2 simple tips to pacing yourself better in a race


Swimming has become such a complex sport that every detail matters in a race. A bad pace into the first 50m, and the whole race will be over. Imagine all the months of hard work just got screwed over by 1 bad pace at the first 50m… that ain’t worth it at all. This is why pacing yourself well is crucial in defining whether your race will be a good one or bad one.

But hey, you’re not to blame fully as the competitor beside you may decided to go out hard during the race and you simply got distracted. How is that fair? Sadly, that’s just now swimming works. Although we control our own swims, we can sometimes get distracted by the person beside us if they have a different race plan from us.

With that said, as long as we have a solid race plan, nothing will be able to distract us from sticking to it. Below are some tips which I’ve learnt over the years to ensure that you will NEVER AGAIN screw up your race plan, even if you have another person beside you who has a totally different one.

It’s actually pretty simple, all you have to do is to pay more attention to little details during your training, and everything will fall into place when competition comes. As the saying goes…


The tricky thing about swimming is that we’ll never know how fast or slow we’re going when we’re swimming. We’re unable to check the pace clock (unlike other sports) as we’re constantly putting our head in the pool. Therefore, pacing has to be based on feeling, and the better feel you have, the better you can pace. We can pace off someone else’s race plan sometimes, but ultimately, knowing your own race plan ensures that your swimming performances stay consistent.

Coach: “Eh why didn’t you swim well today?” 
Swimmer: “Because I have no water feel today coach…” 


Here are 2 simple tips to let you have a better feel for pace in the water:

1) Count your strokes during pace sets

What we constantly do at the National Training Squad is that we’re always counting strokes when doing 50m pace works. Our coaches will give us a set like 8×50 on 1:00, and the break down will be:

2 holding 31 seconds pace
2 holding 30 seconds pace
2 holding 29 seconds pace
2 holding 28 seconds pace 

The key will be to count your strokes for each block of 2, and try to hold the same stroke counts for each 2. For example, I hold:

30 strokes for the 1st 2 on 31 seconds pace
31 strokes for the 2nd 2 30 seconds pace
32 strokes for the 3rd 2 29 seconds pace
33 strokes for the last 2 28 seconds pace

So if I were to do a 1500m Freestyle race in competitions and the timing I am aiming for is a 15 min 30 seconds, I will have to hold a 31 second pace per 50m (31 seconds + 31 seconds = 1 min 02 seconds. 1 min 02 seconds x 15 = 15 min 30 seconds), which is about 30 strokes per 50 meters. So in a race, all I have to do is to ensure that I maintain my 30 strokes stroke length and I should roughly know that I’m on par for a 15 min 30 seconds pace.

Of course, we also have to factor in an increase in stroke rate in the last few hundred meters of a race due to fatigue, but that will be a separate blog post for another time.

2) Know the different kick patterns and when to apply them

Next step after establishing your stroke counts, you have to establish your kick counts. We all know that there are 3 different types of kick patterns:

i) 2 beat kick
ii) 4 beat kick
iii) 6 beat kick

And it goes in an order of difficulty too. The more you kick, the more sore you’re going to be. In a race, it’s about finding balance in your kicks to ensure that you do not fatigue too early in the race, and still have enough energy to max out your kicks in the final stages of the race, because that will determine whether you win or lose a race.

I shall use myself as an example again to give you a clearer explanation of the different types of kicks:

For a 30 strokes, 31 seconds pace – I use a 2 beat kick
For a 31 strokes, 30 second pace – I use a 4 beat kick
For a 32 strokes, 29 second pace – I use a light 6 beat kick
For a 33 strokes, 28 second pace – I use a heavier 6 beat kick

So it’s about connecting your kicks to your pulls, and finding a suitable pace to go for in the various races, whether it’s a 200m Freestyle, or 1500m Freestyle. Choose the kick patterns and in cooperate it into your swims, and you should have a better pacing during your race.

Things to note

The key message from this post would be to understand your own body well. You may not have the same kick patterns as I have, so you’ll have to find out what’s best suited for you and stick to it during your training sessions!


Just imagine your body as a race car – Your arms are the steering wheel, and your legs are the wheels. The better you tune it, the better it’s going to be during a race. And tuning it comes from finding the connection in your arms and legs together when doing your pace work, and knowing the various kick patterns and arms strokes required to achieve certain timings in your pace work.

