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Peaking Pointers for Coaches

As we approach peaking season for our swimmers we want to keep the focus on process, not outcome, just as we should for the majority of the season.  Below are some basic points of reference for coaches to keep in mind no matter what the level of our swimmers.  Swimmers, just like any other athletes, can get a little skittish as we near the big meets of the season, and we can help them be confident in our programming by being able to explain our programming.

We should be training race speed, maintaining conditioning

We judge swimming competition by who touches the wall first, not who has the prettiest technique.  That is not to say that we want to toss technique by the wayside, but to say that we want to practice our technique as best we can at race speeds.  This goes for stroke technique, starts, underwaters, breakouts – everything.  Full speed training also requires a rest period that is long enough to hold speed for whatever repeats you are doing for a given set.  As we get closer and closer to big meets these rest periods should increase between hard efforts so that all of our swimmers can have their true fitness levels fully unmasked from their fatigue levels.

Our upper-level groups generally go by a Hi/Lo system per training week as we roll through our peaking phase.  Hi intensity days have us training goal race pace (100 or 200) for short intervals (ex 6×50 @ 200 goal rp on 1:00).  We focus on time, pace and tempo more than anything on these days.  Lo intensity days have us maintaining our aerobic base and working on skills at speed for short distances and plenty of rest.  We tend to then alternate Hi/Lo workouts, and if it looks like anyone needs more recovery, we give it to them!  For instance, this week we had Sunday as a Hi intensity effort day, Monday as a Lo aerobic and skills day, Tuesday as a Hi intensity sprint/distance day, Wed as a Lo aerobic and skills day, Thursday will be a Hi intensity sprint day (with lots of rest), Friday will be Lo aerobic and skills day for pre-meet and then we have HS tournament swim competitions on Saturday.

Sharpening skills, not just doing drills 

Drills have their place in training, largely early on in the season and then as a reminder of technique as we move through the season.  At the end of the season we should all be helping our swimmers sharpen their skill sets so that they can perform on race day.  This often requires more work at short distances, at full speed or close to it.  Always remember that drills are a conduit to skills and only serve the purpose of fulfilling a need, and that the end of the season is the time to sharpen our current skill sets most importantly.

Physically strong, mentally tough

Maximal strength is the base of all other types of physical strength, and as we near our peaking phase we want to maintain maximal strength and train speed-strength.  We want to maintain our strength so that we can continue to pull as much water as possible, to remain as durable (and injury-free) as possible, and to be at our strongest ever on race day.  As we enter our peaking phase we also want to reinforce and train speed-strength, which we do by using fast lifts, quick dryland movements, and some reactive med ball work.  Maintaining our general strength abilities while training our nervous system to become more reactive for our biggest meets is something that most teams do not do, but imo all teams should do.

Along with physical strength we must also reinforce mental strength & toughness for our swimmers.  Coaches are a conduit for our swimmers mental strategies by giving solid & direct race plans, by being encouraging in regard to competition and racing, and by helping swimmers hone their skill sets, tempo and pacing so that their biggest races can come together more easily at the biggest meets.  We want our swimmers to go after their races with determination(!) and to respect but never fear their competitors.  Swimmers should again focus on the process (competing) rather than the outcome (times), and if a swimmer is ready and geared up for a tough race, their best times will come.  Top competitors also do all that is required in regard to warm up and cool down consistently to achieve a consistently high performance level, and this is a typical habit of the mentally tough.

Pay attention to what the swimmers are telling you!

I don’t only mean what the swimmers are actually saying, but what their bodies are telling you perhaps more than their words.  As mentioned above, some swimmers will need a little more rest than others and that should be accounted for at practices leading into big meets.  If a swimmer’s stroke looks sluggish, maybe give them a tempo trainer, and if that does not help maybe let them do every-other rep of whatever the set may be.  If their kick is looking slow and their legs are tired let them pull some or all of a set.  Be willing to make individual adjustments at the end of the season to help each of our swimmers consolidate the gains from all of their hard work this season.  Sometimes just a little added rest at the end of a long season of hard training can make a difference.  An old saying that I have always liked is “The hay is in the barn,” which for swimming means the majority of hard efforts are through, and now it is time to hone our speed and skills so that we can compete at our highest possible level at our biggest meet(s) of the season.

