The actual contributions of the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems to various racing distances were determined. Until now, the ratios of importance had been estimated. The actual percentage ratios of aerobic to anaerobic energy contributions are included in the following table:

         Distance (m)             Aerobic %            Anaerobic %
             25                      22                    78
             50                      31                    69
            100                      45                    55
            200                      61                    39
            400                      81                    19
            800                      87                    13
           1500                      91                    09

These values explain why some swimmers are good at several events while others are very specialized. For example, between a 50 and 100 m event, there is a 50% increase in the aerobic demand. However, between 800 and 1500 m distances, there is only a 5% increase. Thus, the energy demands of 400, 800, and 1500 m events are more related than the demands of the 50 and 100 m events. This explains why distance swimmers are "good" at most distance events, but sprinters are very specialized.

All events have a much larger aerobic component than previously theorized. This indicates that a solid aerobic development and maintenance is essential for all swimmers. Sprint swimming should be developed on an aerobic base. However, it also indicates that anaerobic training is also necessary (affecting as much as 10% of a 1500 m performance). Attention to categories of training is important, the emphasis on each being governed by the targeted racing distance.

The major impact of this study is that the percentage of energy system contribution for races is now known. It should be possible to develop exact training stimuli that use those percentages. This is important because the most beneficial training will only occur when the exact energy contributions of an intended race are trained. During training, the body will experience exactly what will occur in races. This produces an elevated level of transfer of training effects to racing performances.

Lactate measures were taken and were shown to be a very poor indicator of anaerobic capacity. Lactates were found to be maximal at 200 m. For the 50 and 100 m distances there was insufficient time for the anaerobic capacity to be used fully. Because of that, the majority of training that is done for 50 and 100 m events should be done as fast as possible (AN-2 training category).

For 200 m, a major emphasis should be placed on peak lactate training (AN-1), while for all other events AN-1 and EN-2 categories appear to be most important. The emphasis on these training categories should occur in the latter half of the specific preparatory phase and for the full pre-competition phase.

The more talented and better performers were found to have greater capacities in each energy system. Sprinters were better anaerobically and distance swimmers better aerobically. However, having these attributes does not guarantee swimming success. Propelling efficiency still requires the greatest coaching emphasis, but having very good energy capacities is a significant added strength.

A field test of anaerobic capacity. A digital readout swim bench is used to perform a 45 sec double-arm pull maximum effort.

  1. The total work value provides an indication of anaerobic capacity. The higher the value, the better the anaerobic work capacity.
  2. The work fall-off from the 5-10 sec interval to the 40-45 sec interval indicates the athlete's endurance capacity The less the fall-off, the better the endurance capacity.

This test can be used to analyze and rank swimmers in a squad. However, it does not provide complete answers about energy capacities and should only be used for important decision making in concert with other valid and reliable measures.

Implications. The descriptions provided in this study make it possible to do further research to support important coaching actions. Some of those studies are reported later in this Bulletin.

  1. Both energy capacities need to be developed fully before embarking on exact specific training in the latter phases of training.
  2. A solid aerobic base needs to be established before undertaking any anaerobic training.
  3. The aerobic energy requirement is greater than previously thought for all distances.
  4. Power is a particularly important characteristic to be developed in 50 and 100 m training.
  5. Lactate tolerance training is most important for 200 and 400 m events.
  6. Swimmers with larger anaerobic and/or aerobic capacities have the potential to achieve higher performance levels than individuals with lesser capacities.

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