Most swimming books are aimed at coaches and are highly technical. These notes instead are aimed at competitive swimmers and their parents. What I’ll try to do is present a single theme monthly. The opinions are my own (and so are any errors), but they are designed to make you think and to start discussion. They are the product of nearly five decades of coaching and observing elite swimming, but also stem from my background as a professional biological educator and researcher. I welcome questions, comments and criticisms from swimmers, and also from parents and club coaches (but directly not electronically). These notes are not designed to replace your interactions with your club coaches (and will all be approved by Director of Aquatics and Head Coach Richard Cassidy). Good interactions with your coaches are absolutely essential to optimising performance. Instead they attempt to assist efforts to make you as good as possible!
Tom Cross, March 2018
Number 1: Being as good as possible!
When Director of the American Swimming Coaches Association John Leonard visited Ireland a few years ago, he was asked what he thought was the most important thing in competitive swimming. He said “Turn up (to all training session and meets)”. He then went on to tell us that Michael Phelps had not missed a single training session in seven years! Can any SWSC swimmer match that record even for the last season? Are you going to achieve it this season?
So what’s “enough” per week. For secondary school age swimmers of your stage it’s probably about 15 hours in the pool and a few hours of land work, consistently through the year, covering c50K per week in the pool. This will give the best chance of improvement. If you do half that number of hours/meters per week you will get about a quarter or less of the potential improvement. (Bill Sweetenham refers to 7-8 hours per week as the “twilight zone”).
No one can make top International level and achieve their full potential without maximal training both in the pool and on land. The two previous Cork Olympians in swimming went to other set ups in their last year before the Olympics, where they got 50%+ more quantity and considerably more intensity. But they had a background of consistency and high mileages in their own clubs. However, others have made great improvements in a domestic setting. One boy who swam for SWSC in the 1970s improved his 100m fly time by over 10% in the year between 14 and 15. He did this by upping his water time by 50% in the old 25 yard pool at Eglington Street.
You train long and hard so you can race better. Training results in improvement in both condition (termed physiological adaptation, with associated improvements in power and flexibility) and technique (behavioural adaptation in pacing; starts, turns and finishes; underwater and particularly surface stroke). It’s now a fashion in sports to say “enjoy what you’re doing”. It’s hard to “enjoy” getting out of bed at 5am on a dark, cold and wet morning to train for two hours (and repeating this more than 300 times in the season!). But it is necessary, if you are to achieve better and better performances in races. You should commit fully for each year at a time. Then at the end of each year you should assess your progress. How much did your competition times improve, did you enjoy the whole experience, how did you manage school and swimming, how good do you think you could be? Being as good as possible in competition is the really enjoyable thing! Being as good as possible in competitive sport is very time consumming but in the words of walker Rob Heffernan after the World Championships “It’s great when you win“.
“For many athletes, being perpetually tired is just a way of life. Training is intense, school has its demands, and often there are simply not enough hours in the day to check everything off the to do list. However, there is a distinct difference between feeling lethargic on a Thursday afternoon after three days of doubles, and having chronic fatigue that affects every aspect of athletic performance. Many athletes, especially females, find themselves so tired that sleeping and relaxing more does not seem to have any effect on their energy levels, and they cannot perform their sport to the best of their ability. ”
“The human body is equipped with two systems to produce energy for fast swimming, aerobic (requires oxygen) and anaerobic(no oxygen required). Both are used in tandem to produce ATP, the fuel for our muscles, but there are significant differences between the two energy systems that you should consider when choosing a breathing pattern for a specific race.
While the purpose of this article is not to describe these different energy systems in detail and how they work, it is to try to come up with the best possible breathing solution for the 100 freestyle. The reason that the breathing pattern in the 100 freestyle (and butterfly) is more controversial than for other distances is that for events shorter than 100 meters, the energy is predominantly derived from the anaerobic system. In events longer than 100 meters, the energy is predominantly derived from the aerobic system. In the 100 meters, the energy derivation is about half aerobic and half anaerobic.”