The Fishburn Set

Chloe Sutton occasionally posts interesting pool sets she does on her Twitter feed.  Yesterday she did a set that I recognized from my youth. It’s called the Fishburn Set, and it goes like this:

  • 5×100
  • 4×200
  • 3×300
  • 2×400
  • 1×500

That’s only 3,500 yards - not an unfathomable distance, especially for an elite distance swimmer. The key to the Fishburn Set is the intervals. For the first round of 5×100, the interval should be one that you can make (not too hard, not too easy). Then, in the subsequent rounds, your interval increases by a fixed amount. That amount must be equal to or less than the first interval.

So, let’s say you do the 5×100’s on 1:30, and your “increase” is 1:00. That would produce the following set:

  • 5×100 @ 1:30 (1:30 per 100)
  • 4×200 @ 2:30 (1:15 per 100)
  • 3×300 @ 3:30 (1:10 per 100)
  • 2×400 @ 4:30 (1:07.5 per 100)
  • 1×500 @ 5:30 (1:06 per 100)

It’s supposed to be a very challenging set, and if you design your intervals correctly, the interval on the final 500 should be perhaps just a bit slower than you could do a single 500 AFAP (as fast as possible) in practice.

Chloe’s intervals? 1:05, 2:05, 3:05, 4:05, and 5:05. Needless to say: Pretty awesome. These days, I’d be happy to make the first 5 on 1:05.

The Fishburn Set has been around a long time, and is a favorite of certain old-school distance coaches and swimmers - such as, to pick a random example, Bill Rose (Chloe’s coach at Mission Viejo).

Update March 2021: I received the following communication from Mark Fishburn regarding the origins of the Fishburn Set (edited for clarity):

The original goal was to hold 1:00 100 pace for all 3,500 yards, with the intervals set at 1:30/2:30/3:30/4:30/5:30.

This was a set at the University of Michigan between 1970 and 1973 (years my dad, Dan Fishburn, attended). All the Michigan distance guys were doing the set but no one was holding 1:00 pace through the whole set. Finally my dad Dad was able to hold 1:00 pace at some point in his college swimming career. The set was named after him and he really didn’t think about it again until I got into competitive swimming in high school.

I was thinking about swimming competitively in college and we showed up at Denison University in Ohio and I introduced myself to the coach (with my dad present) and the coach asked “Fishburn? Like the Fishburn set?” Yes, that Fishburn. Long story short, in high school I was only able to hold :00 pace through the last 300 and blew the first 400 and had a 500 time of I think 5:08.

Dan Fishburn is an attorney (J.D. from Washington University St. Louis) living in Iowa City, IA and Freeport, IL. He was NCAA All-American and still swims to this day, 3,200m per workout.

I know the set needs to be altered to the abilities of the swimmer, but nowhere online do I see the original intent of the set to hold 1:00 hundred pace. Having attempted the original times and goals as a senior in high school, I know this set is a b****. I did a lot of long, awful stuff in the pool in HS but nothing ever kicked my ass like this did. Seeing 14,000 yards/day in the rearview was nothing compared to trying to hold :00 pace on this set for only 3.5k yards. Sure there’s guys that can do this in practice in their sleep now, even in high school. But this was 50 years ago in collegiate athletics.

So now you know.