Number 18

Produced, edited, and copyrighted by
Professor Brent S. Rushall, San Diego State University


[Originally published as Rushall, B. S. (1992). Notes from ICAR research and other sources at the ASCA 1992 World Coaches Clinic, Anaheim, California - September, 1992. NSWIMMING Coaching Science Bulletin, 1(3), 1-6.]


The following notes of significant statements pertaining to coaching and training were recorded while attending the ASCA 1992 World Coaches Clinic held in Anaheim, California. Most were gleaned from the "ICAR Sport Science Report" symposium delivered by Dr. John Troup and his colleagues. Others were obtained in discussions with swimming science researchers who were also in attendance. These notes are presented in no particular order but rather, should be treated as important principles or findings. Each of the items is translated to indicate its implications for swimming. The entries in brackets are editorial comments that have not necessarily been verified by other individuals. This information is as relevant today as it was five years ago.

Statements and Principles of Note

  1. Children who experience significant skill development programs in their very early years of swimming go on to become the nation's best swimmers in later years.

    Implication. This has been discussed for quite some time and the evidence is now coming to the fore. It indicates that training and competitive programs should emphasize skill development before racing and hard training is considered. Thus, any competitive experiences for at least the 10 years and under group should emphasize demonstrating in a consistent manner, the basic skill elements of good swimming. No child should enter into hard training unless good skill can be repeated in that training. New and innovative programs for children and adolescents need to be formulated so that no child will be disadvantaged later in a swimming career. Those currently disadvantaged are the early maturers who were able to be successful in their early years purely because of their power and size. It is likely that drop-out rates for the sport will also be reduced by realigning programs in this manner.

  2. A male swimmer aged 16-18 years could be expected to improve performance by 4% over the next four years through better training.

    Implication. This estimate will allow coaches of serious swimmers to set progressive performance goals over the next four years. What this estimate does not consider is improvements due to skill enhancements and psychological skill development. However, as a conservative estimate and for coaches who do not "buy" improving technique and psychological skills, it indicates the most that can be reasonably expected.

    [Note: For older males, the improvement would be less because growth would have been completed. I would estimate that a similar amount of improvement would be appropriate for girls aged 14-16 years.]

  3. Formulae for estimating performance goals for 200 and 400 m races are:

    6 x 200 m on 8 minutes -- average the times and multiply by 2
    5 x 100 m on 3 minutes -- average the times and multiply by 2.

    Implication. If you want to estimate performance goals for 400 and 200 m races these sets should be followed. You might also like to try repeating them on a monthly basis as a way of assessing training improvements.

    [Note: There are other formulae and testing parameters which have been developed by ICAR and so this recommendation may be a little too simple. For example, in the 1991-92 ICAR report the repetition interval for 100 m was five minutes and the 200 m was five repetitions on a 1:1 work:recovery ratio. I will endeavor to determine the exact parameters when I visit Colorado Springs in October.]

  4. The next major impetus to swimming improvement will come from quality/intensity specific training.

    Implication. The pace of training sets and the rest interval between each repetition need to be considered for training effects. Even though the pace of a distance might be held constant, it is the interval of rest that determines the energy system that is used. The following two sets:

    will yield very different energy system use. They will have markedly different training effects, neither of which may be of great use for actual races.

  5. Reasonable work volumes for both males and females are as follows: better national performers and team members, 3800 - 4800 meters per hour; and age-groupers, 2000 - 3500 meters per hour.

    Implication. The range of these distances is considerable. However, the point being made is that it makes little sense to think that training age-group swimmers as if they were national team members will make them into national team members. Observe the principle of progressive development for determining workloads for age-groupers but avoid inappropriate yardage.

  6. When the same workout is expected of many swimmers, there will be many forms of adaptation within the group. The range is such that while some swimmers develop endurance capabilities others will be enhancing their sprint capacities. Such approaches to training are very inefficient. Workouts must match individual capacities with training needs and stimuli.

    Implication. It is important to evaluate the capacities of swimmers, their economy curves, and their training responses so that they can be given training programs that will allow them to improve maximally.

    [Note: This factor has to do with overload use and training stimuli. That is an anticipated topic for a future Bulletin. You might wish to read Chapter 4 in Training for sports and fitness (Rushall & Pyke, 1990) to understand some of the factors that are important for this topic.]

  7. When designing workout programs, the rest interval is as important for determining training effects as is the actual work. One can generally state:

    Implication. When you want to build endurance, rest intervals must be less than 30 seconds with a preference for the 10-15 second range. Sprint training will occur with intervals over 1 minute with a preference for the 1:30 to 2:30 minutes range for distances over 100 meters.

    [Note: This is important and must not be neglected. I would advise coaches who see this as difficult to implement to balance training prescriptions between stipulating sets that indicate the pace to be held, and sets that indicate the time of the rest interval. At least with that alternation, one set will hit pace and the other will hit a particular energy capacity.]

  8. Dr. John Troup estimated that over the next decade, swimming improvements would result from a 5-10% increase in aerobic capacity training and about 20% from anaerobic training.

