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Training for one event

Mechanics vs. Yardage
Yardage, yardage, yardage is the old school of thought in this sport and is still used by some successful teams around the country. The true test would be to study the longevity of the swimmers who over train as a training philosophy and see if they continue to swim in college and improve as well as reports on injuries incurred. Overtraining results in bad mechanics, which leads to injuries and results in less recovery swimming, which breaks down the athlete and trains all muscle groups to work as slow-twitch muscles. Each person has a different level of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles which makes certain swimmers better at sprints and others mid-to-distance events. One type of training will not maximize each swimmer’s potential and this is up to the coach and swimmer to determine. Quality over quantity training with the right mix of recovery and dryland workouts can maximize a swimmer’s potential. Training with proper stroke mechanics is harder to do and the benefits are twofold.

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A Problem with College Swimming

I would like to discuss observations I have seen over the years as my High School swimmers attend and swim for Universities across the country. There are a lot of variables that affect performance for athletes as they move away from home and adjust to College life but there is no way that a majority of the athletes should get weaker and slower.

How can this happen?

First, I feel that most College coaches don’t care or inquire how an athlete trained previously or how they achieved their results. What makes that athlete tick physically and mentally? Wouldn’t you want to know what works – and shouldn’t they? Wouldn’t this save time getting to know the athlete? This seems like common sense to me. Are the egos of the collegiate coaches so large that they think they know it all? Does every College coach win their Conference?

Secondly, I feel that most College coaches don’t understand weight training and total body strength. You are training an athlete, not just a swimmer, and there isn’t a difference. Strength is strength and you need it to enable speed and power in the water. Strength training reduces injury and is essential. All of my swimmers have returned by their first college break weaker and by the end of their first college year have regressed many years in strength gains.

Third point, I feel that many collegiate coaches think that yardage is the main training formula. If you train your athlete at slow speeds for long periods of time you are training them to swim slowly. Training speed equals performance speed. This is one of the main training philosophies of Faster Swimming.

On a side note: A lot of talented athletes go by the wayside since most college coaches won’t take the time to figure out how best to train individual swimmers. There are many that still believe one formula works for all. Collegiate coaches are mandated to win and if they just take the time to understand each swimmer in their program they would succeed. This leads me to my next topic to discuss in a future newsletter. The recruiting of foreign swimmers that take scholarships from our American swimmers – especially boys – so the team can win. This shouldn’t be allowed! I know that the foreign swimmers are older, hence more mature, and this makes it easier for coaches.

All of these programs have a significant increase in yardage and loss of strength for all swimmers. There is a common theme of feedback from the swimmers about the collegiate programs and that is “mechanics aren’t important”. It is obvious when they return to train in the summer.

Here are the results of just a few of our past club swimmers and where they are swimming. (See attachment for results) University of Cincinnati, Louisville, Akron, Notre Dame College, Kenyon, Maryland, Duke, Princeton, Columbia, University of Notre Dame, Illinois Tech, Boston College, Findlay, Missouri, Kentucky just to name the most recent.

And a side note from Coach Coffman:

I don’t want to rant… well, maybe I do, but I’ll try not to – but the fact that many of these athletes returning from college have no indicators as to how strong they are is ludicrous to me. The main factor for strength training is maximal strength (1 rep max – or for the faint of heart, a 3 rep max). Maximal strength has a direct correlation to every other type of strength. Improving maximal strength leads to the ability to produce more force PERIOD – whether that force is low velocity or high velocity and whether that force is short duration or long duration. Maximal strength is also correlated best with improved durability (e.g. less repetitive injuries!). I feel it is lazy thinking (or no thinking?) that leads many to believe that they can create a better overall athlete while allowing for less maximal strength (which then leads DIRECTLY to a lessened ability to produce – and then apply – force…!!!). As far as dryland training goes, strength, conditioning, and speed are the top factors in faster swimming. Successful programming should be set up so that all 3 qualities improve over the course of the year and season. The fact that most of our former HS athletes come back from college far weaker (and many times actually devote more time to dryland at college…!) is sad, and I think an indication of poor programming. 

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Part 1: Performance is directly related to the ability of the body to use its energy systems.

Have you thought about in-performance recovery while planning your workout? This is extremely important to incorporate by emphasizing race pace work, proper rest intervals and mechanics especially the recovery phase of each stroke. Recovery occurs very rapidly within the time frame of the recovery part of a freestyle stroke or with a :05-:10 second rest interval during a set. The training must be high quality simulating the intensity needed in a race. You must train your body mentally and physically to adapt to the demands you intend to ask. Training an old-fashioned lactate set of 6 x 100 from the block all out will not help your swimmer prepare for the quality of work (demands on energy systems) needed for a 100 sprint in a meet. “Maximal lactate capacities are not taxed in swimming races and so need not to be trained with many lactate sets for maximal lactate tolerance capabilities. The stimulation of the alactacid energy system with more appropriate and beneficial race pace training is likely to be more than enough and would not demand overload training”. How does this affect yardage?  How much yardage is enough?  How long is a good practice?  I think we might need to really rethink these questions.