Start paying attention to the little details in training like stroke count and kick patterns, and you’ll be able to establish your race paces better! Say goodbye to distractions and I hope you start swimming great races!!! 🙂


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Find out your optimum breathing pattern for Freestyle swimming

Hi Sheng  Jun,

I would like to know what kind of breathing pattern you use in training and in your longer distance races (800m/ 1500m) when swimming freestyle?
I am a distance swimmer and I have been breathing every 3 strokes (bilaterally) during most part of my races as I was taught that way and it felt comfortable.
Recently, I have made some changes to my stroke and am experimenting with varying my breathing patterns. It would be great to get some insight and tips from a top swimmer like you!

pang sheng jun freestyle

Breathing patterns for Freestyle swimming

Hi there!

As you should know there are a few different breathing patterns for Freestyle, swimmers mostly breathe every 2 or 4 strokes. In some cases, swimmers breathe bilaterally.

Well the most important question I would have to ask is this: are you a guy or a girl? Because if you are a guy, I’d recommend either the 2 or 4 stroke breathing pattern, whereas if you are a girl, I’d recommend sticking to your bilateral breathing pattern. I’m not saying that only girls use the bilateral breathing pattern, but allow me to elaborate further.

Almost all guys are more dominant on one side of their body, therefore we tend to have a loping Freestyle stroke. Not sure what a loping Freestyle stroke is? You can take a look at this video: 

I have a loping Freestyle stroke as well, so it’s best that I stick to a 2/4 stroke breathing pattern so that my strokes will flow well. I tried doing bilateral breathing before but I couldn’t maintain a good body position in the water as my left hand catch for Freestyle is not as good as my right, therefore my body position drops a little every time I do bilateral breathing which made me swim slower.

Having a loping Freestyle gives you a good rhythm, and having a good rhythm is important when it comes to distance swimming as it is efficient and less effort is used.

pang sheng jun freestyle swimming

Since I’m more of a distance swimmer, I stick to a 2 stroke breathing pattern as I find that lactate kicks in later in the race as compared to a 4 stroke breathing pattern. That is because having a 2 stroke breathing pattern allows me to get the maximum amount of oxygen consumption I need for the whole race, thus carbon dioxide levels are kept low during my race.

In a distance race, it’s more about focusing on consistency rather than speed, so there is no point in sacrificing your oxygen consumption by doing a 4 stroke breathing pattern as the speed:effort ratio is just not worth it in my opinion.

Remember in distance races, consistency is key, so I would recommend using a 2 stroke breathing pattern. 


For all the distance guys that are training with me, we are using the 2 stroke breathing pattern as we find that it’s the most efficient way to swim fast without having too much of a lactate build up.

To elaborate more about bilateral breathing, most girls in the National training squad are using a bilateral breathing pattern when swimming. I guess the body mechanics of girls and guys are slightly different and the dominance on one side of the body is less prominent for girls, so most of them breathe every 3 strokes and they find that that works best for them.

All in all, though I recommend the 2 stroke breathing pattern, it really depends on what kind of Freestyle stroke you have. If it’s a loping stroke, then 2 strokes per breath is great. If your Freestyle is a catch up stroke, then you may stick to your bilateral breathing pattern.

I would advise that you just try all the various breathing patterns out and see which gives you the best consistency in timings.

Most importantly, stick to what you are comfortable with because each breathing pattern would suit different individuals. Hope this helps!

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Tips to Swimming 200m Freestyle


Hi Sheng Jun, I’d like to know for middle distance events like the 200m, how do you usually pace yourself? I’m curious to know as I used to think the 200 is a build up kind of race, whereby you take things easy until the last 100 or 50. But I decided to go all out for all 4 laps at a recent meet and I went under my pb by almost 12 seconds. It was extremely painful but amusing as well. Do you also push yourself throughout the four laps and endure pain?


Hey there!

Congrats on lowering your personal best time by 12 seconds!

Must have felt really good for you, it is a really great achievement!

I personally find that the 200m Freestyle is the hardest event to swim, not because it is the toughest (400IM feels like the toughest one to me) but because you cannot afford to make any mistakes in a 200m Freestyle race.

If you go too hard from the start, your lactate build up would be too drastic and your competitors may edge you out the last 50m.

On the other hand, if you go out too slow, you will be lacking too far behind to even stand a chance to out sprint your competitors in the final 50m.

