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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

More on Volume, Velocity, and Rhythm

I recently reposted a blog I had originally posted on my “older” blog site: developingthechampionwithin.blogspot.com .  The blogpost can be found below this one, or here:  http://createperformance.blogspot.com/2013/07/volume-velocity-and-rhythm.html

I have received a few questions about how we actually achieve this at T2 Aquatics.  What does this sort of training entail? 
I feel like I could write on this subject for pages on end, and still only crack the surface of conversation.  

So, to pick up where I left off: what goes into this type of training for my athletes at T2 Aquatics? 
Well, first: we have a weekly plan.  I read something on swimswam.com a few weeks ago about a young distance swimmer named Jazz Carlin that Bud McAllister is training in Great Britain right now….and she is doing times that are comparable to what Janet Evans was doing in 1987-1988 when Janet Evans was training with Bud McAllister (which by the way are still great times in 2013).  Wouldn’t you know that Coach McAllister is doing the same sort of thing with this young athlete that he did with Janet, and combining those ideas with the ideas (weekly planning) that Coach Bowman has been using with Michael Phelps, Allison Schmidt, Connor Dwyer, and Chase Kalisz? (Coach McAllister's assessment, not mine).  I loved reading the article, because it was pretty in depth.  After reading it I laughed and thought, “That’s basically what we do at T2 as well”.  Funny thing, Murray Stephens -- my coach when I was in High School -- used to give us Bud McAllister sets all the time.  He would tell us all about Coach McAllister's ideas and Janet, and what Janet was doing.   Murray had us do the same sets Janet did from 1990-1994  (in between 3300 TT Backstrokes -- Thanks John Collins).  

I can't say for sure, because I haven't talked with him specifically about it, but I imagine there were some things Coach Bowman used as well -- because although Coach Bowman changed NBAC's training style significantly from 1998-2003, in my view there were certainly some things he and I  and the other NBAC coaches all considered to be "NBAC" -- style sets and ideas, which came from the beginning of NBAC's history and well before any of us were coaching at NBAC.  Coach McAllister's sets found their way into the fold -- and it's it's obvious to me know after reading this article that things do come full circle -- at lease in the sense that my T2 Aquatics athletes do the same type of thing! Certainly Kaite Hoff did the same things, and when she did it meant that the two fastest 400M Freestylers in USA History (at the time, in 2008) had been doing the same sort of workouts, 20 years apart from each other.   This is why thinking "Outside the Box" makes me roll my eyes....and thinking "Inside the Box" feels oh so right.  Great training is very simple, straight forward stuff that allows the athletes to perform within the set, and doesn't let the athlete take a break during the work (even though the effort  and speed requirements may fluctuate during the set).  Check out the article on Coach McAllister here: http://swimswam.com/mcallisters-insights-on-jazz-carlins-trainings/

I plan to post on one of my favorite Bud McAllister sets later this week on this blog!  Look for it if you'd like.

Now, there’s a lot more that goes into it than "what type of set you are doing"….training is not just “sets” and, going into more depth, “putting the sets together to form a week, month, season, year, or quad”.  There’s the mental side, which is immeasurably huge.  There’s strength.  There’s technique.  There’s Hidden Training.  There’s picking the right events, and the correct meets in which to do those events.  But if you don’t train right – and by training right I mean that you have to find that middle ground of threshold-speed-pace-stroke rate-technique-kicking-pulling-and consistency – then you are not going to get to the medal stand at an International meet.  Finding the middle ground helps you build a ryhthmic racing stroke instead of a thrashing stroke that is hard to hold together.  Too much volume training, and you can hold your stroke together, but it's not compartively fast; likewise, too much velocity training, and you can go fast, but you can't hold your stroke for longer than 60% of the race. 

And when you figure out that everyone is different and some people need the training shaded a little more toward threshold and some people need it shaded a little more toward pace work, and some people need more strength, etc – then the possibilities with what you can do open up.  This is the art of coaching.
Second, at T2 Aquatics we do some stroke count stuff every week, and we mix it with pace training without stroke counts.  At times during the season, we swim slightly above pace with stroke counts slightly under racing counts every other day.  I’ve heard athletes from other teams comment to my athletes that they have never heard of such a thing, and I think it’s a real shame.   Many programs simply do not care about the athlete’s stroke count, and if they do not care about stroke counts what they are really saying is that they do not care about stroke rate.  And if they don’t care about stroke rate, they are missing a huge part of high end training for their athletes.  It’s that simple.  You have to take stroke rates and know what you are looking for.  What do the best athletes do?  Check out this awesome power point by USA Swimming:  http://www.usaswimming.org/_Rainbow/Documents/e2fa7ee0-eee6-4c63-984a-05d267cf7389/Race%20Stats%20-%20ONLINE%20CLINIC%20July%2014%202010.pdf
If you don't traing stroke rates, you are going to be just fine up through the entry level at Junior Nationals, but good luck competiting at the higher-level International meets.  You simply need that precise level of skill.

