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Tapering for Your Event

The athlete must be in aerobic shape and strong before you start fine-tuning or “taper”. Tapering needs more attention and understanding in our sport.

What is the most important part of the season to you? Aerobic phase, anaerobic training, weights, deck based dryland and kicking? The truth is, they all are essential and coaches/swimmers need a plan.

What does tapering mean to you?

Tapering is not just resting your body for the big event. It is fine-tuning it for optimal performance. Athletes must be able to practice at a high caliber to perform to expectations. Athletes must be their strongest, sharpest and most focused before taper meet(s). Athletes need to take responsibility for training,

“I missed my taper” or “coach didn’t taper me correctly” are just excuses…

To taper correctly your athletes must have goals and the goals must drive training. You must understand recovery and muscle development of athletes and have the flexibility to individualize for a specific athlete and his/her events.

Understanding how athletes respond to different types of training based on slow, medium and fast twitch muscle fibers helps individualize training. Training slowly doesn’t help the athlete who has fast twitch predisposition and resting doesn’t produce optimal performance.

Taper is an in-depth process that is a whole lot more than dropping yardage the last few weeks and adding sprints. Most coaches use weight training to cross train and prevent injury then stop weights 2-4 weeks out from championships. The athletes must continue to lift throughout taper in order to achieve strength gains, which coincide with speed and power necessary to perform at meets. If you cross train during the season you must taper the cross training to optimize performance.

Kicking is more important than ever. Since the legs are slow to recover and are the hardest to get in shape, make sure you always write sets and workouts that alternate upper body and lower body. This is a great way to include active recovery in every workout.

Preparing your athlete to compete at race pace (goal speed) must always be emphasized, “always”. You must create goal speed so your athletes are 100% prepared to achieve.

You can still decrease yardage and maintain/increase aerobic capacity during taper. When done correctly an athlete will be prepared for multiple championship meets. One way to increase aerobic capacity is to monitor heart rates. Heart rate is essential to monitor to adjust the athletes training and recovery needs.

Don’t forget about reaction time training which involves mental focus and increased muscular reaction. Incorporate appropriate drills for focus and quickness.

The athlete must believe in what they are doing so engage and educate them every step of the way. They must be able to give you feedback about how their bodies are feeling and how well they are recovering to adjust workouts. They must also be mature enough to handle proper feedback.

Optimal training = Optimal performance.

The taper outline details yardage demands for distance, mid-distance, and sprinters. It explains when to train tarzan with drills, overspeed, race pace, recovery, starts, and turns. It details when to use variable speed swimming and kicking while detailing intensity and exact distances to be trained. One of the most important aspects of training is alternating upper and lower body, which is built in active recovery, is built into the taper.

The whole 7 week taper outline can be found here.

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Grand Prix Meets

Coaches I feel we need to voice our opinions about a few issues at the Grand Prix meets.

I was recently at the Indy Grand Prix meet in March.  As some of you know they have capped the meets at 700 swimmers. One of the Grand Prix meets closed in hours.  The B flight was very small at Indy and could have been expanded by allowing more into the meet. Spring Juniors Nationals can run a quality meet with almost double the swimmers…

Capping the meet at 700 swimmers has had a ripple effect for the meet.

1. Coaches are signing swimmers up for the meet in advance and deciding whether to attend later.

2. There were over an hour of scratches each day and a lot of no shows in the meet.  This affects the posted meet timelines as well as hurting swimmers who get closed out of the meet.

I feel we need to address space in warm ups especially at National Level meets Sectionals, Grand Prix, Juniors, etc.

Swimmers and Coaches work all year preparing and tapering for a great meet just to attend these meets and compromise proper warm up space.

To provide proper warm up space do we have schedule meets differently or have scheduled breaks during the meet.  I am sure many of you have thoughts on how to handle space issues so please share your ideas.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

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The Number One Problem Facing Swimming

I feel the culture of quick gratification and instant success is the main thing coaches have to learn to coach around is the number one problem facing the sport.

We can outsmart the younger generation by creating daily, weekly and more creative test sets that helps the young athlete feel good about their efforts.

Demanding more quality in shorter practices, more dryland workouts while keeping in mind that we might have to coddle this generation a bit. If that is what it takes then do it. You can slowly teach that long-term hard work equals success.

Teach swimmers what to expect every step of the way because their understanding of physical and mental progressions can only help.

Explain the yearly, seasonal and daily outlines of training.  Explain the cycles of muscular breakdown, recovery and strength gains. As we know it is a lot more than a few days of hard work before a meet. Younger swimmers and High School swimmers actually believe that if they have a few good practices they should see results. Teach them athletics are not the same as academics, you can’t cram for a meet.

