SWIMMING LORE AND MISINFORMATION IS STILL VERY PREVALENT IN HIGH LEVELS OF THE SPORT
Greyson, I., Kelly, S., Peyrebrune, M., & Furniss, B. (2010). Interpreting and implementing the long term athlete development model: English swimming coaches' views on the (swimming) LTAD in practice – A commentary. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 5(3), 403-406.
This article is a reply commentary by "swimming people" to the Lang and Light (2010) article that was largely critical of British Swimming's Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, “The Swimmer Pathway”. In many respects, it illustrates the dogma that is rampant in the sport. Contentious issues are discussed briefly below.
The first belief is that swimmers can only progress completely if they leave a "smaller" club and go on to "a club that can provide more for them in the long term" (p. 403). Bigger is not necessarily better. Decisions on the best situation for a talented young swimmer should involve many more factors than club size. Perhaps the best argument against the belief expressed by these authors is to use the example of the Australian Institute of Sport, which over the years has recruited many talented swimmers only to have them progress little, if at all, at huge expense. The switching of clubs is a recent phenomenon in several western countries and does not always guarantee improvement in performances. Examples of eventual long-term success by staying with one's original coach/club (e.g., Kieren Perkins, Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett) can be weighed against examples of those who succeeded by moving to "elite coaches" and academies (particularly in the Australian state of Queensland). On this belief, the anecdotal evidence is equivocal at best.
The belief that aerobic swimming is best for technique development is false. Slower than race-pace swimming (all aerobic-only swimming is slower than race-pace) develops techniques that are specific for slow swimming. Slow-swimming techniques are not transferred to fast-swimming to any appreciable degree. However, it is possible to structure interval training sets that are particularly aerobic while taxing some anaerobiosis that is recovered in rest intervals (known as "ultra-short" training and covered in depth in the Coaching Science Abstracts (Rushall, 2011)). As well, interval training promotes retention of stroke techniques better than does long or continuous training (Pelarigo et al., 2010). Usually, high-volume training has much swimming performed at irrelevant-for-competition paces. Technique work at slow paces will largely be irrelevant for competitive performances. There are other factors involved with slow swimming (e.g., it is disliked by many swimmers, particularly the younger performers). The slowest swimming speed that is tolerable in productive swimming training programs is that performed at the anaerobic threshold level (Weltman et al., 2005) for 15 minutes (McMaster, Stoddard, & Duncan, 1989), because it leads to the fastest clearance of excessive lactate from the blood.
A worthy statement was made concerning technique: "At age-group levels, every swim should be focused on technique enhancement whatever the speed or distance of the swim" (p 404). If technique is to be the major focus of swimming improvement, it needs to be presented according to sound pedagogical principles, something that is missing in the dialogues of the discussion about British Swimming's LTAD model. Unfortunately, many swimming coaches are not good teachers because they do not follow sound teaching practices. While coaches endeavor to coach technique with general instructions, occasional personal directives, and usually a marked absence of feedback, specific technique changes are unlikely.
Another notable weakness in this response article is the lack of understanding of human physiology. The LTAD gives the semblance of the basic principles of human physiology as being:
- It comprises to a large extent two discrete systems – the aerobic and anaerobic systems. Much talk is given to aerobic training in the early stages of the LTAD with anaerobic work only being introduced at some mythical more appropriate stage.
- Swimming training can be structured to train both systems at any time in a swimmer's development without any age or gender factor needing to be considered.
Some of the more important features of human physiology that should be considered when programming short and long term involvements in sport [swimming] are as follows:
- Any form of exercise uses aerobic functioning. At no time in swimming events or training does anaerobic functioning occur without aerobic functioning also occurring (Rushall & Pyke, 1991).
- Maximum aerobic training, that is, that which trains a swimmer's capacity to function maximally in an aerobic manner, also involves anaerobic functioning. There is an overlap in the functioning of the two systems (Rushall & Pyke, 1991).
- After maturity is attained, attempts to improve aerobic functioning/capacity will not improve that factor. Little, if any, endurance training effects occur after eight weeks (Costill et al., 1991).
- Any form of exercise training is beneficial for untrained individuals; has little carry-over between sports for moderately fit performers; and when not specific to the sport of the serious swimmer, is likely to be detrimental to performance once general fitness has been maximized (Rushall, 2009).
