BASIC ASSUMPTIONS UNDERLYING CONDITIONING EXERCISE PROGRAMS FOR AGE-GROUP ATHLETES
[Extracted from the article A SUGGESTED PROGRAM OF FOUNDATIONAL CONDITIONING EXERCISES FOR AGE-GROUP SWIMMERS authored by Brent S. Rushall and John Marsden, and published as an issue of the Swimming Science Bulletin in the Swimming Science Journal (1997).]
The design of this program is influenced by several principles of growth and development. It is believed that these principles should be adhered to because they are in the best interests of age-group swimmers. The design assumptions are listed below.
- Age-groupers are not miniature adults. Age-group swimmers are structurally and physiologically different to adults. Consequently, beneficial training activities are likely to be different to those employed for adults even though the aims of such activities might be similar.
- Age-group swimmers are better served by general programs of development than specialized programs. The question of whether age-groupers should specialize in particular sports at an early age has been asked for many years. The evidence now seems to support programming activities that develop overall capacities rather than specialized functions while young athletes grow. Consequently, even though a young athlete may be training for one sport, any auxiliary training should promote balanced overall growth stimulation. Some of that stimulation will be appropriate for the sport in question.
- Age-group swimmers are better served by auxiliary training activities that do not employ localized restrictive apparatus. If resistance training is to be done with children and young adolescents, exercises should involve submaximal loads, such as one's own body weight, light dumbbells, weighted bags and/or medicine balls. Sophisticated and restrictive weight exercises, particularly on machines, are note ideal for children. General whole-body activities are more important and beneficial for young swimmers than the exercises used for adult or mature athletes.
- Flexibility and strength/power development should be developed concurrently in age-group athletes. As young people mature, it is important to maintain a high degree of flexibility while increasing strength and power. Such an emphasis will maintain the athlete's capacity to employ improved capacities through the full range of movement potential.
- Auxiliary training should occur after the sport training session so that any fatigue will not interfere with the potential for skill development. All sports, and swimming in particular, require a high degree of skill for superior performance. The major emphasis of an age-group swimming program should be skill excellence. For skills to be developed, learning should occur in non-fatigued states. If exhaustive auxiliary training was to occur prior to a swimming practice, fatigue would reduce the learning potential of the swimming session. Thus, it is advisable to schedule auxiliary training sessions either after a swimming session or at some time that allows complete recovery from its execution so that no residual fatigue is carried into the swimming practice. If fatiguing auxiliary training occurs prior to a practice, it is advisable to have the following pool training session emphasize energy training rather than intense skill development.
When performing the routines contained in this booklet, coaches and swimmers should avoid stressing working each exercise and the programs to fatigue failure. The programs are designed to produce body coordination, functional strength, and explosiveness. Those capacities are compromised when an athlete works in high states of fatigue because the development of these qualities, like skills, are neurally based, not energy driven.
- Progress rates in strength and power will be particularly individual in age-group athletes. The development of physical capacities is governed by the stage of maturation of the individual. Since growth rates of children and young adolescents vary considerably, it is only appropriate to judge improvements within the athlete. It is inappropriate to compare athletes. Thus, no child should be made to feel that he/she has to improve as much as another when participating in auxiliary training activities.
- The types and amounts of auxiliary activity improvements will be governed by the stage of maturation of the individual. The developmental stages of growing children and adolescents dictate the physical capacities that can be improved. There are particular times when forms of activity are initiated so that they will coincide with the growth potential of each individual. This phenomenon further complicates social comparisons between athletes. When some individuals improve rapidly on some exercises, others may not be "ready" to progress in a similar manner because their "biological clocks" have not been turned on.
- It is better to do too little than too much auxiliary training. If a programming error was to be made it would be best to schedule few auxiliary training sessions than too many. It has been shown that when developed slowly strength, power, and flexibility achieve higher levels and are retained longer in periods of detraining than programs that attempt quick development. It may be beneficial to limit the number of auxiliary training sessions to two or three per week. Excessive auxiliary training may reduce participant motivation and may not facilitate improvement in an optimal manner.
- There is an optimal level of strength and power that is appropriate for swimming. Excessive capacities in these factors do not enhance swimming capabilities. Thus, training needs to develop capacities to a certain level. A preoccupation with auxiliary training would usually be to the detriment of the age-group athlete.
- Auxiliary training activities should either be explosive or static. The many hours of long distance swimming which is a necessary part of training has a tendency to stifle quick and powerful movements. Auxiliary training programs can be used to counteract this suppression. Activities should be either explosive and powerful, as in sprint swimming, or static, as in holding postures and stabilizing movement bases.
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