If you watch a 200m Freestyle race, you can see that different swimmers take the lead per 50m, that is because every swimmer has their own race plan which may differ from the competitor beside him.


My Race Plan

For me personally I like to take the race out hard because I find that taking things easy the first 100m will be too risky as your competitors may have already taken too much of a lead for you to catch the next 100m.

It does hurt a lot during the last 50m but as long as you are fit and you keep yourself mentally tough, you’ll be able to hold on to the race and win it.

Of course, do take note that everyone has their own way of swimming their 200m Freestyle race, so there isn’t a pace that is perfect, it is about seeing what suits you best and stick to it.

I have swum countless amounts of poor 200m Free races to get me to the race plan I have today, so practice makes perfect!


Pace Work

To get the perfect race plan, you can actually do some pace work during training (E.g. 4x50m Freestyle on 0:50-1min rest intervals with your desired 200m Freestyle race plan) and see if that particular race plan works for you.

Try different race strategies like going fast/slow for the first 2 50m and see which 4x50m added time is the fastest and use that race plan when it comes to a competition!


Hope this helps you in your future 200m Freestyle swims 🙂 Different swimmers have different ways to swim their 200m Freestyle, so always remember to stick to the race plan that suits you best and you will be guaranteed to do well!


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The Efficient Way to Swim Freestyle

2nd email from Jun Wen:

Thanks for your advice! It sure helped.

There is another question I would like to ask: How do I catch more water in the pool? My coach always says that I’m not catching water and I’m only pulling faster which decreases stroke efficiency.

On a side note, for Freestyle swimming, should the hands be relax during recovery and pulling phase but stiff at the wrist? 

Also, in a 400m race, must I be pulling hard all the way?

Lastly, something that has been bothering me is that there are quite a few people in my school that either don’t train much or not train at all, but yet I’m still slower than them when it comes to a 50m sprint. They always clock a personal best time every time they swim. 

It really makes me wonder, does hard work really pay off?  


My Reply: 

Water feel:

With regards to swimming technique, it is all about water feel, and it’s not always about stroke rate. Learn to focus on your stroke efficiency instead. To catch more water, try doing sculling drills to feel the water during your warm up, you should be able to have more water feel when it comes to swimming the main sets.

Besides sculling drills, you can try a simple Freestyle drill which can really improve your Freestyle technique. It’s called the Freestyle Fingertip Drag. You can refer to the video below to see how it’s done:

Freestyle Swimming Drill – Fingertip Drag 🏊

A post shared by Pang Sheng Jun 冯盛均 (@swimpsj) on

Start by kicking first, and dragging your finger tips on the surface of the water when you do your Freestyle stroke. This drill allows you enter the water gently when you swim and also ensures finger tip entry.

Things to look out for: 

1) Ensure that your kick is continuous at all times

2) Drills are all about water feel, so do not rush your strokes

3) Try to take a breath once every 4 strokes

4) Ensure a neutral head position

5) Try to keep your body as flat as possible to the water surface


The Freestyle Technique


As a Freestyle swimming specialist I will try my best to describe how I swim and hopefully it would give you a greater idea of how to swim Freestyle. Take note that that’s my own interpretation of the stroke and it may not be fully accurate.

For Freestyle swimming, focus on keeping your arms relaxed during the recovery phase of the stroke, you would be able to last longer in a race that way. Also, what Coach Gary always tells me is to enter the water gently (minimal splash) with your finger tips first, he calls it the Finger Tip Entry. Wrist should be kept with a certain pressure as to not let the water slip away during your catch.

In a 400m race, the main focus is to keep a relaxed stroke so as to be able to maintain stroke efficiency for the whole race.

Lastly, don’t always focus on the negative aspects of swimming. I’m an endurance swimmer myself, I just focus on what I need to do, which is improving my times in my 200m and 400m races, and I’m contented enough.

Always remember, hard work will always pay off, take for example your 400m Freestyle, you have been constantly improving in your times, isn’t that proof that your hard work is already paying off? So be positive, and learn to focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses!

Your friends may be able to win you for 50m sprints, but when it comes to 200m and 400m, it will be your race.

Lastly, practice makes perfect! So practice sculling and the drill I taught you and you should improve in time to come.

Anyway hope I answered your questions, and keep training hard! Feel free to ask me anything else.


Got a question as well? 

Feel free to email me at hello@pangshengjun.com or simply leave a comment below and I will be happy to answer them for you.


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