We want all of our swimmers to reap the rewards from what they have earned by way of their hard, consistent efforts this season.  The real magic ending to any season comes by way of these season-long, hard, consistent efforts – and it is up to us as coaches to enable this magic to happen as much as we are able to at the end of each season.  Please keep the above ideas in mind as you structure your practices and speak to your swimmers, be positive at meets no matter what the outcome, and, especially at end of the season meets – just as we want our swimmers to do – please Have Fun, Learn, and Compete (well, at least be in a competitive mindset : )

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How Strong is Strong Enough?

There are many types of measurable strength – maximal strength, speed-strength, strength endurance, relative strength, starting strength, etc, etc. – that can factor into your sport performance abilities. Training with weights or heavy objects is not the end-goal of too many sports; Power lifting, Olympic lifting, and Strongman being the main exceptions. Training with weights CAN, however, provide protection from injury, allow a greater display of force and/or speed in your sport performance, and improve your general conditioning (GPP) and work capacity. All of these factors lead to improved sport results, and can be improved upon through weight training.

So how do you best fit this into your sport training? Well, we’ve written a book on this and it’s included in the Faster Swimming Manual, so the following description is basic…Our Training recommendations involve lifting heavy weights, lifting moderate weights explosively, and lifting moderate weights for higher repetitions. Heavy lifting increases maximal and starting strength; explosive lifting increases speed-strength and force production; repletion lifting increases strength endurance and work capacity. Relative strength is your strength level in relation to your own body and is addressed in our program in the weight room (pull-ups, dips, hanging leg raise, etc) and in the dryland program – which also focuses on strength endurance, core strength, and to an even greater degree on work capacity and active range of movement. All of these methods will lead to some degree of muscle gain (hypertrophy) which further increases your capacity to produce useable force in your sport. One of the basic principles at work within all of this is that of progressive overload; you must continually and progressively increase loads (poundage and/or speed) to adapt to a higher level.

Injury prevention can also be addressed with weight training. Training with weights in a balanced program will lead to greater overall body-strength and control, which leads to more efficient and coordinated movement which leads to fewer injuries. Specific injury-prone areas for a given sport can also be addressed and strengthened as needed. Using swimming as an example, the shoulders are a frequent site of injury. Injury prevention can be addressed through specific exercises (Cuban press, faces pull, pull-ups, rack pull-ups, pullovers, etc) and through repetition and movement work with bands (internal/external rotation, distraction, etc.).

All of this can be fit into brief (around 1 hour) workouts, done 2-4x per week, to increase your durability and sport performance – which you can learn more about here (link).

So, back to the original question – How strong is “strong enough”? As long as weight training is not interfering with sport practice and/or competition, it is our view that you can always improve performance by getting stronger. Again – the end-goal is increased performance in your sport, and being able to display more force and speed while lessening your chance of injury will lead to this. Combine this type of weight training with appropriate and balanced sport training and you are on your way to improved performance!!

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Creating Goals for Athletes

Every athlete wants to excel, but the will to excel is insignificant without the will to prepare to excel. Preparation is where many athletes fail. Most are willing to put in hours on top of hours of training, but almost no time is devoted to planning or record keeping. This planning (and tracking) is essential, because planning is the first step to achieving any goal – including those accomplished in athletics. Your vision of where you want to be – your goal – is your greatest asset. A goal without a plan is just a wish. Not knowing how and understanding why past training and peaking has influenced your performances (record keeping) makes attaining these goals tougher than it needs to be.

