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Swimming Training Myths & Methods: Part 2

In the last part of our training series, we discussed more the basics of training physiology. In this Part; we will focus more on deep concepts that can help coaches raise their swimmers to the next level.

Few people understand the nature of energy provision that happens in a swimming race. As the activity is initiated, the greater amount of energy comes from stored oxygen and the alactacid system. the lactate is increasingly produced until oxygen consumption also increases to a level where lactate production and removal are balanced. Either way, Lactate Acid is produced in both active and inactive muscles. After some specific timing, related to the race event and individual level of training, the aerobic system becomes fully functional.

1. low-volume, high-intensity training (HIT)

A recently published systematic review by Nugent et al. (2016) investigated the effects of low-volume, high-intensity training (HIT), otherwise known as quality training, on performance in competitive swimmers from youth to masters level.

HIT is defined as repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise from maximal lactate steady state to supramaximal exercise intensity, interspersed with recovery periods of low intensities or complete rest (Hawley et al., 1997).

In the swimming community, the recent success of competitive swimmers who train using a derivative of the HIT called Ultra-Short Race-Pace Training (USRPT) has further fuelled this debate (Beliaev, 2015; Goldsmith, 2016; Stott, 2014). USRPT is defined as high-intensity swimming in sets that match the best-achieved velocities of individuals’ races and consists of a high number of repetitions over short distances with brief rests, generally no longer than 20 seconds (Rushall, 2011).

Competitive swimmers who advocate USRPT have been reported to average around 9 – 11 km per week (Stott, 2014). This is in stark contrast to the more traditional 38 – 44 km per week for youth swimmers reported by Hibberd and Myers (2013) and the 54 ± 19 km per week reported for elite swimmers (Pyne et al., 2001)

Many of the coaches suggested that quality programmes were more appropriate for senior swimmers. The USA swim coach, “David Salo” was regularly quoted as one of the influencing factors behind this belief pattern. David Salo is one of the most widely known and successful proponents of a quality based training programme (Salo and Riewald, 2008). This coach highlighted the benefits of a quality training programme for distance swimmers:

"Over the years I’ve known coaches that have believed mileage, mileage, mileage makes swimmers better. I don’t believe in that because mileage will make you fitter, but it won’t make you faster” Dave Salo

2. Youth swimming performance

In the other hand, it has been found that Youth swimming performance is not entirely determined by physiological variables, but more multifactorial in nature involving a complex interplay of kinematics, efficiency, and hydrodynamics (Morais et al., 2016; Morais et al., 2015). Therefore future HIT interventions should aim to account for some of these variables.

Nearly all of the coaches emphasized the importance of quantity training in building an aerobic base for youth swimmers. The process of building an aerobic base was described as “laying the foundations”, “building the engine” and “building the pyramid layer by layer”

Many coaches consistently suggest that building an aerobic base was necessary in order to lay the foundations for success as an international swimmer. They believe this was necessary for all types of youth swimmers regardless of their natural tendency towards sprint or distance events.

The main concern expressed by the swimming coaches was that the long-term athlete development (LTAD) model had an overemphasis on training volume leading to the neglect of technique

3. Break Point Volume (Age-Group Swimmers)

It is a theory proposed by Bill Sweetenham, coach of multiple Olympic medallists in swimming and is defined as an optimal training volume performed at an optimal skill level that is achieved through a maximum number of training sessions at controlled intensities, which are predominantly aerobic, during maturation (Sweetenham, 2006). The theory outlines that swimming training programmes should build slowly and steadily towards a specific training volume that is achieved between 13 and 15 years of age (Sweetenham, 2006). The recommendations for achieving this specific training volume are 2000 to 2500 km of swimming spread over 42 to 46 weeks of the year and includes about 400 training sessions (Sweetenham, 2006)

In a Study by Frank J et al.2017 suggested that coaches felt quality training programs would lead to short-term results for youth swimmers, but were in many cases more appropriate for senior swimmers. The coaches suggested that quantity training programmes built an aerobic base for youth swimmers, promoted technical development through a focus on slower swimming and helped to enhance recovery from training or competition.

To conclude this part of training Methods articles, the debate over low-volume, high-intensity training versus high-volume, low-intensity training, commonly known as Quality versus Quantity, respectively, is a frequent topic of discussion among swimming coaches and academics. Controlled studies are needed using outcome measures of physiological, biomechanical and swimming performance to understand more this swimming trend and would help to provide a context and valuable information on this topic from an applied perspective.


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