How to Do a 500 in Swimming

After the start, swimmers competing in the 500 freestyle must pace themselves carefully for 20 lengths of the pool.

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In a swimming workout or swim meet, a single 500-yard set or race event is referred to simply as a “500.” For a short-course swim meet in a 25-yard pool, the 500 - 20 lengths of freestyle -- is the longest individual event. Swim workouts are made up of sets that are a series of lengths swum consecutively. In a 25-yard pool, a set can range from 25 to 500 yards. One way to do a 500 is to swim it as an endurance event; another way is to swim a 500 as a workout, broken into smaller sets that are swum on intervals.

500 as an Endurance Event


Start strong off the block and kick hard to get your momentum going. Push yourself to get out with and stay with the other swimmers for the first 100 yards, but pace yourself since you'll need to make it through the other 400 yards.


Control your kick outside of the start and during turns for the middle 300 yards of the event, kicking hard in and out of the walls but conserving energy for the long race. Set your pace beginning with the second 100 yards, but control your speed so you can maintain that pace until the last 100 yards.


Build your kick beginning at the 14th or 15th length and get ready to go all-out on the last 100 yards. The first and last 100 yards of the 500 freestyle are the fastest.

500 as an Interval Workout


Choose an interval you feel comfortable with for swimming back-to-back sets of 25, 50 or 100 yards. For example, if you can swim 25 yards in 30 seconds, then in theory, you should be able to swim 25-yard sets on 40-second intervals. This time allows 30 seconds to swim 25 yards with 10 seconds in between each 25 to catch your breath. Following this logic, you might be able to swim sets of 50 yards on intervals of 1:10 and sets of 100 yards on 2:15 intervals, allowing 2 minutes to swim 100 yards and 15 seconds to rest before starting the next 100 yards.


Organize your 500-yard workout to include a 50-yard warm-up and 400 yards of interval training, followed by a 50-yard cooldown. The 400 yards of interval training can be broken into sets a variety of ways, such 4 times 25 followed by 2 times 50 and then a 100-yard swim followed by the cooldown. Another workout could include all 25s, to focus on sprinting; all 50s, to work on turns; or all 100s, to build endurance.


Use a pace clock to monitor your time and adjust your interval times accordingly as your endurance builds and your speed picks up. Eventually, you'll be able to add more distance to your workout without adding more time.

Things Needed

  • Pace clock