instructional manual for pacing various swimming races. This manual only involves one strategy, as one pacing strategy is ideal for all swim races in this writer’s opinion.

You may not believe a 50 and 1500-meter distance race has the same pacing strategy, but remember all that matters is who puts their hand on the wall first.

Dr. Rushall brought to light the view of poor pacing a few years back with his paper on the Future of swimming: “myths and science”. In this must-read resource, he discusses the poor ideas of pacing continually seen on pool decks. Unfortunately, going out fast, trying to hold on, and dying only lead to fatigue and what I call “Groin Kick Syndrome” is still a common strategy.Luckily, equal pacing has become more common, most notably at the Olympics, as most great athletes don’t necessarily finish faster into the wall, but they maintain velocity, as others fatigue [To note, the start will increase velocity, which provides a believed 1.5 – 2 second advantage over the other lengths]. This was even discussed by blogger and coach Chris DeSantis in the 200 breast. I believe pacing 101 for swimmers and the new Omega Ramp Blooks were the main reason for improvements over the past two years. These likely aided in world records being approached and broken once again.

One main reason going out slower and having a more “even” pace is better than flying and dying is due to the use of creatine phosphate (CP). Many are familiar with the supplement creatine, but certain research makes this compound more intriguing than once thought.

Energy contribution from the CP system is mainly thought to last for 6 – 10 seconds at the beginning of a race, then diminish. However, studies inducing severe fatigue note CP is still present in the body, therefore CP system never shuts down completely.

Dr. Maglischo brings to light the fast and slow acting role of CP. He notes CP isn’t necessarily used rapidly, if the athlete does not go out too fast early in the race. This increases the amount of CP in the body and allows longer ATP production to hold off off fatigue. Now don’t get me wrong, CP isn’t the only source of fatigue, as Dr. Maglischo notes:

“research on reducing the rate of creatine phosphate use during exercise, increasing its rate of restoration after exercise, and the effects of supplementation of this substance on performance, should be accelerated. Research on ways that the rates of accumulation of inorganic phosphate and ADP can be reduced, or mediated, within working muscles during exercise should also become a priority. The possibility that training may also increase their rates of removal from working muscle fibers through either active or passive metabolic procedures is also a topic worthy of study. Likewise, new training techniques that may achieve these effects should also be explored … Finally, we should not dismiss the role of lactic acid in muscular fatigue as inconsequential. After all, at the present time, acidosis has not been absolutely discredited as a cause of muscular fatigue (Maglischo 2012)”.

As you see, pacing 101 for swimmers is becoming more common in elite swimmers. Finding a steady pace and maintaining this speed is critical for success, likely from the maintained use of the increasingly important CP.

CP isn’t the only factor in fatigue, but as swimming is not against gravity, uses a cooling medium, and is rhythmic, CP can likely be used even longer than other sports. The next installment of pacing 101 for swimming discusses methods to delay the onset of fatigue.

By G. John Mullen founder of the Center of Optimal Restoration, head strength coach at Santa Clara Swim Club, creator of the Swimmer’s Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.


Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS world-renowned physical therapist and strength coach.
  1. September 10, 2012

    Thanks for sharing ,
    pacing 101 for swimmers is becoming more common in elite swimmers. Finding a steady pace and maintaining this speed is critical for success, likely from the maintained use of the increasingly important CP.

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