Goals should be as objective as possible (measurable and performance-oriented), as specific as possible (performance and time-sensitive), and above all realistic to your level of athletic and competitive abilities. Keeping your season goals to two or possibly three major goals will help streamline your focus and simplify your training and regenerative efforts. The following goal is a specific example of what a season goal might look like:

-Achieve a top 100 World ranking in the 200m dash by August 1.-
-Three previous season’s average of 20.45 seconds.-

Write your goals in this manual and in another conspicuous place so that you’ll see them often. This will be a frequent reminder of your precise competitive desires, and as you’ll see below, of the how and why you planned on achieving them.

The methods and training objectives needed to attain your season goals are listed next. These again should be as objective, specific and realistic as possible. Methods listed can be complex or simple, just be sure to match your methods to your season goals. Daily training methods and objectives can vary greatly, but should also fall on a continuum of your season goals. The following are examples of two training methods and a training objective that might support the previous goal.

-Include max speed work in June practices at a volume of 600m per week.-

-Include extra mobility work for 30 min., 3x per week for the entire season.-

-Run 200m in practice in less than 21 seconds by July 15.-

Motivations are the why you are doing the training and striving toward your goals. Again, this could be as simple as “to be the best in the State,” or a complex, layered, psychological explanation. It is most important that your motivation has meaning for YOU. Use your motivations to keep your training and regeneration efforts inspired.

Space is provided at the bottom of your goal sheet for your ultimate goal. Perhaps this is the same as your season goal, perhaps two or three years down the road – whichever, it will help you keep an eye toward the future and what you ultimately envision for yourself in your sport.

Weekly and daily training goals head each log page under “Training.” Use these goals to help plan the incremental steps in your training leading to your season and ultimate goals. These smaller goals will keep you on track towards your larger goals and keep your intent at the forefront of your training.

  • by John Coffman, FasterSwimming.com Contributing Writer 
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Athletic Peaking

Athletic peaking, when you are in top shape, results in your best performances of the season. At this time fitness is at the highest level, while fatigue is at the lowest. This is the one time of the season that fatigue should in no way mask fitness. Your peak occurs when you are ready to perform at your best physically (fitness, skills, reactions…) and psychologically (strategy, focus, intent…). Peaking for sport is no accident, but rather the culmination of training, competitions, tactics and regeneration that has been planned for.

A peaking period can be as long as several weeks or as short as several days, so defining your peaking period and planning accordingly is critical. No new stimuli of any significant intensity should be introduced at this time, and training methods (psychological, physical, and technical) must be specific to the demands of competition. Complete regeneration of all required physical capacities; such as speed, strength, and power; is paramount. These levels should all be at their highest during a peaking phase. While volume most often drops significantly and rest periods increase during a taper, some portion of training intensity MUST remain high to facilitate peak performances. To maintain an extended peak, appropriate intensity must remain in your training at some level throughout the peaking period.

  • by John Coffman, FasterSwimming.com Contributing Writer
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Periodization

Periodization is defined by USA Track & Field as “The process of planning training in order to produce high levels of performance at designated times. There are three major concepts associated with the process of periodization:

1. Periodization and Planning. Planning is perhaps the most important step in insuring the effectiveness of the training program. Planning enables control of training variables and parameters in a manner that guarantees the best chance for success.

2. Periodization and Record Keeping. Record keeping is another crucial part of the periodization process. This enables monitoring of training loads accurately, and modification of training from season to season and year to year.

3. Periodization and Peaking. Peaking refers to designing training so that the best performances come at the most crucial competitions.”

When establishing a training year it is necessary to identify the most important competitions of the season and the peak requirements of you, the athlete. Reverse-engineering your season (or working backwards from the end of the season to the beginning) allows you to arrange periods, mesocycles, microcycles, and sessions using peak requirements as the season-end goal. So, to plan your season you need to understand the above terms. A session would make up what you are doing for a given training session or practice. A microcycle is usually based on a given week, or a 7-10 day cycle of training. A mesocycle is most commonly a 4 week cycle of training composed of 3 to 4 microcycles. A period is divided into one of several categories: Off-season or General Prep, Pre-season or Specific Prep, Early-season or Precompetition, and Late-season or Competiton & Peaking, and can contain multiple mesocycles.