Train boys and girls differently. Basic generalizations:

Girls can practice longer and harder mentally and physically but are a lot harder to coach at meets.

Boys need to know the whole set and in advance. Let them know exactly what effort you expect for each part of the set or practice.

Boys are a lot easier to coach at meets.

I am currently going through all of this again as I am building a new program and developing a culture for swimming in this community.

We have to work with what we are given so do your best. Make every workout and set as different as possible. Faster Swimming workouts are developed with all of this in mind.

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Part 3: Race Pace

The purpose of this article is to elicit thought. There are many quotes that I feel this best explains my readings of all the studies I am sharing with you.  Our goal is to become better coaches!

Below are a few concepts to consider while planning your workouts.

Swim Techniques at Race Pace

  1. Stroke efficiency is developed for the pace at which training is performed as discussed in previous newsletters.  To improve race performances, stroke efficiency must be improved and swum at race pace to achieve the best training effect.
  2. Stroke rates at practice must match stroke rates needed to achieve race pace times in a meet. “Hard extended swimming that accumulates lactate does not accommodate the learning of the skilled movement patterns associated with the effort’s velocity.”
  3. Race Pace training will have the greatest relevance for singular competitive swimming performances at all levels.  For example, slow kicking does not train anything related to racing but would be a great recovery activity. Training that is not race pace (irrelevant training) has one use, recovery activities between and after race pace sets

Ultrashort Training at Race Pace.

  1. Please plan short rest intervals as work intervals that are too long result in the accumulation of lactic acid.
  2. Consistent ultra-short training at race pace produces race pace performances that sustain fast twitch fiber use with greater amounts of oxygen thus increasing aerobic conditioning. This extends the ability to sustain a swimming velocity with good mechanical function as long as the athlete maintains desired speeds.
  3. The athlete will improve the most with race pace/ high-intensity speed which enables all necessary energy systems with the proper neuromuscular patterns.

Specific Race Pace Training

The best way to help a swimmer who is plateauing is to increase high intensity (race pace) training. Usually, a swimmer in this situation has years of swimming at slower speeds. They are in really great shape from all the unnecessary overtraining. You can’t swim a meet at race pace if you don’t train at race pace.  This applies to all athletes and their training as this improves both aerobic and anaerobic factors.

What to consider while planning sets:

  1. Make sure all swimmers understand the speed (race pace/goal time) you are asking them to swim.
  2. Keep your rest intervals: 10-:30 seconds. “One reason short intervals “work” is that when a high-intensity repetition is completed, the aerobic system continues to function fully paying back any accumulate oxygen debt developed in the repetition.  If the next repetition commences before the aerobic system begins to abate, the demand on the cardiorespiratory system is continuous although the exercise is intermittent. For the whole set, the aerobic system works maximally just as it would in a race. If the rest period is too long, the aerobic demand in the rest period decreases.”
  3. Race pace sets can last an hour.  Distances will increase as swimmers improve. For example,20 x 25’s on :40  alternating 2 x 25’s holding 100 race pace for the first 50, then 2 x 25’s holding race pace for the second 50.2:00 min rest20 x 25’s on :30 as aboveRepeat as needed, adjust send off’s as needed. Swimmers have to swim at race pace always
  4. The Faster Swimming  23 week and 14 week programs are designed to decrease the rest intervals for race pace while increasing the distances of race pace repeats over the course of the season.

We as coaches really need to incorporate race pace(high intensity) training and understanding of the concepts mentioned in this article. Please do your research and experiences to develop your swimmers!

All feedback is welcome.

This article is created from the readings of: Swimming Science Bulletin Number 39Produced, edited and copyrighted by Professor Emeritus Brent S. Rushall, San Diego State UniversitySwimming Energy Training in the 21st Century: The Justification For Radical ChangesBrent S. Rushall, Ph.D.,R.Psy

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Part 2: Planning Your Practices

Here are basic concepts to keep in mind while planning your practices:

1. Any swimmer that is poorly conditioned with bad mechanics will see improvement with any activity associated with swimming.

2. Once your swimmer advances in conditioning and skill level basic practices no longer apply and actually retards further development.  Higher levels of practices are needed to mimic racing demands of the athlete mentally and physically.

3. Keep in mind that practices must mimic racing demands of the athlete. Coaches must understand the principle of specificity mentally and physically. This is the learning process involved in understanding neuromuscular patterning and its importance in regards to energy systems.

