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Training Load (TL) & Swimming Performance RPE -Session

By Zied Abbes


Analyzing internal and external TL has become a critical issue in elite sport practice and research. In this regard, monitoring the athletes internal TL is essential for understanding whether athletes are positively adapting to their training program.

Preparation for competing usually involves varying the TL at various times during the season to have the swimmer peak at the desired moment.

Theoretical framework of the training process (1)

TL = Volume swum + Intensity of effort + Frequency of workout + Dry-land training (2)

The volume of training undertaken by elite swimmers ranges usually from around 10-12 km.d-1 during light-load periods up to 15-20 km.d-1 during high-load phases over either two or three sessions per day (3, 4).

Training intensity has been measured in several ways; including heart rate, oxygen uptake,

swim pace, percent effort, and blood lactate concentration.

Training frequency can be quantified either by the number of training sessions or the number of half days of rest.


The improvements in strength and endurance are proportional to the volume of work performed during training (5).

The French Swimming Academy recommends an increase in volume only as the swimmer matures, but beyond such an age there is a ‘ceiling effect’ when other factors (primarily intensity) become more the focus to provide the training stimulus (Table 1).

Recommended daily and weekly training according to age group swimmers

According to several studies , the authors suggest that in highly trained swimmers, increased volume ultimately loses its capacity to stimulate adaptation beyond some critical training threshold, while training intensity becomes the key parameter to produce a further positive response (3, 6, 7, 8).

After several weeks or months of high-volume training, a short period of gradually reduced TL of around two to four weeks (taper) results in vastly improved performances (Taper).(4, 9, 10)

The ‘art’ of coaching is to manipulate this load to suit the individual needs of the swimmer and in time for peak performance to occur at the desired moment at the end of the taper(11) .

Tapering periods from four to 28 days may be linear or by steps (10, 12).

Such questionnaires have been demonstrated to relate to variations of training and performance (13, 14).

A number of different methods have been utilized to monitor individual responses to TLs. These methods have included various enzyme markers, monitoring immune status, endocrine assays, and heart rate variability (14, 15, 16) . None of these markers though seem to temporally track training status and performance as accurately as the swimmers’ psychological response.


External TL is defined as the work completed by an athlete (i.e., distance swum) and is measured independently of their internal characteristics (i.e., their physiology). However, it is the relative physiological stress imposed on the athlete (internal TL) and not the external TL completed by the athlete that determines the stimulus for training adaptation(17).

The session-RPE method is a simple system for monitoring internal TL in athletes.

This system requires athletes to:

1. Subjectively rate the intensity of the entire training session according to the category ratio scale (CR 10-scale) of Borg et al.(18) (Table 1)

2. After each training bout, the athlete is asked a simple question, such as “How hard was your workout?”

3. This intensity value is then multiplied by the total duration (minutes) of the training session to create a single measure of internal TL in arbitrary units.

Example of RPE calculation(19):

To achieve successful swimming performances, athletes must complete periods of intense physical training interspersed with appropriate recovery periods. Typically, a swimming program involves a combination of interval training, steady-state training, and dry-land training.


To obtain optimal performance in competitive swimming, athletes must undertake periods of heavy training loads interspersed with appropriate recovery periods. Unfortunately, until now, swim coaches have not been able to accurately measure the internal TL undertaken by their swimmers. The session-RPE training monitoring system may be a useful tool for swimming coaches to monitor internal TL in athletes. This method can be used to provide coaches and athletes with instant feedback regarding the internal training stress imposed on an athlete from each exercise bout. This information can then be used to improve periodization strategies, improve session execution and ultimately improve swimming performance(19).


1. Impellizzeri, FM, MS, Coutts AJ. Internal and External Training Load: 15 Years On. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2019;14(270-273.

2. Mujika, I, Chatard, J. C., Busso, T., Geyssant, A., Barale, F. & Lacoste, L. Effects of training on performance in competitive swimming. Canadian Journal of Applied Sport Sciences. 1995;20(395-406.

3. Costill, Kovaleski J, Porter D, J, K, King, FR. Energy expenditure during front crawl swimming: predicting success in middle-distance events. 1985;0172-4622 (Print)): 1985 Oct

4. Maglischo, E. Swimming faster. Mayfield Publishing Company, Palo Alto,

California,. 1982;1-472

5. Costill, DL, Thomas, R., Robergs, R. A., Pascoe, D., Lambert, C., Barr, S. & Fink, W.J. . Adaptations to swimming training: influence of training volume. . Medicine

and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1991;23(371-377.

6. Costill, DL, Flynn, MG, Kirwan, J. P., Houmard, J. A., Mitchell, J. B., Thomas, &, R. Park, SH. Effects of repeated days of intensified training on muscle glycogen and swimming performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,. 1988;20(249-254.

7. Costill, DL. Practical problems in exercise physiology research. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 1985;56(378-384.

8. Kirwan, JP, Costill, DL, Flynn, M. G., Mitchell, J. B., Fink, W. J., Neufer, P. D. &, Houmard, JA. Physiological responses to successive days of intense training in competitive swimmers. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1988;20(255-259.

9. Houmard, JA, Johns Ra Fau - Smith, LL, Smith Ll Fau - Wells, JM, Wells Jm Fau - Kobe, RW, Kobe Rw Fau - McGoogan, SA, McGoogan, SA. The effect of warm-up on responses to intense exercise. 1991;0172-4622 (Print)): 1991 Oct

10. Mujika, I. The influence of training characteristics and tapering on the

adaptation in highly trained individuals: a review. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 1988;19

12. Houmard, JA, & Johns, RA. Effects of taper on swim performance. Practical implications. Sports Medicine. 1994;17(224-232.

13. Chatard, JC, Atlaoui D., P, V., Gourne, C., Duclos, M., & Guezennec Y-C. Training follow up by questionnaire fatigue, hormones and heart rate variability measurements. Science et Sports,. 2003;18(302-304.

14. Hooper, SL, & Traeger-MacKinnon, L. Monitoring overtraining in athletes: recommendations. Sports Medicine,. 1995;20(321-327.

15. Pyne, DB, McDonald, WA, Gleeson, M., Flanagan, A., Clancy, R. L., & Fricker, P., A., adH. Mucosal immunity, respiratory illness, and competitive performance in elite swimmers. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2000;33( 348-353.

17. Viru, A, M., aV. Nature of training effects. Philadelphia:: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

18. Borg, G. Borg's perceived exertion and pain scales.

19. Wallace, Lee; Coutts, APB, Jon; Simpson, Narelle; Slattery, Katie. Using Session-RPE to Monitor Training Load in Swimmers. Strength and Conditioning Journal: . 2008;30(6): 72-76.


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