Treffene, 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), 407-412.

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Dr. Treffene has been involved with the physiological aspects of swimming since the mid-1970's. During that time, he has displayed a narrow focus on some factors and measures of physiology. In this reply article, although still narrowly focused, he does extend the implications of his acquaintance with high-level swimmers and their physiologies and offers some laudable advice.

His first important statement reflects the trend in elite swimming that has been growing noticeably since ~2004 [which is after the LTAD was formed].

In the past there has been an over-importance placed on total distance in a weekly program as opposed to a logic behind what is done at speed and the necessary amount of low-level recovery and stroke work which in the main, generates a lower total volume (p. 407).

This statement highlights the training needs of: 1) fast swimming as the stimulus for training overload; 2) the structuring of training around overload and recovery rather than some arbitrary volume/distance; and 3) the rejection of still evident incorrect focus on total training volume.

The second observation that skills can be developed virtually at any age, as opposed to the LTAD implication that it is mainly between the ages of 8-12 years, is supported by many anecdotes and principles of motor learning. One could read further into this differing opinion, the implication being that technique should always be a focus of any swimming training [this position is supported by the reaction article of Professor Raul Arellano (Arellano, 2010)]. What is not learned in the pre-12 years can still be developed later in a swimmer's career although it might not be as easily adopted as in those very adaptive years.

Other statements that criticize the LTAD and are in concert with research findings (Rushall, in press) are as follows:

. . . I strongly disagree with Balyi when he advocates predominantly high-volume, low-intensity workloads.

Why penalize and ignore the athletes who are born with a high percentage of fast fibers by minimizing the sprint 50 m and 100 m events at national age-group swimming championships and also the training that will optimize their potential? This goes against all we know about muscle physiology and its restricted potential for change (p. 408).

Unfortunately, the author regresses into narrow-physiology and attempts to suggest coaching procedures at the expense of the interaction of the factors suggested with many other, often discipline-different factors that govern performance. However, within the narrow focus is one recommendation that is worthy of adoption, and is in accord with modern research into high-intensity training at all ages.

Need for the training to be specific for the swimmer's event and the efficiency of the stroke to be developed at competitive speeds.

. . . Swimmers should rigorously and frequently train at the pace in which they are to compete to overload the race's requirements and therefore, initiate improvements (p. 409).

One further recommendation that could be misinterpreted is:

Conserve red and white fiber glycogen in sets and sessions outside the major sets.

70% of work to be done in the fat metabolism area of training (p. 410).

The implication of this recommendation is that training sessions should include important sets that specifically prepare swimmers for their races [a variety of paces prompting different sets makes for relevant and interesting training sessions]. Those sets are interspersed with much lower-effort recovery sets, which take more training time to complete. Thus, a training session comprises relevant-to-racing specific training and recovery swimming. However, the article's recommendation of absolute rest periods between different types of specific-stimulus work [largely based on heart rates, which is a very dubious procedure] thwarts the important implications of specific and recovery swimming training sessions.

The final recommendations for improving the structure of the LTAD are too focused on restricted, and somewhat contentious, physiological variables and concepts. The weakness of proposing absolute values (e.g., times, durations, frequencies) that violate the Principle of Individuality (Rushall & Pyke, 1991) leads to the reader being warned that those values are dubious and should not be adopted literally.

[It is heartening to read some refreshing advocacies by Dr. Treffene. However, the mix of some sound advice and very restricted interpretations of limited concepts and contentious factors (heart rate and lactate tests) provides an unfortunately muddied article.]


  1. Arellano, R. (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), 413-419.
  2. Rushall, B. S. (2011). Swimming pedagogy and a curriculum for stroke development (2nd Edition). Spring Valley, CA: Sports Science Associates [Electronic book].

Return to Table of Contents for Training for Swimming.

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