Third, at T2 Aquatics we don’t put a lot of value on top speed in practice. 
Admittedly, I used to value the top speed stuff a lot.  Probably around 2006 I changed my view, and one of my athletes (Katie Hoff) set her first World Record in 2007.  Maybe I did it right – I asked her to swim very fast in practice almost every day of the year for three years, and then backed off that goal and asked her to do more threshold-oriented practices from 2006-2008.  She had some pretty serious “pace” capability in 2006, which she took to her threshold training over the next few years.  Had I started her in 2003 with a heavy dose of threshold, maybe she never would have developed the type of speed needed to go 1:55 in the 200 Free or 4:02 in the 400 Free.  Because she could do 15x200 on (2:30) in 2006 and go every third fast at 1:51-1:48-1:48-1:47-1:46….all negative split, when she went to threshold sets like 10x200 with the last 5 on (2:10) she could hold 1:52 without killing herself to do it.  This is how she was able to go 9:10 in the 1000 SCY.  Would the reverse had worked (threshold first, then speed/pace work)?  Maybe it would have, maybe not.  Perhaps for some athletes it would have, and for some it would not have worked.

So now (really, since 2006), I have tempered the speed/pace training and try to mix it well with the threshold training.  I have learned a lot and really it took me trial and error through my 20s and early 30s to come up with some sort of idea about what to do.   I still ask my athletes to do some top speed training (matching a certain pace needed for racing with a certain stroke rate (or stroke count) needed for racing) -- and I ask this of them for many different distances -- we just vary the type of speed we are asking for, and we find value in training a little bit over the pace with a stroke rate that is a little bit lower than the racing stroke rate. 

What I do now will be revamped at some point – because I will learn in 8 years how I really need to change x, y, and z to be successul as we approach 2024.  I am constantly watching my athletes and thinking about all of things we can and will do better.
To close....
At T2 Aquatics everyone does some fast stuff when they are young, and they do it with low stroke counts relative to their races.  And everyone learns how to swim well technically.  We work on the younger athlete's technique, starts, and turns.  We train at threshold too, don't get me wrong, but we swim fast and we swim with the type of stroke we'd like to use when we race. Then we put more and more threshold on top, while maintaining pace work and improving technique and skill.   Not all of what we do is pace (it just kills the kids to race so much high lactate stuff in practice) – and not all is threshold (who can do this 5x per week unless we’re talking about a 1500 guy?).  I consider the perfect mix at all times.

I see so many athletes who are limited by the time they are 16-17 because although they can swim forever they just don’t have enough easy speed to win at the highest level.  Not “crank it up and hold it speed "– I’m talking about relaxed, easy speed that comes from stroke count training and pace training mixed with threshold training).  Look at Conner Jaeger, and think about the amount of 1500’s he has done in his life.  Refer to this blog post to read more about how I feel about this: http://createperformance.blogspot.com/2013/06/thoughts-on-distance-racing-for-younger.html

I’d be happy to address more specific questions if anyone would like to shoot’em at me in the comment section.  As a special gift for anyone who has read this far, here is the most important piece of non-swimming, training-specific literature I've come across in the last 10 years.  It's a gem: http://www.swiss-hurdling.ch/upload/dokumente/c_hart.pdf ....and it may explain this stuff a little bit more.  Running is a lot different than swimming (higher heart rate, more pounding, different seasons)....but when you consider the 100M Swimming and look at the similarity in events duration when compared to a 400M running race, there are some things that are tough to ignore.  And it's hard to ignore a coach who coached the 400M Gold Medalist in the same event for three straight Olympics. 

 Thanks for reading!


  1. Thank you for your insights. as an older swimmer (who gets to swim w/ a youth team) I'm very challenged to get to a comfortable, fast pace (free). IF I sprint, it seems like I'm "thrashing about" and this will only take me 100m if I'm lucky. I'm following the links you've provided & will discuss w/ my coach.

  2. Paul - how do you cycle threshold, VO2, stk rate & pace within the season and weekly as well?

    Similar to this?
    From the article about Bud:
    Monday – anaerobic threshold (150-180 HR)

    Tuesday – active rest

    Wednesday – max vo2

    Repeat that Thursday through Saturday

  3. HI Mark -- Yes, the beginning of the week is similar to Bud's plan. Monday is a threshold day and Tuesday is an active rest day. Wednesday we do a "Stroke Set" -- so it may be a breastroke, Fly, or backstroke day. Thursday we tend to go Threshold again (usually I do Monday Freestyle and Thursday IM, or if I want to go active rest Freestyle on Tuesday I may go Monday IM and Thusday Free). Friday we do a big kick set and some shorter sprints. Often times the Friday Kick set is more of an active rest kick set, so I kind of stay on the "plan" of Threshold, followed by active rest. Saturday we crank it up and do a "Big Set" (sometimes it's straight threshold, and sometimes it's another active rest-type thing, and sometimes it's stroke count). Sunday we tend to do a 4000 General Aerobic day...oftentimes with a pull set. We go 2 doubles per week, and they tend to be kick/pull-based, or Resistance training (depending on the athlete).