    Implication. This means that there should be a shift to include more anaerobic (sprint) training in future programs. Overdoing aerobic training suppresses the development of anaerobic or sprint adaptations. However, this does not mean that one reduces aerobic training. A greater amount of longer rest interval work with perhaps a slight increase in performance quality is warranted.

  9. No more than 60 minutes of work should be entertained for EN1 level of training. Any more will interfere with total work time and anaerobic adaptation.

    Implication. This carries on from the previous point. EN1 training is intense but not enough to cause lactic acid to accumulate. Heart rates should be in the vicinity of 140-150 bpm but be prepared for considerable variation. The best estimate of whether athletes are working at the EN1 level is to talk to them after a repetition. If they find it very difficult to talk because they are huffing and puffing hard then they have probably swum too hard. This is called the "talk test."

    [Note: Since aerobic adaptation is so important for many facets of good training and competing coaches should attempt to program about 60 minutes of this type of work daily. The caution is do not exceed that 60 minute limit.]

  10. For sprinting, power and explosiveness is the important capacity - NOT BRUTE STRENGTH.

    Implication. Land-based weight activities that require slow movements are probably useless. The explosiveness factor is more important and so it is better to talk of "power" training rather than strength training. The best way of developing this power is in the water using tethered swimming.

    [Note: I participated in a round table discussion on in-water strength training and concluded that it was advantageous to do tethered swimming for developing adequate power. The importance of that power diminishes as a swimmer's race distance lengthens but it is still important to do it. The major concession that I was able to extract was:

    Normal tethered swimming shortens the finish phase of stroking. It is best to direct swimmers to stay in place by attempting to lengthen the stroke backward as opposed to increasing the rate unnecessarily. Although some rate increase should be encouraged, the termination of a tethered swim should be when the swimmer no longer can stay on the mark or when the stroke shortens (even though the swimmer still stays on the mark).

    Explosive sprint swimming should also be programmed to occur in the same training session as the tethered work. It is best to do the swimming prior to the tethered work.]

  11. If land-based weight training is to be continued, then it should be combined with sprint training in the water to maintain explosiveness.

    Implication. This is important because research has shown that land-based training alone may improve performances in pathetically weak swimmers but once they develop normal strength, it has the potential to slow sprint performances in the water.

  12. When doing sprint training, a swimmer's diet should be increased to include twice the normal recommended daily amount of protein.

    Implication. Pay attention to the type of meat, if that is to be used as the supplement, to ensure that it is very lean and has no fat. It may even be necessary to boil the fat out of some meats (particularly sausages), before preparing them.

  13. The role of carbohydrate intake is important. It should be of the magnitude of 8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. The majority of the intake should be complex carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes, cereals, etc.).

    Implication. Swimmers most probably will have to pay attention to the types and amounts of foods eaten after each training session, particularly the morning session. Their intent should be to take in sufficient fuel to recover from the morning session and to fuel the afternoon workout.

    [Note: Carbohydrate depletion is the major problem moderating the training performances of swimmers. It is the least talked of cause of training deterioration. I advise coaches to "blitz" this factor and have their swimmers understand the importance of adequate fuel. A swimmer training twice a day usually uses as much carbohydrate fuel as a marathon runner does in a race. If that does not impress your swimmers to eat right and in sufficient amounts I do not know what will.]

  14. Before, during, and after training it is valuable to take in carbohydrates in fluid form (e.g., Gatorade, Erg - drinks available in the USA), to replace lost energy sources. A suggested schedule and amounts are as follows:

    Implication. The total volume, in round figures, is 3.5 liters. Swimmers have to accept the responsibility for preparing their energy supplements and have the amounts and delivery systems available at each practice.

  15. The greater the amount of specific training, the better will be a swimmer's mechanics.

    Implication. It was reported that Popov trained three times a day, each session hitting on a different level of intensity (i.e., endurance, sprint, power). The feature of his training was that it was specific. His coach was very good at being able to prescribe sets which developed the correct biomechanical pattern and energy system use.

  16. Do not get carried away with land-based weight training or resistance work in the water. It is more important to develop the correct mechanics.

    Implication. To justify this assertion, the example was given that Mike Barrowman was not as strong as Roque Santos, the swimmer who beat Barrowman at the USA Trials. The ICAR scientists hold Mike Barrowman's technique as being the model for breaststrokers to emulate. It is considered to be far superior to anyone else they have analyzed.

    John Troup emphasized that "the efficiency of power delivery is more important than absolute power."

    [Note: Perhaps a tethered swim test with criteria emphasizing holding stroke length might be a good analysis of beneficial power production.]

  17. Some significant statements concerning the development of swimmers.

  18. Significant statements concerning the technique analyses of swimmers during their races in Barcelona (cameras were in and above the pool for this research to be conducted). [Some of these may be known to you but they are worth repeating.]


It is hoped that this information is helpful and at least, interesting. There will be a full proceedings of the formal presentations available at some time in the future from the USA ASCA. Since most of the "important" learnings at this type of conference occur in private sessions, I wanted you to be aware of some of this formal and informal information.

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