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H2O Standard PeRP Sets

by Coach Emmett Hines

In the H2O program we now use PeRP sets in a standardized manner where you record the results after doing the set, then, the next time you repeat the set your goal is to improve upon prior performances. (If you haven't read “Training the Right Stuff” yet, stop right now and do so.)

Preparation for a PeRP Set

Before doing your first PeRP set for record you would establish PeRP by simply swimming a distance—say, 50 yards or 100 yards—while fresh and rested. At the end of the swim you need to know both your elapsed swim time and your total stroke count. When establishing a PeRP for the first time or at a new, longer distance, do this swim at a moderate pace. In the beginning we're not looking for fast but rather fluid and effective swimming.

PeRP sets may be done with any stroke or combination of strokes and with or without equipment. However, if this is your first experience with standardized PeRP sets you should start with nekked freestyle. Whichever way you do this PeRP swim, all repeats in the PeRP set are to be done the same as this one.

Now you are ready to do a PeRP set.

Swimming and Scoring a PeRP Set

Our standard PeRP sets are either 12, 16 or 20 minutes in duration. The idea is to repeat your PeRP performance multiple times in the assigned time period. You may take as much or as little rest as you want after each one.

We use a point scoring system to give feedback about your performance in the set. Points are scored according to the following rules: On each repeat—Score one point for hitting the correct Stroke Count (or lower). Score one additional point if you also get the correct time (or faster). You get zero points if you miss the stroke count (regardless of time). Any repeat you can start before the end of the set duration may be completed for points. The idea is to get as high a score as possible in the set.

As indicated earlier the ideal goal on each repeat swum in the set is to meet or beat both aspects of the PeRP—meaning you get the same stroke count (or lower) and get the same time (or faster). But, if you aren't going to have ideal swims, getting a point for hitting stroke count only helps to keep you on the right track. (One common strategy is to swim the odd repeats trying to get both time and count right, then swim even repeats really slow and only focusing on getting the stroke count right —these end up being active “rest” repeats).

Recording Your Performance

After the set you will record your results on a card kept in a box at the front desk. You'll need to know the

  1. Time, and
  2. Stroke count of the Personal Reference Performance you were basing the set upon,
  3. The number of repeats attempted, and
  4. Total points scored in the set. I've also included a column on the PeRP card for your
  5. Immediate Heart Rate (IHR) right after completing your last repeat.
  6. You may choose to do PeRP sets on specific repeat intervals, or on specific rest intervals and there are places on the PeRP card to record these if you use them.


The same PeRP then is used on subsequent performances of the set on other days with results recorded each time. Ideally, when establishing a new PeRP you'll want to choose the initial speed, stroke count and amount of rest such that you can score at least one point on most of the repeats in the set. Once you get to the point that you are getting two points on every, or nearly every, repeat in the set it is time to increase the speed of the PeRP, decrease the stroke count, decrease the amount of rest or go to a longer duration set.

Realizing Progress

  1. By keeping track of your performances over a period of time you can see progress in any one or several of the following ways:
  2. a higher point total or
  3. the ability to lower the target count or
  4. the ability to lower the target time or
  5. the ability to do repeats with less and less rest or
  6. a lower end-of-set IHR.

Final Thoughts

Standardized sets based on PeRPs give you an objective measure for improvement of your swimming effectiveness while allowing you to keep the big picture in focus—the tradeoffs between turnover rate and stroke length become more important than simply what the pace clock says. This allows you to consistently and reliably condition the right muscles and ranges of motion—the ones needed for efficient, fluid swimming. Definitely the stuff of great performances. v

© 10/1999 H2Ouston Swims

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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