View Full Version : 100 freestyle--how to split the 50s

jim thornton
October 5th, 2002, 09:14 PM
One of the big questions I suspect a lot of us have is how to best split the 50s on the 100 as we get a bit older. Youngsters may be able to more or less all-out sprint the whole thing, but I find that if I go too fast upfront, I die so horribly on the second half, that it proves self-defeating. But if I go too slow at the outset, I can't make up the hole I've dug for myself.

I have a teammate named Ronald, and we both swam last April at Y Masters Nationals. In a sense, we each adopted opposite strategies, and in this one race, at least, it seemed that the "don't go out too fast" strategy prevailed.

If anyone is interested, please take a look at the following "analysis" of our respective races and let me know what your opinions are about how we might each go faster:

100 Freestyle analysis from Ft. Lauderdale

7 Jacobs, Ronald 38 South Hills-PA vs. 7 Thornton, James 49 South Hills-PA

(For some reason, I can't get the following to break out in a table format, but the numbers are for Ronald first then Jim then the Difference in Ronald & Jim's 50 splits in parentheses. The difference for each swimmer's own first and second 50s are in brackets.)

Ron Jim Difference between Ron and Jim

25.69 24.89 (-.80) 1st 50

26.38 [*.69] 27.57 [*2.68] (+1.19) 2nd 50

52.07 52.46 (+.39) total time

* difference between 1st & 2nd 50 splits

Possible conclusion: Jim went out too fast and could have done a better overall time by easing up slightly on the first half; the 2.68 second differential indicates some heavy duty dying went on in the second half

Possible alternative conclusion: Ronald went out too slow and could have broken 52 with more upfront effort; a .69 second differential indicates he essentially negative split this 100, given that there is no dive for the second 50

October 6th, 2002, 12:24 PM
What's a dip?

Brad Biddle
October 7th, 2002, 12:04 AM
I wonder to what extent the piano-dropping-on-your-back phenomenon is a function of lack of strength (which could be rectified via dips, etc.) vs. an accumulation of lactic acid. My understanding was that it is the latter... which is bad news, I think, as I believe it's a problem that can't be easily solved in the weight room.

I hope someone who understands this issue will weigh in. As I get back into swimming after many years away I'm struck by how little I understand the science of swimming; I enjoy opportunities to get more educated. This particular issue has become near and dear to me after the piano landed squarely on me in the last 50 of a 200 free in a time trial we did recently...


October 7th, 2002, 10:54 AM
Using the 2002 NCAA men 100yd free results:

The average for the top 8 finishers is 1.91 seconds difference between first and second 50.

Smallest difference 1.27 secs (5th place), largest difference 2.75 secs (3rd place)

The average for the top 3 finishers is 2.36 seconds difference between first and second 50 (including Anthony Ervin's American Record swim).

It would seem then that an aproximate 2-2.5 seconds would be the most appropriate time difference for the 2 splits.

October 7th, 2002, 11:52 AM
How does your 50 time compare to your
first 100 split?

October 7th, 2002, 03:05 PM
I'm curious to know what breathing patterns you guys are following, if any. I usually only have the piano fall on me when I don't breathe enough ... but then again, I am pretty much a negative splitter.

- Maria

Paul Smith
October 7th, 2002, 08:12 PM
50 specialists are as unique as 200 fly specialists, those at the top rarely are as good at other distances. These folks are truly genetically gifted with an enourmous amount of fast twitch fibers and a mental focus that is incredible.

I rarely see much emphasis on "specialty training" in masters programs, quite often the workouts are based on mid-distance aerobic conditioning. If you truly want to excel in the sprints you need to train very differently. To increase your lactic threshold you'll need to get on the blocks 2-3 days per week (never back to back) and train at "race" speed.

As for breathing patterns, I think its a pretty individual thing (although breathing only once the first 50 is far to little for a 100, one per lap in a 50 is pretty common).

The split issue is more related to what our training has developed and how we are genetically predisposed. The Ervins and Halls of the world are usually going to have much slower 2nd halfs. However Ian Thorpe (who's working on his 100) has much closer splits.

