A BETTER PROGRAMMING STRUCTURE FOR SWIMMING TRAINING
Termin, B., & Pendergast, D. R. (2000). Training using the stroke frequency -- velocity relationship to combine biomechanical and metabolic paradigms. Journal of Swimming Research, 14, 9-17.
[Editor's note: Normally, a study that does not contain a control group would not be abstracted and published. However, when population norms exist, and an evaluation of a population subset is performed, results can be compared to those norms. This is one such study. The performance improvements of a group of mature swimmers are compared to the accepted norm of 1% per year.]
This investigation evaluated the performance improvements in 100- and 200-yard freestyle swims of male swimmers (N = 21) over a four-year college career. Ss entered this program after experiencing conventional, excessive-distance programs. The alternative college program of training was structured according to known and verified principles of training. That program contrasted dramatically with conventional swim training that focuses on vast amounts of over-distance training, often in combination with dry-land strength training, and a season ending taper to recover from prolonged overtrained states to reflect some level of performance improvements.
The University of Buffalo program embraced four phases.
- Phase 1 or Biomechanical Phase. Low speed swimming was performed so that a swimmer could concentrate on trying new biomechanical patterns without metabolic stress. Distance per stroke was emphasized while stroke frequency was controlled. As performance improved, velocity was increased. This phase lasted 2-3 weeks.
- Phase II or Aerobic Metabolic Phase. Training was designed to improve maximal aerobic power and lactate clearance. It involved sustained 10-min swims at 115-129% of VO2max, followed by a 10-min recovery swim at 60% VO2max. This cycle was repeated three times for one-hour's work. This phase lasted 6-7 weeks.
- Phase III or Anaerobic Metabolic Phase. Training was designed to increase stroke frequency at maximal velocity, maintain or improve VO2max, and provide training stimuli for anaerobic adaptation. This phase lasted 15-16 weeks. Swimmers progressively increased stroke frequencies and velocities. Training resembled ultra-short work, comprising one hour of cycles of 16 x 25-yd with 15-sec rest intervals, followed by 1.5 minutes of rest between each cycle. When performance was maintained for one hour, inter-cycle rest intervals were reduced to 10 seconds. The next advancement was to increase distance to 16 x 50-yd with 30-sec rest intervals. Inter-cycle rest intervals were reduced to 20 seconds when swimmers consistently completed the one-hour task. This phase increased stroke rate, swimming velocity, and the amount of high-intensity work performed.
- Phase IV. This was introduced three weeks before the final meet and maintained until three days before the competition. It involved maintaining the same work intensities exhibited in Phase III, but with a reduction in work volume. Content was mostly 16 x 25 yd with 10-sec rest for half an hour.
Incorporating these phases into weekly work consisted of two days of phase-specific work followed by two days of recovery work. Recovery consisted of low-velocity short-distance warm-up swims, short high-velocity swims (~15 seconds, 2-3 minutes of rest), and an emphasis on biomechanics and the skills of turns and starts. These cycles ensued swimmers could always perform high quality work and avoided overreaching (the accrual of excessive fatigue). No strength training was performed.
- Over the four years, stroke frequencies (8%) and swimming velocities (26% - 16% through stroke distance and 8% frequency) improved.
- The metabolic cost of swimming at low velocity (1.2 m/s) improved by 30%, and at 1.6 m/s improved by 56%.
- VO2max improved annually by 20%, 9%, 8%, and 5% each successive year. That represented a 48% total increase for the four years.
- Aerobic sustained speed improved 31% and maximal speed increased 27%.
- Peak lactate values increased (27%) in the first year but did not change in the three subsequent years.
- 100-yd performances improved 2%, 4%, 2%, and 2% (10% total) over the four years.
- 200-yd performances improved 1.9%, 3.1%, 2%, and 1.3% (8.3% total) over the four years.
- Improvements in longer distance freestyle events and form strokes were less than for freestyle but more than the normative value of 4% over four years.
Implications. A training program that emphasized increasing stroke frequency and swimming velocity, while providing adequate rest to avoid recurring accumulated fatigue, produced swimmer improvements markedly above accepted normative rates. The value of balancing progressively higher-quality work with adequate recovery for training effects to occur was clearly demonstrated.
The conventional model for swimming (over)training, one that violates most known principles of physical training, should be questioned. Perhaps swimming is a sport where all participants and coaches adopt a form of training that limits improvement potential because of a cultish approach to the sport. Clearly, a change is in order.
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