Plan your season by targeting your important competitions to coincide with your athletic peak. The advice of an experienced coach can go a long way here, as planning so far in advance requires the understanding of how all training and regeneration factors interplay within a season and given sport. Each training period should build on the previous period, and each mesocycle should build on the previous mesocycle. Within each microcycle and training session there is a need for training variance to allow for adequate regeneration. An example of an established method for planning a mesocycle (or training month) would be placing the training load for the 4 microcycles (or training weeks) at 1.High – 2.Medium – 3.Very High – 4.Low. This would allow for a reduction in training load in week 4 (to deepen regeneration) and a return to a higher level of sport fitness in the following micro- and mesocycle.

Use of this Manual – specifically of the Training Log – will allow analysis of your periodized plan both during and after your season to help eliminate overtraining, undertraining, and inconsistent performances. There are no textbook answers for solving all of the variances and problems that arise in training, but access to past performances along with a detailed training log will go a long way in determining your course in the future.

Timing peak athletic condition to coincide with the most important competitions can be difficult. It is precisely this reason that the Training Log and all its detail follows – to give you the complete set of tools to achieve peak performance when the most important competitions are at hand. Use the Training Log at the very least during your peaking phase, in order to understand and document how all of your previous training and regeneration efforts influenced your most important competitions.

  • by John Coffman, FasterSwimming.com Contributing Writer
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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

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Questions re: Distance. Some Advice for Practices

Q
I am a new subscriber and received my first set of workouts this morning. I have read through them carefully and looking forward to getting started. I love the instruction on improving the dives, streamlining with dolphin kick etc. Plus the turns practice. However, how do I compensate for the distance as it is a bit far for me. I’m only used to swimming @ 3000 to 3500m in practice.

A
Once you develop more strength in dryland and can handle the mechanics of swimming fly with the fly kick your goal of breaking 4 min. should be easy. Try kicking with fins when swimming fly to help with your leg strength and speed but don’t get into a habit of using fins. Work on some short fly swimming (with fly kick) without breathing while maintaining proper body position as described in Faster Swimming. Stay as streamlined as possible and take a few strokes to begin working on timing with the fly kick then slowing work in the breathing. Timing and breathing of the stroke is described for you also. Let me know how you progress.

Determine your stroke counts for training as it’ll definitely be a part of practices. In the course of a week you’ll train all strokes with a lot more kicking than you are use to. Work in the kicking as you are able and feel free to use fins for part of it until you can handle all the additional kicking. As the season progresses kicking will be a smaller part (percentage) of the workout.

You don’t have to increase your yardage drastically and whatever you don’t finish on a specific day, just continue it the next practice. Try to plan your swimming workouts as to never have three days between practices as you’ll lose the feel for the water.

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Regeneration

One of the most overlooked aspects of successful training in the Western World is that of regeneration. Regeneration is the product of sound training and methods that help in repairing athletes to function better. Recovery (or rest) and restoration (return of energy, hormonal, or other levels) are entwined in this process, but do not provide a complete picture in and of themselves. Regeneration can be looked at as the optimized integration of these and various other factors. Regeneration in sport can also be defined as:

1. Continuous management of muscle tension, structure, and tone
2. Accelerated removal of the effects of fatigue
3. Rapid restoration of energy systems and energy substrates
4. Improved ability to renew physical activity, without wasting the athlete’s energy unnecessarily.

Hydration, nutrition, active and passive recovery methods, as well as additional supplementation can and should be optimized to enhance performance.

The Training Diary provides an area for recording these factors under “Regeneration.” Hydration status heads this section (H2O) and provides space for “IN” (or intake) and “OUT.” Intake can be recorded as an actual amount, or most usually as good or bad. Record a value you can use and understand. “Out” is simply the number of times of urination each day. A hydrated value for “out” is usually a bathroom visit five times or more each day.

