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Build or Descend? Never get it wrong again!

Whenever there is a build or descend in a Swimfit session I always take an extra moment to explain what this means. But after double checking everyone got it, there is still always one who does it the wrong way. So to tackle this #1 confusion I'll explain the difference once and for all!

I always like to make swim sets fun and adding builds and descends to sessions does just that. It gives your set a bit of colour and challenges you to find different gears and paces.


After a nice easy warm-up and before getting into the main set I like adding '4 x 50 Free Build' to get your heart rate to spike for short bursts. By the time you get to the main set, your body will be ready to go fast.

So what do I expect you to do when '4 x 50 Free Build' is in your set?

You will start each 50 easy and gradually build up your speed within that 50. By the last 5 meters you should be hitting top speed. You should be breathing heavily when finishing each 50 with an elevated heart rate. Take about 15 seconds rest to get your breathing under control and heart rate down and you'll be ready to go for the second 50 build, starting easy again and finishing fast.

Besides getting your body ready for a speed set I also use this for technique reasons. A 50 build is a perfect opportunity to set yourself up with great technique when you start easy and try to maintain your form when going faster. If this is the goal of the build I would advise not to aim for top speed but instead go from a 60% to an 80% effort level as you'll be more likely to mess up your form when going too fast.

When I'm training for a long-distance race I love putting in a 1km build to see how far I can push myself at the end of the 1km. I usually find there is some extra pace hiding somewhere in my toes for that last 100 meters!


I love using descend in the main set to make you focus on your different swim paces. Pacing is a very important skill in swimming and by doing a few rounds of '3 x 100 Free Descend 1 - 3' you will challenge yourself to hit your easy, moderate and fast pace over and over.

So what do I expect you to do when '3 x 100 Free Descend 1 - 3' is in your set?

You will swim your first 100 Free at an easy pace, the second 100 Free at a moderate pace, and the third 100 Free at a fast pace. You are descending your time, not your speed. When I explain this to swimmers I usually get the comment that it should be called Ascending because you're going faster and increase your speed, fair point, but I did not make up the rules!

In the main set I would usually make you do this for 2 or 3 rounds and challenge you to hold the same times for your easy, moderate and fast paces for each round. When you're racing it's important to know what pace you're swimming so you're not blowing up in the first half of your race, or going out way too slow.

Of course, this can be done with different distances and to challenge yourself even more you could go for 4 or 5 reps, which will challenge you to find even more paces.

Usually what happens in Build and Descends is that swimmers go out too fast, dip their pace in the middle and come home fast. This makes sense because you feel fresh and ready to go at the start and you'll have to focus on swimming extra slow.

This is exactly what happens in most races as well. You're full of adrenaline and excitement and shoot off in your race, but after a while realise you can't hold this pace so you slow down. Unfortunately, you have wasted energy at the start of your race and are now paying for it in the second half.

So besides the added fun and colour that Descends and Builds give your otherwise boring swim set, they are also crucial training sets to set you up for a well-planned out and controlled swim come race day.

I hope this cleared up the #1 confusion poolside :)




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