An analysis of energy use for various swimming events was conducted.

The concept of "swimming economy" was formed. It describes the energy demands of swimming for a range of speeds. The relationship is linear, that is, as speed increases, so does the energy requirement. Categories of work were established depending upon the characteristics of energy demands for swimming speeds.

  1. A1 - Warm-up and recovery. The speed used for warm-up and recovery swims.

  2. A2 - Base training. The training intensity used to adapt aerobically without incurring excessive fatigue.

  3. EN-1 - Anaerobic threshold. The fastest speed in this category is that which produces and removes lactic acid at an equal rate. [It corresponds to lactic acid accumulation of 3.5 mM for males and 3.0 mM for females.] This is the minimum pace for swimming speed improvement when the activity is totally aerobic.

  4. EN-2 - VO2max. This is the pace at which maximum endurance capacity can be stimulated. Endurance will not be fully developed unless this intensity is experienced and despite the formation of lactic acid.

    When swimming at these two intensities, the length of rest intervals should be less than 30 sec.

  5. AN-1 - Lactate Peak. This corresponds to swimming at paces for 200 and 400 m races. In essence, this is controlled speed work over repetition distances of 200 m or less.

  6. AN-2 - Power. This is the fastest swimming that is performed in training. It requires all out efforts over distances of 100 m or less.

    These two anaerobic intensities involve repetition work where the rest intervals are greater than one minute.

Training for physiological improvements does not necessarily mean that training will be specific for particular events. The two endurance intensities should be the major focus of basic preparatory training. The two anaerobic intensities should be the major focus of the first half of specific preparatory training and then continued as maintenance training in the second half. The latter part of the specific preparatory and the full pre-competition phases should focus on energy- and pace-specific work.

The ability to use oxygen, rather than absolute aerobic capacity, is the single most important physiological capacity that describes a swimmer's ability level. When that is limited, the best option for performance improvement is to increase the propelling efficiency of stroke mechanics.

The role of exercises and swimming equipment needs to be reconsidered. Kicking requires more energy at a given speed than when free swimming. Training on a kick board will associate the wrong energy systems and demands with the kick. [Not only do the energy demands differ, but the skilled action is also different. One has to question the value of doing kicking with a board at any time in the specific preparatory phase of training.] Pulling with a pull buoy requires less energy at a particular pace than when free swimming. It is no wonder that swimmers always opt to use pull buoys [and paddles] rather than swim unaided; it is easier. The wisdom of using assistance equipment has to be questioned. As with kicking, the energy systems [and mechanics] employed are different to those used in free swimming. Kicking and pulling do not contribute to increased performance once specific preparatory phase training is initiated.

The energy costs of short- and long-course swimming are different. Short-course training is easier than long-course work by about 15%. To compensate for this difference, the distance of each repetition in short-course training should be increased by at least 15% for its intended long-course equivalent. For example, when training for 200 m long-course races, short-course repetitions should be 250 m.

A significant comment was made about the value of lactate testing during training: While lactate testing is a good indicator of how the muscles respond to a workload, it is not a good test for prescribing a training pace specific to a category of work. This is because the rate of lactate removal from the muscles varies from athlete to athlete, and does not depend on a training intensity or even the group level of the athlete. Further, one standard lactate value cannot be used to describe one work category . . . lactate values must be used with caution . . . lactate testing should be limited to simply describing how the muscles adapt to different workloads and whether an overall training adaptation is taking place. (p. 10)

Implications. This study contains important information for designing conditioning programs. However, its implications must be tempered because of the individual variation that exists within a swimming squad. For example, when heart rates are used as the index for training intensity, training effects will vary. Research in England has shown that for each squad member to experience the same training effect, approximately one third of the squad will have to perform with "lower" heart rates, one third will perform with "normal" heart rates, and the remaining third will need to produce higher heart rates.

  1. The best training paces will be those that are appropriate for the individual. It is unacceptable to set one speed for the whole squad.

  2. Swimmers have to be tested and then made aware of the appropriate paces to be achieved in all categories of training work. When that is accomplished, training effects are more likely to be achieved.

  3. Training in short-course pools for long-course events requires marked changes in training distances and performance paces. In the world of elite swimming, short- and long-course swimming are essentially two sports, their demands and training experiences being markedly different. To adjust short-course training for long-course competitions, training distances have to be increased by at least 15% (use the most convenient distance approximation), and speed increased by 7-9%.

  4. Lactate testing is only useful for comparing responses to a known task. For example, if a repeated distance is completed at a lower lactate level, a better performance has occurred. How it is better will not be known. That must be determined from other measures and performance analyses.

  5. Records of swimming sets and performances must be kept for analysis purposes. When that is done, it will be possible to relate improvements and declines to particular training experiences.

  6. Categorizing workloads will facilitate better training plans. The common approach of too much of one form of training for too long restricts performance characteristics. The following table indicates the sequence of desirable training stages for endurance development with this writer's suggestions for categories and percentage of workload allocations.
Training Phase     Physiological Change     Training Category Percentages
Transition         Endurance maintenance    A1-25%; A2-50%; EN-1-25%

Basic preparatory  Elevation of AT          A1-10%; A2-40%; EN-1-40%;

Late basic & first Elevation of VO2max      A1-5%; A2-25%; EN-1-30%; 
half specific                               EN-2-30%; AN-1-10%

Last half specific Develop peak lactate,    A2-10%; EN-1-20%; EN-2-25%; 
preparatory and    maintain endurance,      AN-1-25%; AN-2-20%
pre-competition    develop pace

Competition        Accurate specific        A2-10%; EN-1-20%; EN-2-20%; 
                   effects for targeted     AN-1-25%; AN-2-25%

Return to Table of Contents for ICAR 1989-90 Report.