Tom Ellison
October 8th, 2002, 12:25 PM
I was always under the impression that the 2/3 second rule was pretty right on in the 100. Ie..the 2nd 50 was never be more then 2/3 seconds slower then the first 50. The first is full out with just a very slight bit held back, the second 50 is full all out go for it and leave NOTHING IN THE POOL. NOTHING!
Conditioning should prevail with prior arm strength and LEG strength. The legs were always taught to be the key or main difference in the 50's/100's ---different then the 200's and on up. Let's face it. the legs have to be there in the 100 and they use a lot more of the stuff then it takes to hammer a 100. Hey, I am not a swim coach. But, this is how I was always taught and watched the greats do it.
At least, I thought that’s what my stop watch told me…

October 9th, 2002, 03:35 PM
One difference between the 1st & 2nd 50's is that the 1st is from a dive, the second is from a push - that should produce a difference if you hold a steady pace.

Another difference is more individual. aptitude toward sprinting, middle distance or endurance (and overall conditioning) impacts how long someone can hold a steady pace. Pure sprinters (like 50 specialists) or those like me with poor conditioning will slow down sooner and have larger split differences.

Back in the day, I tried to get my split differences between 1.5 to 2 seconds. A difference of 2.5-3.5 showed I was tired or out of shape. Now I'm happy with anything under 3.5 - but hope to improve that.

When meets get closer, practicing at race pace helps you pinpoint how quick to go out so you can hang on and finish with your best time. Depending on your conditioning, sprinting aptitude and quickness of starts and turns will dictate how fast you can go out and still finish fast. The only way to know is to try out different paces for the first 50 and see what you can put into the second.

jim thornton
October 9th, 2002, 03:55 PM
Bill White's 100 split differential analysis of elite swimmers (a couple posts ago) found:

The average for the top 8 finishers is 1.91 seconds difference between first and second 50.

Smallest difference 1.27 secs (5th place), largest difference 2.75 secs (3rd place)

Dirf, on the other hand, made an excellent point:

Another difference is more individual. aptitude toward sprinting, middle distance or endurance (and overall conditioning) impacts how long someone can hold a steady pace.

I would like to propose a couple other items to consider:

1) the world's fastest swimmers don't actually spend nearly as much total time doing a 100 free as we lumpenproletarians. The record is around 43, right? My best time is a low 52, which means I have 9 more seconds of effort at the end of a race than Anthony Ervin. As all of us have experienced, the piano hits towards the end, so being able to get the race over with quickly, it would seem to me, would have a huge benefit vis a vis the time spent in The Death Zone.

2) I am personally in the best distance shape of my life right now, and I can hold (for me at least) a brisk aerobic pace in the 500. However, when I up the speed to depend more on my sprinting "fast twitch" muscles, the aerobic conditioning doesn't seem to make all that much difference. At Nationals in Cleveland, for instance, I placed 3rd in the 200 and 400 m freestyles in my age group. After these swims, I was tired but hardly exhausted. In the 50, I got 4th place, and in the 100 I got 5th place. After both these relatively short races, I was totally spent to the point of having trouble exiting the pool! My suspicion is that the fast twitch and slow twitch energy systems are entirely different, and it's possible to train one better than the other. Being "in shape", in other words, is not an all-encompassing term. You can be in distance shape, and you can be in sprinting shape, and--conceivably--in both types of shape, though I find it difficult to achieve this myself.

There is also ones genetic predisposition, of course, to being more sprint or distance oriented. When all this is factored in, I would hypothesize that distance swimmers will have a better 100 time by keeping the first and second 50s closer in time; and that sprinters will do better by going all out and trying to hold on.

Perhaps this might make for an interesting poll topic to test it out amongst our ranks?

Something like this:

first identify yourself as a distance swimmer or a sprinter

then there would be two polls--one for each of the above--saying something like:

in my best 100 time recently, the split difference between my first and second 50 was:

A) less than 1 second

B) between 1 and 2 seconds

C) between 2 and 3 seconds

D) over 3 seconds

Then we could look at the respective graphs to see if, in fact, there's any rhyme or reason to any differences.

