Take home points
1) Races and time trials are valid measurements of fitness, comparable to physiological testing protocols
2) A combination of different swim tests is desirable as swimmers have different strengths and weaknesses
3) Testing conditions should always be repeatable to ensure reliability
Many swim tests are commonly used to assess fitness, whether to set a baseline, measure progress, or establish training paces. In this post, we’ll address some tests that have been analyzed in the literature.
Five Evidence Based Swim Tests
Why use valuable practice time for testing if races tell you what you need to know? Costa (2009) found that “Critical velocity using 100, 200 and 400 m events was not different from the velocity of 4 mmol·l(-1) of blood lactate concentration. Critical velocity using all the swimmer events was not different from the velocity of a 30 min test. The assessment of critical velocity based upon the swimmer curriculum seemed to be a good approach to determine the aerobic capacity of a swimmer.”
2. Ladder testing
Calculating critical velocity and lactate threshold via a combination of swims from 50-400m along with lactacte threshold testing (Toubekis 2006). Lactate threshold testing was performed after a set of 4 x 200m with 15 minutes rest with ascending intensity (80-85-90-100% of 200m maximum velocity). critical velocity seems to be a valid, practical and time-saving, non-invasive alternative method that can be applied in the swimming pool by a coach for the evaluation of the endurance capacity of young swimmers. For practical reasons, combinations of less than four distances can be used (i.e. 50-400 m, or 50-100-400 m).
3. Single rep max
Mezzaroba (2013) sought to determine the lactate minimum from a series of time trials (100-200-400) combined with a progressive 5 x 200m test with 8 minutes rest between 200m swims (80-84-88-92-96% of 200m max). After crunching the data, authors found the 200m maximal effort was the best predictor of lactate minimum for both genders in a sample of 10-17 year old swimmers, even controlling for anthropometric and biological development variables. Though true sprinters and true distance swimmers may deviate from the norms generated in a single 200m test, evidence in this sample indicates a swimmer’s lactate minimum can be determined with this one data point.
Zacca (2015) also found reliability in a single 400m swim test to derive critical velocity in a group of 14-16 year old swimmers. After a series of trials progressing from 50-100-200-400-800-1500, results showed that the 400m trial standing alone was a reliable measurement of critical velocity.
4. Fast 25s
As noted, many swimmers have different overall profiles, particularly at the extremes. As such, anaerobic testing is needed for swimmers whose race fitness may not be reflected in single swim tests. One anaerobic testing method is 8 x 25m with 5 seconds rest. Authors found this test predicted lactate tolerance (anaerobic capacity), but found no correlation with stroke or fatigue index. As a side note, the maximal 25s may seem reminiscent of a USRPT approach, but note the difference in rest periods.
5. Tethered Swimming
Another option is to conduct a time based tethered test. One advantage of tethered swimming is that it removes turns from the equation. Kalva-Filho (2015) compared a three minute tethered test with a 400m time trial and found that the 3 min test was a reliable measurement of aerobic capacity but was not reliable for estimating anaerobic capacity.
Many options exist without having to perform lengthy testing protocols or continuous distance swims. Recognize that no single protocol will provide all answers, with some swimmers having different profiles as being more speed or endurance oriented. Testing can become incredibly complicated if you let it. In some cases, complex testing protocols may be desired if adequate data collection methods are available. With any testing, whether a single time trial or multiple efforts with complex data collection, remember that test conditions must be repeatable so that external variables don’t affect test outcomes.
1) Kalva-Filho CA, Zagatto AM, Araújo MI, Santiago PR, da Silva AS, Gobatto CA, Papoti M. Relationship between aerobic and anaerobic parameters from 3-minute all-out tethered swimming and 400-m maximal front crawl effort. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Jan;29(1):238-45.
2) Toubekis AG, Tsami AP, Tokmakidis SP. Critical velocity and lactate threshold in young swimmers. Int J Sports Med. 2006 Feb;27(2):117-23.
3) Mezzaroba PV, Machado FA. Indirect determination of lactate minimum speed from a single maximal performance in young swimmers. J Sports Sci Med. 2013 Dec 1;12(4):655-9. eCollection 2013.
4) Zacca R, Fernandes RJ, Pyne DB, Castro FA. Swimming Training Assessment: The Critical Velocity and the 400-m Test for Age-Group Swimmers. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 May;30(5):1365-1372.
5) Costa AM, Silva AJ, Louro H, Reis VM, Garrido ND, Marques MC, Marinho DA. Can the curriculum be used to estimate critical velocity in young competitive swimmers? J Sports Sci Med. 2009 Mar 1;8(1):17-23. eCollection 2009.
6) Bielec G, Makar P1, Laskowski R2, Olek RA3. Kinematic variables and blood Acid-base status in the analysis of collegiate swimmers’ anaerobic capacity. 2013 Sep;30(3):213-7. doi: 10.5604/20831862.1059303. Epub 2013 Jul 22.
All points are amazing, Now I have bookmarked your website and start reading all the sections to get some awesome tips to improve my swimming and practice more and more to hit my target easily.
Thank you 🙂
Reading this has informed me of perhaps the reasons why most of my swim practices in high school ended with 8-16 sprint 25s. I never thought about it as being a test as much as I thought about being extremely tired and panting for air each time we received those 5s to rest in between. These tests opened my eyes to why coaches push us the way that they do, because when you’re in the water you’re not thinking about the math and logistics involved – you’re just trying to get to the other end of the pool and get some rest. Wonderful article that will help me teach younger swimmers in the future! Keep up the good work!
Glad you found it helpful 🙂