The training responses of world-class and national qualifier swimmers were compared.

The major emphasis of the study was to look at overtraining and maladaptation states. Overtraining results from heavy workloads that cause damage to the body and its systems which cannot be repaired in time for peak performance. Maladaptation is the response to workloads of a nonspecific nature which, in turn, do not promote improvement in targeted events.

Workouts averaged 15,000 m per day, each group performing the same absolute work (i.e., distance and repeat times). This resulted in the qualifier group working at greater volumes of higher intensity work. The study lasted 12 weeks and was divided into three phases: i) a high-volume phase; ii) a one week transition phase; and iii) a high-intensity phase leading to a gradual taper and the season's final competition.

It was found that poor performances were mainly the result of maladaptation rather than too much hard work. The lesser performers had to work too hard and thus, were not stimulated appropriately for their competitive events. The use of individual specific training programs would be a way to avoid this problem.

Blood analyses revealed that CPK increased in both groups and cortisol was markedly increased in the qualifiers when compared to the increase in the world-class group. Myoglobin values were also elevated in the qualifier group but not in the other.

In the past, sport scientists used these markers to monitor "overtraining" status, but care must be taken regarding this type of use, as these markers must remain elevated for a long period of time (more than two weeks) if such a diagnosis is to be supported. While these markers are very useful in monitoring the stress levels of swimmers, one-time testing will not serve to identify--or avoid--maladaptations in swimming. (p. 49)

The study used blood and economy profile data to verify that it is important for training to be specific. When it is not, maladaptations take place.

Swimmers varied widely in their training responses. Only by prescribing specific training paces or performing tests that can identify the performance and training capacity of the swimmer can a coach really learn what are an athlete's limits.

When the two groups were compared, it was found that the elite group responded very well to heavy training, and, in spite of elevated stress markers, did recover to resting levels. Maladapted swimmers were not able to respond quickly to recovery periods and did not perform well.

Implications. Three major coaching principles were developed.

  1. Poor performances are likely to be caused as much by poor programming (maladaptation) as overtraining. Individualized training programs of a specific nature are essential for improving swimmers' performances.
  2. Blood chemistry markers need to be monitored for at least two weeks before they can be used to verify an overtrained state. By that time other indices, such as behavior, performance, and motivation will have indicated the overtrained state. A single elevated blood marker does not mean that overtraining exists.
  3. The greatest risk of maladaptation occurs in the early phases of training when volumes and intensities may be too high and recovery insufficient. Adequate recovery between demanding workloads and training stimuli will reduce the impact of maladaptation.

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