4. “It is erroneous to practice swimming if the skill amplitude and rate do not reflect the intended race-specific qualities”.

The purpose of this article is to elicit thought. I have many quotes as I feel this best explains my readings of all the studies I am sharing with you.  Our goal is to become better coaches!

We all know about aerobic conditioning but do we really understand it. Coaches always say “you need an aerobic base to taper”. Does this mean cranking out yardage or is this individual to the athlete? If you are set on yardage, yardage, yardage you are training the athlete to train and not creating the physical and mental demands on the body needed for one race. This is going to take a lot of research on our part as coaches to really understand and apply.  I have thought for years that swimming is way behind track and field, in regards to training the athlete for a specific event. All the scientific studies researched in the study I am referencing below arrive at the same conclusion. “In traditional training sessions little, if any, happens that will influence better race performances. Training largely improves training but not racing.” This applies to the first concept listed above while planning your practices.

“Skillful and efficient performance in a particular technique can be developed only by practice of that technique.” This means at race pace to mimic the demands on the neuromuscular mechanism needed to ensure that energy systems in a race have been put to memory. Muscle memory, at race pace only, involves the neuromuscular memory of the energy systems used.  “Movement patterns in the brain incorporate the energy sources for the movement(s). Technique and energy are inextricably linked in movement patterns no matter how complex they might be.” If you practice at a slower pace the movement pattern and energy system associated is different than what is needed for racing.

Body position is a key factor to consider. Even a slight change in a swimmers body position or stroke mechanics changes the movement pattern and energy system demands of the race. This happens all the time to our swimmers at the end of a race and practice sets. Practicing at race pace involves body position, mechanics and intensity. This loss of control can be viewed as detrimental fatigue. Try to recognize whether this fatigue is physical, neural, mental or a combination of all three.

We all currently train our athlete’s through fatigue so understanding how “in-performance” recovery applies is extremely important.

We as coaches really need to incorporate more individual training and understanding of the concepts mentioned in this article. Please do your research and experiences to develop your swimmers!

All feedback is welcome.

This article is created from the readings of:  Swimming Science Bulletin Number 39Produced, edited and copyrighted by Professor Emeritus Brent S. Rushall, San Diego State UniversitySwimming Energy Training in the 21st Century: The Justification For Radical ChangesBrent S. Rushall, Ph.D.,R.Psy

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Profile of a High School Swimmer

Molly is a sophomore and an extremely talented athlete. I had to wait until the cross country season was over before Molly started training for the season. She began the season three months later than the rest of her competition at the High School State Level.

It took at least two months before Molly started to achieve the Race Pace work needed to compete at the State Level in the 200 IM and the 500 free. Molly did the workouts as written that many of you have received thru the weekly FasterSwimming workouts written for the 23 week program.

She was trained with all the Race Pace work to hold 1:01.. She swam a 5:08.55 – :58.5, 1:02.1, 1:03.4, 1:03.1, 1:00.2 and finaled at States. Did Molly train the traditional way for the 500 free, NO. Could she have started the season earlier and been faster, YES. Would a different style of training help, it has worked for decades, YES. Given all the information above I believe that we did the best for her in a very short amount of time.

Now Molly will be swimming year round so “Katie bar the door”! The only thing I will change in training her will be longer sets (not necessarily longer distances) at goal Race Pace in the 500, 1000, 1650 etc… The send offs and rest intervals will become faster as her ability to hold Race Pace longer improves.

I rested (with the sprinters) Molly an additional 3 weeks to swim at the USA Sectional meet with just a few sets holding 500 Race Pace. I decided that Molly should just stay strong in the water knowing that she will swim the 400 IM and the 1650 free at the meet.

She just missed her US OPEN cut in the 400 IM by a few tenths and placed 2nd in the mile. Her splits in the mile averaged 1:03. high. 1st 500 @ 5:16.14, 2nd 500 @ 5:20.07, 3rd 500 @ 5:20.68 with her last 50 28.8 totaling 17:28.91. I do know that wasn’t a record of any type but a testament to Molly’s training and the importance of Race Pace.

Molly did a great job of sprint kicking off each wall. She maintained the desired warm-up Race Pace of 1:03, less than 8 minutes previous to the swim. She added more kicking to her swimming as the race continued based on her fitness level. Now the goal is to maintain a faster Race Pace goal in practice and hold for longer periods of time.

I encourage any comments. Discussion always leads to better swimming and coaching.

Here are sectional team scores:

http://www.daytonraiders.com/meets_sc_2007/sect_team_scores.htm