- While humans are endowed with muscle structures of varying types, the two most mentioned ones in swimming circles are Type I (aerobic) and Type II (anaerobic) fibers. The anaerobic fibers can be converted to function aerobically as well as glycolytically. The way the fibers respond to stressful exercise in adults is different to the undifferentiated response manner of prepubescent children (Mero, Jaakkola, & Komi, 1991; Prasad et al., 1995). Thus, it is incorrect to infer that the type of training for fully matured adults is inappropriate for children. Evidence shows that children need not be restricted to aerobic-only [slow] swimming (Muller, Engel, & Ferrauti, 2009; Sperlich, Haegele, Heilemann, et al., 2009; Sperlich, Haegele, Achtzehn, et al., 2009).
- After puberty, the genders respond differently to swimming exercise stress (Bonifazi et al., 1993; Gravelle, & Blessing, 1995; Simmons, Tanner, & Stager, 2000). Fuel use (Braum et al., 1997; Esbjornsson, Bodin, & Jansson, 1995; Jarvis et al., 1997), fiber presence (Paradisis, Zacharogiannis, & Psycharakis, 2008), altitude (Fulco et al., 1997; Robergs et al., 1997), and physical characteristics (Hawley & Williams, 1991; Siders, Lukaski, & Bolonchuk, 1993) are three of the more common discriminatory features that require different training stimuli.
- Growth differences between the genders require different training stimuli and emphases. Males go through two stages of accelerated skill development while females experience only one (Borms, 1986; Hewett, Myer, & Ford, 2002).
- The psychological structures of the adolescent and mature genders differ sufficiently to warrant discrete training programs, experiences, and coaching strategies (Rushall, Jamieson, & Talbot, 1976; Rushall, 1994).
- Past histories of swimming performances show that young swimmers are capable of world-best performances and need not necessarily wait until they are in their very late teens or early twenties to strive for that performance level. Adherence to the recommendations of the LTAD could unnecessarily delay the achievement paths of swimmers, causing some to drop out of the sport because signs of their "potential" are not fulfilled.
To ignore the differing capacities, needs, and training requirements of the different stages of maturation and the genders is to coach incorrectly a large number of swimmers. It is unacceptable to make the "too difficult" claim when offering a professional service that is supposed to consider the welfare of young participants. The failure to recognize the different needs of swimmers to help them achieve their individual potentials is a shame.
Perhaps the misinformation patronized by the authors is best exampled in their own words (p. 404):
This shows a lack of understanding of the physiological aspects of [the] LTAD. To make solid the skills, aerobic swimming is a necessity and cannot be done anaerobically as the swimmers cannot maintain this level of swimming without the techniques becoming impaired.
It is the long-term interest of both the swimmer and the coach to maximize the aerobic development in this period as the diaphragm and the thorax are at their peak growth rate . . . To much anaerobic type training at this stage will result in a reduction of the swimmer's potential to be a successful senior swimmer.
There are no published evidence-based refereed articles that support any of the implications of the above quotes [although inspiratory and expiratory respiratory muscle training appears to have some promise for improving performances in some individuals].
The 10,000 hour notion of being the requirement for attaining excellence in races is stated as being a "rule" (p. 404) despite there being no acceptable evidence supporting the concept. This is an example of elevating an idea to the status of a "rule" [law] without confirmation of truth. There are so many examples of world-best performers achieving well before and well after such a number that the postulation is best deemed to be false. When it is used to assert arguments in conjunction with other false premises, it should be easy to understand how the lore of swimming is expanding.
Belief-based postulations continue:
At a certain point, just training five evenings per week will not be enough to keep pace with rivals (p. 405).
The adherence to absolute values for every swimmer is dangerous because it contains much error in its generality. Adaptation to exercise stress is determined by the provision of overload and recovery (Rushall & Pyke, 1991). With the wide variation in individual capacities and abilities, only when work and rest are applied judiciously and individually will the needs of every swimmer be accommodated. It is highly likely that the "absolute value" approach to discussing training needs will harm as many swimmers as it will assist. Such an approach is both unconscionable (but overwhelmingly ignored) and unprofessional.
Toward the end of the article, there appears to be a contradiction to the tone of the generality of training factors described earlier. It is heartening to read:
Coaches are advised to treat the swimmers as individuals. This will increase the chances that the swimmer stays in the sport for [sic] longer (p. 405).
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