A meal/nutrition log follows. Space for seven meals (or “feeding opportunities”) is included. What you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat will all affect performance and restoration. Tracking and modifying your nutritional habits to fit your needs, day-by-day and training phase-by-training phase, is key to complete restoration and your best performances. Space is provided to the right to notate what you feel you need to track. This could be as simple as good, great, or poor; or as detailed as listing some or all of protein (P), carbohydrate (C), fat (F), and/or calories for each meal or just at the end of the day. At the very least you should record your daily meals until you have a baseline for optimal regeneration to work from. General reference points for hard training and peaking are 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, 3-4 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight, and around 15% of total calories coming from fat intake. It is not so important that you hit these exact numbers (maybe not important at all), but that you understand the amounts/ratios that help to enhance your performance.

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Questions from Across the Pond

This note and the following questions are received from a coach just North-west of London, England.

“I coach on a voluntary basis and have a passion to ensure I give the very best to my swimmers and ensuring that they arrive at the championships in March in the best form they can. All help and guidance is gratefully received.”

Question #1. Variable Speed swimming Distances/ Efforts- Does that mean to use all energy systems ? And would any of the sets be at or near race pace? I have perviously planned my season using Counsilman and Maglishco reference books and am therefore familiar with EN1, En2, En3 and so on.

Answer #1. Variable speed focuses on the ability to change speeds at will, to never over train either the fast twitch or slow twitch muscles. Throughout the season you will see Race Pace added into sets, especially the months during taper. Changing the effort during sets increases work load and the aerobic capacity quicker than grinding out yardage. The mechanics of strokes have changed a lot as well as training methods. This as is evident by the amount of speed at the USA High School Level. Swimming is finally following the lead by track coaches to train athletes for a specific event. Training yards or short course meters is key to training speed and puts more emphasis on starts, turns and momentum. Take what you need from Counsilman and Maglishco as they have obviously helped swimming more than I can give them credit for in this newsletter. We all learn from the past just don’t get stuck in it.

Question #2. Legs – Yardage at 50%, does that mean, if say for example I had a total distance of 3000m for the session 1500m should be legs only? Also does the phrase mix it up, shown on Monday of week 1 apply to everyday with legs at 50%?

Answer #2. Do the best you can to have 50% of kicking a day during the first part of the season. It is hard to write in and motivate the swimmers to do this but they will taper better and have more speed for all events. As you know the legs muscles are big and require more training than coaches think. I’ll take less yardage and more kicking any day. Do the best you can to be creative and do lots of variable speed to increase the aerobic gains from kicking.

Question #3. Basic Format – Alternating upper body and lower body by Set. Would that mean one set pull, one set of legs?

Answer #3. Yes, or just a swim set alternating with a kick set. Swimmers don’t kick as much as they should and will focus on upper body work during a swim set, so I use a swim set for upper body and pulling is great also. Work in what is best for the talent you are training.

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Thoughts on Training

OK… No nonsense here – just some thoughts on training pertaining to what I’ve been reading lately and how I train my teams (swimming, track, and many others). No particular order, but the pieces do fit:

A. Training regularly, systematically, and progressively are keys to obtaining the desired goals of training (better competitive performances!!).

B. The real effectiveness of training depends to a large extent on the quality of distances covered (or movements performed) at high velocities.

C. Training intensity is directly proportional to your competitive results.

D. Double practices can benefit several fitness factors, and optimal recovery is required to reap these benefits.

E. Train as hard as possible, as often as possible, while staying as “fresh” as possible.

F. You must develop neuromuscular capacity to improve maximal speed; maximal speed being an important predictor of both sprint AND endurance performances.

G. Greater speed depends on greater force production, quicker force production, and improved stability and coordination. These attributes are not developed in a day or a week, but over the course of seasons and years.