WHEN CEILING LEVELS OF FITNESS ARE REACHED IN SWIMMING
Rushall Thoughts (1993)
All physiological capacities have a limited level of development. Once maturational growth stops there is no possibility of improving VO2max or anaerobic capacity any further. In fact, the various physical capacities achieve their inherited limits at various times. For example, an athlete's ability to do endurance work is set in the early stages of the adolescent growth spurt. At the end of the adolescent growth spurt, anaerobic capacity is set.
When conditioning programs are experienced, the physical capacities are stimulated in various amounts. The type of conditioning will affect the level of each capacity that is achieved. Usually, in swimming it is of the greatest benefit to increase physical capacities to their maximum levels in a certain order.
Since the endurance capacity of an athlete cannot be improved once these ceiling levels are achieved, the only recourse for further performance improvement is to adapt these finite resources specifically to particular performances. In other words, the "tank" of aerobic energy is set. The coach and athlete together have to fine-tune aerobic energy use to fit the exact needs of particular events.
If the ability to tolerate lactic acid is stimulated fully in one form of activity, for example swimming at 1.8 m/sec in crawl stroke, it is incorrect to assume that it will be maximum when swimming at 1.8 m/sec in butterfly. Lactate tolerance training should only be performed at race-specific velocities for each of the competitive strokes and their events. It makes little sense to talk of a general capacity of lactate tolerance when the sport of swimming contains very specific events each with their own levels of demand for use of anaerobic energy.
It should be noted that in this hierarchy, anaerobic work is developed on an aerobic base.
When the physiology of the body is conditioned, the need to refine swimming performance in terms of the exact skill for a particular pace, how the energy capacities that exist are used in their correct proportions, and the familiarity of the athlete with the task to control the performance in the most efficient manner possible are what need to be achieved in the specific, pre-competition, and competition phases of training.
The point behind this explanation is that the physical conditioning of a swimmer is not an ongoing process. It only takes a relatively short period of time to become physically fit. The type of training that produces those changes is aptly named "change training." After a time physiological tests do not change even though performance continues to do so. That is because performance is influenced by many factors other than the heart, lactic acid, and various chemicals in the blood. In fact, in swimming, the influence of physical capacities is quite minor when compared to the importance of the technical skills of the sport.
When athletes are conditioned as much as they can be, further heavy training can only cause the athlete to overtrain (excessive fatigue from specific training) or to be maladapted (excessive fatigue from training that is not specific/beneficial to performance). Coaches who continue to stress heavy training virtually all year really are doing their athletes a disservice. Once ceiling levels of physiological capacities are achieved, (commonly termed the attainment of the "athletic state"), the only option for sane coaching is to produce specific refinements for particular events. During that altered training emphasis, the physiological conditioning of the athlete involves "maintenance training" which has very different requirements and parameters to change training.
It is important to develop the athletic state early (by the time the specific training phase commences is recommended) so that all technique refinements will occur with 100% of energy resources available. The possibility of developing the nuances of "feel" for the water is quite high in that case. If technical refinements were to occur while the physiology was changing then the athlete would be cast into the dubious situation of constantly feeling different. Feel for the water is not developed under those circumstances. What is more likely to occur is that the swimmer will become desensitized to any particular feelings for minor but extremely important technique factors. That will likely be a limiting factor of how far that swimmer would go in the sport.
There is a common fear expressed by coaches that one brief respite from hard training will cause conditioning/fitness to be lost. It is now known that such a fear is unfounded. To the contrary, brief respites from swimming training are often beneficial to athletes, particularly if they have any degree of accumulated fatigue.
The following are guidelines that should influence the programming of training stimuli.
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