The 500 freestyle is a challenging race that can make or break you depending on how you swim it. 

Whether you’re simply trying to survive your first 500 or break 5:00, the 500 is all about endurance and consistent pacing.

Try these tips to improve your training and race strategy for the 500 freestyle.

1. Break the Race Up

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! The same is true for the 500 freestyle. Instead of thinking of it as a massive, continuous swim, break the race up into smaller, more manageable chunks, such as:

  • 2 x 250
  • 5 x 100
  • 10 x 50
  • 20 x 25
  • 1 x 100, 1 x 200 and 1 x 200

Thinking of your 500 free as a set of shorter swims can help you stay strong mentally as you swim. Just take it one 50 – or one 100 – at a time!

2. Split Correctly

Your goal should be to negative split the 500 free. That means the second half of the race should be faster than the first half.

Related: How Katie Ledecky Swims So Fast Without Getting Tired

Let’s take a look at some examples from two of the best 500 swimmers: Kieran Smith on the men’s side, and Katie Ledecky on the womens’:

Kieran Smith: 

  • First 250: 2:00.86
  • Second 250: 2:05.95
  • Final 500 Time: 4:06.32

Katie Ledecky:

  • First 250: 2:10.07
  • Second 250: 2:13.99
  • Final 500 Time: 4:24.06

A perfect negative split doesn’t always happen, but it’s a good strategy to shoot for. If anything, do your best to keep your splits for your second 250 as close to the first 250 as possible.

Both Katie Ledecky and Kieran Smith do a great job of this – it’s called an even split.

3. Learn to Pace Yourself Correctly

Pace is key in the 500. If you start out swimming too fast, you’ll fall apart at the end of the race. But if you don’t swim fast enough at the start, you could be setting yourself up for a slower finish, too.

Related: 5 More Ways to Pace for Long Distance Swims

Try these tips for proper pacing in the 500 free:

  1. Focus on Easy Speed: Don’t push too fast at the start of the race. Find a pace that will allow you to finish the race strong.
  2. Light on the Legs: Don’t over-kick. Save your legs for that final push during the last 100!
  3. Establish Your Breathing Pattern Early: Stick to a consistent breathing pattern right away to fuel your body with enough oxygen.
  4. Build Your Tempo & Kick Gradually: You shouldn’t feel like you have to completely change gears in your race. Think about slowly building your stroke tempo and kick throughout the race so you finish strong.
  5. Maintain Distance Per Stroke: As you approach the final laps of your race, it’s tempting to spin your arms as fast as possible. Instead, focus on pulling more water per stroke for a more efficient and powerful swim.

4. Train Correctly

Swimming a fast 500 freestyle isn’t all about long-distance training (although that’s part of it). The best 500 free swim training incorporates variety in speed, pacing and distance.

Your workouts should include a variety of speed variations, such as: 

  • Build: Swimming faster by the end of the repetition. Think of build as “speeding up” throughout the rep.
  • Descend: Swimming faster by time over the duration of a set. Times for 4×50 descend could look like 1:00, :58, :56 and :55.
  • Ascend: Swimming slower by time over the duration of a set. Times for 4×50 ascend could look like :43, :45, :47 and :50.
  • Negative Split: Swimming faster on the second half of an individual repetition. For example, say you swam a 200 freestyle in 3:00. You finished the first 100 in 1:40 and the second in 1:20. That is a negative split.
  • Even Split: Swimming the first and second half of a repetition at the same speed.

Good 500 swimmers spend a lot of time doing best average training. In a best average swim set, your goal is to maintain the same pace with good technique. Essentially you’re finding the fastest pace you can swim AND hold consistently without falling apart. 

How to Break 5:00 in the 500 Freestyle

Crossing the five-minute threshold in the 500 free is a massive achievement that many swimmers strive for. 

Related: How to Break 1:00 in the 100 Freestyle

To help you form a plan to break 5:00 in the 500, let’s look at tip #1 above to start: Breaking it up. 

To achieve a sub-five-minute 500, you need to swim 10×50 freestyle under 30 seconds each. 

Try These Swim Sets to Swim a Faster 500 Freestyle

Our first set takes our 500 freestyle breakdown literally:

10×50 Freestyle @ 1:00 Best Average

If your goal is to swim a sub-5:00 500, you should aim to swim all 10 50s under 30 seconds. 

Our second set is focused on speed and endurance:

3 Rounds:

  • 6×50 Freestyle @ :50 (Goal: < 30sec)
  • 1×300 Pull @ 4:00 (Goal: < 3:30)

Take a 1-minute break between rounds. This set should keep your heart rate elevated, and should be challenging but not impossible. 

We’d love to hear your tips and tricks for the 500 free in the comments! If you’re ready to commit to distance training, download the MySwimPro app and start your personalized Training Plan today.



  1. Richard England on

    Many of these times are faster than the current world records.

    For instance Katie’s first 250 time of 2:10.07.

    The women’s world record for the 200 is 1:52.85 set by Mollie O’Callaghan in July this year, so this have Katie completing the additional 50 in just under 17 seconds.

    I’m not sure that is physically possible.

    • Hi Richard,

      This post is specific to the 500-yard freestyle, swum in a 25-yard pool. Mollie O’Callaghan’s 200-meter freestyle record was swum in a 25-meter pool. Because yards are shorter than meters, Katie Ledecky’s time will be slightly faster.

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