In swimming and sports in general, it makes sense to distinguish between three basic intensity zones. Depending on the intensity, the body uses different metabolic pathways to provide the necessary energy.
Aerobic Zone (Endurance Zone)
In this zone, the body primarily uses oxygen to convert the energy stored as carbohydrates, fat or protein into the fuel ATP (adenosine triphosphate) required by the muscles. Subjectively, training in the aerobic zone feels like a light to moderate effort. However, the intensity is only so high that one could theoretically train for several hours without being exhausted.
If you increase the training intensity more and more, you will eventually reach the point where the available oxygen is no longer sufficient to supply the muscles with enough fuel. If this is the case, the body additionally falls back on the lactate metabolism. This mechanism can be used to produce additional ATP for the muscles. The problem, however, is that in addition to the ATP for the muscles, the “waste product” lactate (lactic acid) is produced, too. If too much lactate accumulates in the body, we feel it as a burning sensation in the arms or legs. You get out of breath and every movement becomes difficult until at some point you have to stop to recover.
The threshold zone is defined as the area where lactate slowly begins to accumulate. The intensity is already quite high, but still low enough so that you could swim in this zone for about an hour without exhausting yourself.
Anaerobic Zone (Sprint Zone)
If you increase the swimming intensity even further, you will enter a zone where lactate accumulates so quickly that you have to stop after a few seconds to a maximum of 2 minutes to recover. This zone is called the anaerobic zone because most of the energy is provided via the lactate metabolism and not via the oxygen pathway (anaerobic).
Swim Training Based on Intensity Zones
Depending on the distance of the swim competition, the aerobic and anaerobic metabolisms are used with varying degrees: While in a 50 meter sprint swimmers almost exclusively swim in the anaerobic zone - you can tell by the fact that swimmers only breathe a few times and therefore swim with virtually no oxygen - at swimming distances of 400 meters and more it is mainly the aerobic metabolism that is active.
So, how do you know in which zone you are swimming? The so-called Critical Swim Speed (CSS) has established itself for this problem. This number is calculated from the difference between the fastest 400 meter and the fastest 200 meter swimming time and approximately corresponds to the threshold zone.
For example, if you have calculated a CSS of 1:30 min / 100 m and want to train in the threshold zone, the swim speed should be in the range of about 1:26 - 1:34 min / 100m. If you swim faster, you train in the anaerobic zone (sprint zone). If you swim more slowly, you train in the aerobic zone (endurance zone).
The Swim Coach App automatically takes care of the calculation of the CSS and also provides all necessary training zones.
50 Meter Swim Training
So how do you specifically train for a 50 meter sprint swim competition?
To answer this question, we have put together a list of various tips for a faster 50 meter swim time:
Since in a 50 meter sprint mainly the anaerobic metabolic pathway is active, the anaerobic zone should be specifically trained. Short sprints between 15 and 50 meters are particularly suitable for this (interval training). It is important that the intensity is kept very high during all intervals to make sure that the muscles are stimulated to the maximum. Rule of thumb: If the muscles do not burn in the end, it was not hard enough! In the breaks in between, you should take enough time for recovery (1:30 - 3:00 min) so that the energy stores in the muscles can refill and the lactate is broken down.
We recommend at least one sprint workout session per week. For a maximum training effect you should spend about 12 - 20 minutes in the anaerobic zone. However, intensive sprint trainings on two consecutive days should be avoided, as otherwise muscle building is hindered.
The 50 meter sprint is all about explosive arm pulls and a strong kick. Swim workout sessions with paddles and fins are excellent for increasing strength. Outside the swimming pool, strength can be additionally increased with push-ups, pull-ups and other strength exercises. Here, too, you should make sure to allow sufficient time for regeneration and build-up of a muscle section. A technique that is also widely used by bodybuilders is to alternate between heavy arm sessions (with paddles) and heavy leg sessions (with kickboard or fins) to give each muscle group enough time to recover.
Even though during a 50 meter sprint mainly the anaerobic zone is active, you should not neglect your aerobic capacity. The better your aerobic metabolism is trained, the more effective your workouts will be, because you can cover longer distances in the same training time. To train your aerobic metabolism, intervals of 100 - 400 meters are particularly suitable. Swim the intervals at your Critival Swim Speed (CSS) and keep the breaks in between as short as possible (if possible under 20 seconds).
As with all swimming distances, a good water position and arm technique is crucial for a fast swim time. It is worthwhile to include some technical exercises into every swim workout session to improve your swimming technique. Our favorite exercises are: Superman Drill, Towfloat Drill and swimming with one arm. But also training with a snorkel can help to focus on perfect arm and leg movements as well as good body rotation.
If you train with the Swim Coach App, the virtual trainer makes sure that your technique is not neglected.
Start / Dive
At the start it is important to have a quick reaction followed by an explosive jump and an efficient immersion phase. The jump can be trained well on land with series of jumps from a squatting position. Especially in the last weeks before the competition, the start should be trained specifically.
In the 50 meter sprint, you should swim with as few breaths as possible, as each breath has a negative effect on your body position and slows you down. Therefore: Take as many breaths as necessary, but as few as possible! The better your anaerobic capacity is trained (see above), the fewer breaths you will need.
The turn is only important for the 50 meter sprint in short course competitions (25 meter pool). There you can gain some tenths of a second with a good turn. We recommend increasing the speed towards the wall and then making and explosive turn with a hard push-off. There are many videos available on Youtube on how to perform a good turn.
Creating a 50 meter freestyle swim workout plan with the Swim Coach app
The Swim Coach App helps you with setting up an effective workout plan to enhance your speed in the 50 meter sprint. When creating a new training plan you can define various parameters to get a plan tailored to your individual needs. To see improvements we recommend to swim at least 4 times per week with a total distance of 8 km or more per week, e.g. 4 workouts with 2000 m per week. The training focus should be a mix of Speed, Strength, Endurance and Technique. Instead of Technique you can also add an Allround session to add even more variety to your swimming training. For each workout focus, the Swim Coach algorithm adds a dedicated training session to your plan and then cycles through them.
On the Account page, make sure to have the kick exercise slider set to 1/3 or more. As painful as kick exercises are, they are very important for a fast 50 meter swim time. As for the gear, it helps to have access to a kickboard, paddles and fins to give your muscles an extra stimulus.
Instead of setting up your own workout plan, you can also choose the Competition Training option. Just select the 50 meter option and app will take care of the rest and create a balanced 50 meter training plan for you.
Helpful resources to train more effectively and swim faster
Are you looking for an app to help keep your motivation to swim high? Download the Swim Coach App now. More other articles on swimming training:
How to swim faster 100 meter freestyle
How to swim faster 200 meter freestyle
How to swim faster 400 meter freestyle
How to swim faster in a Sprint Triathlon
How to swim faster in an Olympic Triathlon