Threshold Series Part 5: Finding Threshold Via “White, Pink, Red”

“White, Pink, Red” is a swim training system created by Jon Urbanchek, who in my opinion is coaching royalty. I don’t know if he’s actually named the method, but I will try to find out and update accordingly. For now I will be calling it “white, pink, red.”

When I was in high school, I had an amazing coach who came to AK after training for Urbanchek at University of Michigan. Aside from bringing a wealth of swimming experience (at the time, he held the national high school record in the 200 IM and he placed third by .01 in his best event at the 1996 Olympic Swimming Trials) he also trained us the way he trained. So even though I never swam directly for Jon, I developed a very strong respect for his training method. Not only did I find it intuitive, I responded well to it.

Here is the short course meters practice my coach had us do in the morning on December 27, 1999. You can see the “wh, pk, red” next to the distances in the main set. While the base times are different for each group, the “white, pink, red” conveys the effort we each need to swim regardless of what group we were in.

The first time my coach used the terms, “white, pink, red, blue/purple” at practice I had no idea what he was talking about. I was familiar with EN1, EN2, EN3, SP1, SP2, SP3 but I’d never heard of this strange color coded system.

I asked him what it meant and he responded that the colors basically corresponded with the color of our face. Now, there is MUCH more to Urbanchek’s method but here are are some easy to remember guidelines that will work for triathletes and the way they train:

  • White is easy.
  • Pink is medium.
  • Red is fast and “uncomfortable.”
  • Blue is fast and difficult.
  • Purple is fast and very difficult.

The neat thing about “White, Pink, Red” is that it works on any given day no matter how much sleep you had or what you had (or didn’t have) for breakfast. It evolves with you, so as you improve it will take more effort to get those color changes. It  doesn’t “require” any math – though I do think people should track their times if they want to have a better idea of where they are physically and how their training is affecting them. The “White, Pink, Red,” method works for all levels.

So, if you want to improve your endurance and hit your threshold pace next time you’re in the pool or open water, you’ll know you’re in the right zone if your cheeks are pink or red.

Up Next: Threshold Via Postal Swims

Categories: Threshold Pace

Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Hmmm, I like in in principle but I guess a coach like Chris Martin may take issue. He is black!

  2. I see your point but I think of it more as a way to convey an idea than anything else. Is the delivery perfect? Probably not. Is it effective and intuitive? Probably. Speaking for myself, I’m pretty sure my face never literally turned blue or purple but I understand the effort those colors imply. My goal with this post is to provide triathletes with a tool to help them process information and better understand their training. I’ve updated the post so you can also think of it as a scale of ‘easy, medium/hard, difficult.’


  1. Threshold Series Part 4: Estimating Threshold Using Heart Rates | The Water Blogged Triathlete

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