    My time as a swimmer and coach at NBAC has formed much of what I am doing with the athletes. We try to hit one practice per week of every stroke ideally, but I'd say with T2 Aquatics we are currently so far from having the higher-level people I'd like to have that I tend to skip one "off stroke day" per week with everyone, in exchange for an extra Backstroke Day for backstrokers, etc. The athletes that are 16-17-18 right now simply did not do enough of their "off strokes" when they were young, that they are set up to only be good in one or two disciplines. The athletes we have age 15 and under have generally been in our program since 12 and under...and they have a bit higher skill level in the other strokes. I like incorporating the other strokes during the week, because even for a non-breaststroker -- when we do breaststroke we "Rest the freestyle" -- so we come back stronger the next day, and we are even more ready for the freestyle training. Training a ton of freestyle just crushes 85% of the people in my opinion.

  4. Do you use a macrocycle with a built in recovery week? Such as 3+1. Or just make sure recovery is adequate with a couple (or 3) easier regeneration days in your normal week (microcycle). Just basically staying in tune with fatigue levels & adjusting.

  5. I really don't do a macrocycle of recovery. We do recover, however, throughout the week. Sunday is extremely low-key; and Friday is usually a shortened practice. Because we switch the strokes and the type of work throughout the week, month, and season I don't feel the need for 3-7 days of full recovery. And frankly, my team is full of people who are "almost good" -- so I tend to err of the side of pressing the pedal down. If I see someone who is not recovering well within the week, then I will make a move to get them back on it. Usually a day of less pressure helps. My distance freestylers still do a day or two of breaststroke or fly during the week, and usually that day for them is less fatiguing mentally, so they get their day. And for the stroke people, the freestyle sets they do are actually harder, but their overall level of stress is lower than the distance freestylers/IMers (and their yardage is lower as well)-- so they generally have less need to recover than the freestylers....which is a big generalization, but frankly my 200 stroke people tend to "protect themselves" more. So, if they train each week with an eye on protecting themselves, I tend to not give them an "out" by offering a cycle of recovery.

    My postgrads are different. They always take one day totally away from the pool each week, and they have one day where the do a single and it's pretty easy and mindless. I think the older athletes need something like that...and they recover very well during the week.

    I was reading about Dennis Cotterell from Australia. He goes 2.5 weeks per cycle, then gives the athletes 3 days easy. I suspect I kind of do that too, but more from feel as less as a planned recovery period. With the athletes I have, and the relatively young age of the team, I just feel like I'll miss too much if I schedule too much easy stuff.

    At NBAC we talked about recovery needs a lot. The type of weekly schedule I do is similar to what we did at NBAC. We discussed the subject a lot because we felt the subject was important to address; but we came to the conculsion that we have enough people who give themselves "little breaks" (not mention missed practices here and there from 50% of our athletes) -- that we didn't need to "advertise" recovery. Now, if we felt the need to recover we may make Friday extra-low key, or like in the case of what I do at T2 Aquatics I will give everyone a Sunday off now and then. But sometimes we go a little extra on Friday, and make it more challenging; same for Sundays. It kind of depends on my mood and overall feeling of how things are progressing, depending on what I see.

    All of this being said, I am considering a three-day cycle this season for recovery, every three weeks. But I will keep the volume up -- and lower the intensity. So, we won't totally drop the ball, but the high-velocity (higher lactate stuff) will get forgotten about for 72 hours, and my young group of athletes will do 3-4 days of stroke work and longer swimming/kicking.

  6. Do you use something similar to what Bowman does with the utilization/capacity training? (I'm sure you know tons more than I have read and heard!)

  7. I'd imagine that there are some similarities. Bob is my mentor and much of what I do, philosophically-speaking, is similar I'm sure. We coached at the same program for many years, and have spent many practices on deck together.

    That being said, I'd say there are plenty of difference in how we handle athletes. What are the difference? I'm not sure I could say, because I can't speak for him and it's kind of tough to quantify what the difference may be. Certainly we have more in common than the other way around! I know that I try to write my daily, weekly, and monthly plans like Bob writes them. I'm probably not as saavy with my yearly plans as he is, but I am learning and improving with age. I'm 37, and I'm much better now at coming up with a yearly plan or a "quad" plan than I was when I was 27.

    For sure, I've learned that training for capacity needs to trump everyting else, no matter the athlete. It's a major key.

  8. Hello Paul are coach a swim team of Naples in Italy and wanted to ask for clarification, in general period that lasts four weeks, I make 3 loading and unloading of a functional and work well sull'aerobico, technical, legs, with little arms, much to the sprint and a single session of lactate per week. I try to treat diving, turns and count the strokes, I read with assduita 'your theories and I really intressanti and innovative