The challenge itself is relatively simple.

wg aquaticsHow to simply, practically, reliably and accurately manage training intensity in swimming.

Now add in these complications:

  • 67 kids aged 8 – 13 years all in the water at the same time;
  • Only one coach on deck;
  • No heart rate monitors (i.e. so any heart rate monitoring is done manually);
  • No sports science support.

The challenge just got a little more difficult…..or has it?

Introducing the PACE system – P.A.C.E.

Training Intensity??? Again?

So why bother to re-visit the topic of managing training intensity? There have been after all more words written about managing training intensity in swimmers than there have been in all the Harry Potter books!
The key is in the word – “practical”.
As most articles on managing training intensity are written by sports scientists or elite coaches working with small numbers of senior swimmers, they are not relevant or practical for part time, age group coaches working with large numbers of young swimmers in overcrowded lanes.
So the aim of the P.A.C.E. system is to “fill in the gap” – to give hard working age group coaches a realistic, simple, practical way of managing training intensity in their teams.
The other main benefit of the P.A.C.E. system is that it is based on swimming training times relative to the achievement of a future performance goal. Most training intensity management systems use a past event – i.e. a previous test or previous PB on which to base training intensity levels.

So what is P.A.C.E.?

The P.A.C.E. system uses the targeted speed of a future competition as the baseline measurement guide with the result being that swimmers and coaches are focused on achieving future performance goals rather than on duplicating previous testing or competition performances.
In summary, the P.A.C.E. system is:

  • P = PREPARATION AND PRACTICE PACE = or if you like easy swimming – around 50-60% max speed for warm up / warm down / drills / skills / recovery;
  • A = AIR-ROBIC = endurance development – around 70-80% max speed;
  • C = COMPETITION SPEED = training done at target race speed with race mechanics, race quality skills and race breathing patterns;
  • E = ELECTRIC SPEED = neural stimulation, speed development training – max/ supra max speed.

The P.A.C.E. system uses speed as the core ingredient because it is easy, simple, practical, reliable and accurate to measure and…………the other three most common methods of managing training intensity have too many problems associated with them when working with large numbers of young swimmers:

  • Heart rate – too hard to get kids to take it manually, too much variability day to day, too many questions about it as a determinant of training intensity in young kids;
  • Lactate – no one is even sure what it does in pre-pubertal swimmers, it is costly, invasive, and there are real questions about its value when working with young swimmers;
  • RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) – too subjective, too inaccurate – young kids have real trouble using RPE with any real consistency.

Again – the question is not what is the best possible test under perfect conditions – the question is “what can coaches working with 65 kids aged 8-13 years of age do that is fast, reliable, accurate, simple and easy to administer?”

Let’s look a little closer at the P.A.C.E. system:

  • PACE ONE – Practice and Prepare Pace. Pace one is slow, easy, relaxed swimming (but with good technique and skills of course). It is the ideal pace for warm up, warm down, skills, drills and recovery.
  • PACE TWO – Air-robic Pace. The core of most age group programs, Pace Two creates, builds and develops endurance capacities for the short and long term.
  • PACE THREE – Competition Preparation Pace. Pace three is about preparing swimmers for the specific demands of competition swimming – i.e. to swim at the pace targeted to perform well at their next meet.
  • PACE FOUR – Electric Pace. Electric Pace is speed development. It is work performed at maximum speed over short distances with the aim of developing real speed through stimulating neuro-muscular adaptation mechanisms.

And now, many of you are asking, “where is the AT / the anaerobic threshold intensity level?”.

The most over-used yet under-useful training speed when working with kids is AT. Many coaches still do their slow work too fast, and their fast work too slow, and as a result kids never full develop real speed or great endurance. The culprit….too much A.T. work! Pushing kids at threshold pace gives the impression that everyone is working hard and therefore everyone will improve if they swim at A.T. often.

However, the accuracy of measuring and managing A.T. when working with large numbers of young age group swimmers is questionable at best and the value of training young kids at sustained A.T. speeds is very doubtful.

As the majority of races kids compete over are 50 or 100 metres, there is no point in doing lots of kms at AT – particularly when almost half of the distance kids cover during races are dives, starts, turns and finishes – i.e. skills based.


Am I suggesting, the P.A.C.E. system is the best way of managing training intensity in all swimmers? No.

Am I suggesting the P.A.C.E. method should replace heart rates, lactates and RPEs in managing the training intensity of all swimmers? Not entirely.

What I am suggesting is that the current methods of managing training intensity are impractical when working with large numbers of young age group swimmers and for coaches who are working in this environment the P.A.C.E. system is practical, simple, easy to implement, common sense and replies on using the one tool every coach and swimming Club can afford – a clock!

So try the P.A.C.E. system and let me know how it works with your team.

Wayne Goldsmith