What do you think, Jim M?

October 9th, 2002, 04:16 PM
Altho' somewhat "dated" now, I always liked E W Maglisho's
book "Swimming Even Faster". He used tons of data to
support his positions.
Maglisho lumps 100's & 200's together as more similar
races than the 50 & 100. He blames fatigue in the 50
due to depletion of CP (creatine phosphate) supply and an inability to operate anaerobic metabolism fast enough. He says the piano in the
100/200 is due to [lactic] acidosis (low muscle pH) and pain tolerance (or lack thereof!).

Tom Ellison
October 9th, 2002, 05:37 PM
From what I've witnessed over the years..I think Fisch had a great point...except for the 200. I believe the 200 is all to it's own.
No other race it like the 200. It is not a sprint..per say...and it is not mid distanve..per say..I base that on the splits I've watched over the years. Many great 200 swimmers hold down up front..and many have not. In the 100 and 50 they all hold close up front. And the 400/500 on up... they pace. Hey, just my observations over many years...and again... when I looked at my watch or the splits.... it my have been tuned to "The Jetsons."

October 10th, 2002, 05:51 PM
I swam every event last year in each of the three courses. I'm neither a sprinter, nor a distance swimmer. My favorite events are the 200s. In two of the three 100 freestyles that I did (I don't have a 50 split for the 100LC), the spread between the 50s was 2.1 and 2.4 respectively.

My best 200 freestyle however, I evenly split all four 50s. This year when I tried it again I went out too fast and added 1.5-3 seconds for each successive 50.

I like the idea brought up about sprinting and distance being two different systems. But my question is, is there a completely different physiological system for us 200 specialists?

I'm not one of those fast swimmers (1:04 in 100y free) either, so are our systems different from those of the Anthony Ervin's?

October 11th, 2002, 11:54 AM
more age specific data Jim?

50-54yr old USMS 2002 Results for 100 yd free:

Average 50 split-time difference 2.175 secs,
smallest 0.74 (10th place),
largest 3.37 (5th place).
1st place 2.43 secs.

jim thornton
October 11th, 2002, 01:53 PM
The legendary Laura Val wrote me a direct e-mail regarding splits in the 100, and when I asked her if I could post it, she said yes. In light of what my colleague Bill White has to say about my 50-54 age group, I think Laura's comments are particuarly apropos. Here's our conversation:


can i post what you wrote me about the splits? it's very interesting and adds great info to the discussion, coming as it does from a certifiable living swimming legend!

This is the part I'd like to post:

I enjoyed your postings on the 100 free-in fact I ALMOST responded. I even did some calculations on my last good 100 free swims. It is, in fact, my favorite event and I think that's because I have fun playing with the splits (and it rarely hurts). My last SC fast swim was 53.27 and I split 26.17 and 27.10 (diff. 0.93). LC was 1:01.13 splitting 29.83 and 31.30 (diff. 1.47).
Essentially, I think those are both pretty close to negative or even splitting with the dive. Anyhow, keep up the interesting posts.

I then asked her this directly:

Have you ever tried going all out on the first 50 and seeing if you can hold on to the second? That's what I did (not on purpose) at Nationals in Cleveland--

32.26 (dif 3.67--true death!)


To which Laura responded:
Hardly a legend-but some may say I'm certifiable. Sure go ahead and post. Yes, as matter of fact I did swim that way for years. When I was younger I had a coach that thought the only way to swim 100 was to go all out. I never broke: 56-and it hurt like heck! I've become a real weenie in my old age and in looking for ways to hurt less, I've also found a way to go faster. Although I thought this was my secret way to swim the 100, it seems from your research that the faster swimmers do not go all out on the first 50. Oh, one other thing, I breathe every stroke on the first 50. I've found it doesn't slow me down too much and it helps avoid the 02 debt on the second. Talk to you later!

Ian Smith
October 11th, 2002, 02:52 PM
Maybe I missed it, but it seems no one has answered Fisch's question of "how does your 50 time relate to the first 50 of your 100" (or should it even relate).

