Starting a season off appropriately, with long-term success in mind, requires the understanding and application of some basic principles. Many coaches want to jump right in and get to specific and intense training – and I think a better approach is to build into these variables. Following a principle-based system allows for success throughout the season, and helps avoid staleness and injuries.
General to Specific
For both swimming and dryland (strength and conditioning) a general to specific approach is best. Introducing and then training general concepts allows athletes to get a handle on the basics of whatever you are trying to teach, and helps the athlete build toward more specific adaptations.
For example, with swimming we generally work on lactate tolerance by introducing short Tabata intervals early in the season (ex. 8 x 25 free on :25, all out efforts, 1 to 2 sets), and build to more specific lactate work as the season progresses (ex. 1 x 200 @ 85% speed on 3:00 into 1 x 75 @ 100% effort on 3:00 into 8 x 50 @ 200 race pace on 1:00, choice of stroke). We generally prepare them for lactate work with short, easily manageable sets that are generally challenging, and progress to more specific lactate tolerance work at specific distances and paces. Generally working on lactate tolerance at the start of the season allows our athletes the ability to adapt and excel at specific lactate tolerance at the end of the season.
Volume and Intensity
Again, for both swimming and dryland (strength and conditioning) we move along a continuum of total work expressed in volume and intensity. Simplified, we move up in volume to start the season, then move up in intensity while basically maintaining volume through mid-season, and then move down in volume and still increase intensity (with more rest) for our peaking phase. Volume and Intensity must be accounted for in order to plan your season and have your athletes hit their peak when you want them to!
For example, with dryland (strength and conditioning) we generally include multiple short sets of moderate intensity (ex. 10 x 10 push-ups). Again – simplified, we would move to a higher volume (ex. 4x (5 x 15) push-ups), and then to higher intensity (ex. 4x (5 x 10) push-ups with 1st 5 reps of each set clap push-ups), and then to lower volume and yet higher intensity (ex. 4x (3 x 8) all clap push-ups). The move from moderate volume, a build in intensity, and then lowered volume with higher intensity allows the building of a foundation (or base) and from that position we increase intensity safely and effectively.
Intensity is our specific goal, as it relates directly to our desired outcome of effectiveness – performance (swim times, lifting max, and conditioning standards) AND we get there by following the above principles… General to Specific methods with planned Volume and Intensity training variables. Swim readiness begins with basic training principles, and followed to their conclusion results in our specific, highest intensity goal – Faster Swimming!