I encourage all, as I am doing, to really research and understand energy systems and apply it to your daily training. “The within stroke recovery phenomenon is another contributing factor that facilitates continuous high level efforts in a localized body area throughout a swimming race”.  Understanding the recovery phase of each stroke is extremely important to teach. Each swimmer must understand this concept. A lot of swimmers work the recovery phase of the stroke too hard which will not help in-performance recovery.  Teaching proper mechanics of underwater efficiency and workload are essential.

Your training program must include a lot of high quality work with shorter rest intervals of recovery. The higher quality and shorter interval format mimics races thus preparing your body to handle the demand required on the energy systems. The energy requirements of a single race are vastly different than the requirements of an extended practice session.  The alactacid system is the main source of energy needed for individual races. Maximal work and recovery are quick and understanding how this works will help each of us plan practices better.

If you expect swimmers to swim certain distances underwater in races then this must be trained at the same intensity needed in a meet. All underwater and surface requirements must be incorporated into all practices. Your athlete’s bodies must train all race specific requirements so that all energy delivery differences become fully trained and suitable for races. If you haven’t trained mentally and physically then you can’t expect it when needed.

Resting is not the largest part of tapering but creating the demand needed from the energy systems to recover during performances.  Race demand qualities during practices and especially during taper have to be maintained. I hope this article has spurred your desire to do your own research and rethink the planning of your practices. Race Pace and recovery are integral parts of the Faster Swimming 23 and 14 week programs. The taper process is a 7 week program creating the demand needed on your body’s energy systems to create the desired results during champs!


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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INTRO: Proving Traditional Practice Techniques with Science Know What You’re Doing and Why. An Ongoing Discussion

There is a lot to consider when planning workouts for your swimmers and we are going to address many of the issues listed in this newsletter in the weeks to follow. Pool space, practice time constraints and length of the training season make it very difficult to incorporate all the following aspects that are needed to add to your daily, weekly and seasonal plan. It will call on all of us to rethink how we coach each of our swimmers.

What is the appropriate yardage amount needed daily and during each phase of a season?

Why are coaches so worried about yardage numbers?

Why do coaches feel there is one formula for success for the whole team?

How do you know when you have reached enough yardage/work for each swimmer to succeed?

Are there really aerobic and anaerobic phases of swimming?

Do we train fast twitch and slow twitch muscles differently during the season or do they work and recover together all the time?

Do we train males and females differently?

How important is recovery in swimming and what exactly does that entail?

Is recovery time different for each stroke, upper body and lower body swimming?

Does recovery happen all the time and how important is recovery?

When is it time to stop training your swimmers each day?

How does dryland and weight training affect the demands of swimming and how do you incorporate this into your training?

Do we totally understand all the energy systems used during each set, repeat or practice?

Is the energy system functioning sport specific?

What percentage of kicking is needed during each practice and each part of the season?

We all understand that hard work equals success but it is time to be more specific. Training has to be Race Pace specific and must simulate the exact demands physically and mentally as in competition. Recovery must happen all the time during practices and we need to understand it better and express this to our swimmers. The amount of recovery and kicking during practices will lower yardage and a reason why a lot of coaches don’t spend time incorporating these important parts of training.

What does taper mean to you? Why is resting a swimmer scary? If we understand the science behind it then our minds should be at ease. A lot of coaches treat taper as a short part at the end of a long season of hard work. Developing strength, speed and power should be developed all season long and emphasized during taper. What really happens during a taper or should we approach tapering differently?We understand the basic concepts of work and recovery equals growth in speed and power but do we really understand the exact science behind it?

All the above mentioned issues are physical so what are the mental factors in training? It is a lot more than just pumping up your swimmers and motivating emotionally. There are a lot of physiological and neuromuscular patterns to consider. We all understand muscle memory so how about the mental aspect of repeats and how it works in regards to workload and recovery demands.

It is time to step up our reasons and understanding why we incorporate sets in our training. We need to really understand workload needed for specific race pace work, the interval or send offs needed to maintain work, recovery needed for repeats within a set and between sets, etc..

These are the topics we’ll tackle of the next several months. I encourage all of you to participate in this process each week with feedback and experience. I do know that I will learn more about our great sport.

Thanks for your interest in