This interests me a lot since at Cleveland I was only 0.22 slower than Jim in the 50 but 2.25 secs slower in the 100.

I know I went out too slowly (30.85 vs. a 50 time of 27.80) but are there any 'guidelines' or statistics on how fast to go out on the first 50 of your 100 vs. your 50 time?

(these time differences between Jim & myself could be just that I am an old geezer and only train 8000m/week or less)

Tom Ellison
October 11th, 2002, 03:13 PM
Gosh, until after Bill White's post..I thought maybe my stop watch really had been turned to "The Jetsons." In reality, (what an interesting word) everyone swims this race different...except the guys up front. After a very ramdom look back, I found most held close to the 2 sec. rule.

Ian Smith
October 11th, 2002, 03:38 PM
Should have done my homework before the previous post. Given that not all 50 swimmers swam the 100, in the 50-54 at Cleveland, these were the time differences:

Place in 100 / Difference 50 Time vs First 50 of 100 (secs)

1 = 1.63
3 = 0.40
4 = 1.15
5 = 1.01
7 = 1.36

The third placer's difference in times destroys the theory that Jim (#5) went out too fast relative to his 50 (unless #3 was cruising his 50)

jim thornton
October 11th, 2002, 03:49 PM
Tom and Ian and Val:

First of all, I think Tom's "2 second rule of thumb" is, in fact, pretty good guidance. Or at least a starting point for an optimal time differential for most of us.

The fact that world record holder Val has a much reduced differential, however, adds more reason than ever for me personally to want to experiment with going out slower myself on the first 50 of a 100.

Ian and I make for excellent comparisons because, though Ian is 61 and I am 50, we are biologically both 56 in my estimation--Ian because he is a youthful stud of a Canadian; me because I have been so regularly beaten down by life.

I invite my fellow "virtual 56-year-old" Ian to analyze his splits next to mine. This is from the Cleveland Nationals, i.e., a long course meet.

Jim's 50m: 27.58 Ian's 50: 27:87

Jim's 100m: 1:00.85 Ian's 100: 1:03.54
first 50 split: 28.59 Ian's 1st 50: 31.08
second 50 split: 32.26 Ian's 2nd 50: 32.46
dif 3.67--true death! dif 1.38--true death?

I would argue Ian should have gone out faster; and I should have eased up a bit on the 1st 50; and we both would have done better times. Do you think that if I very carefully argue my case, the Top 10 officials would make the necessary adjustments--and perhaps consider putting me into the 55-59 age group to boot?

jim thornton
October 11th, 2002, 04:03 PM

Just realized we're comparing slightly different things.

Me: the difference between the first and second 50 in the 100.

You: the difference between the time in the 50 event vs. the first 50 in a 100. Both are interesting to look at.

Tom's "2 second rule" refers to my comparison.

The yet-to-be-announced rule refers to your comparison. If you look at your statistics, it looks like most swimmers in this small sample group took out the first 50 in their 100 about 1 second or so slower than their all out 50 time. In my case, this was almost exactly how I swam the 100. In your case, you went out almost 3 seconds slower than your 50.

So, here's what I propose as a starting point for strategic thinking:

A) Go out anywhere from 1-2 seconds slower on the first 50 of a 100 than you can all-out sprint on a 50 alone. This isn't actually as big a gap as it might seem, since in the latter you must do a flip turn before the split registers, whereas on the former your hand touches the wall to stop the clock.

B) Swim the second 50 as hard as possible. If your split here is significantly more than 2 seconds slower than your first 50 on this same 100, go out a little slower next time.


Best 50 yard time--24 flat.

Ideal 1st 50 in 100--25-26 flat.
Ideal 2nd 50 in same 100--27-28 flat.

Time for 100--52-55 flat.

Assuming you can do this, tinker around with the tenths on subsequent races to optimize your personal best. What do you think?

Ian Smith
October 11th, 2002, 04:29 PM
Those were my last year's times you used - I've had a whole year to improve and was faster this year. (that's how it works doesn't it?)

Nevertheless, still went out 3 seconds slower than the 50 and it seems, from what others do, that this should be more like 1.5 slower.