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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Volume, Velocity, and Rhythm

This post is a re-issue from an my blog developingthechampionwithin.blogspot.com
It covers some key training ideas that I employ with my athletes:

Volume, Velocity, and Rhythm

If you follow the “Swim Media” like I do you’ve noticed that one topic never seems to go out of style – the topic of VOLUME TRAINING vs. VELOCITY TRAINING. For those who are unfamiliar with this debate, it goes like this: in one camp there are the proponents of VOLUME TRAINING, who believe that larger volumes of training are of irreplaceable value to the athlete. The VOLUME TRAINING athlete spends a large amount of time training, and when they train they swim a relatively high volume of yardage per each hour in the pool. In the other camp there are proponents of VELOCITY TRAINING, who believe that higher velocities of actual swimming have irreplaceable value to the swimmer. The VELOCITY TRAINING athlete spends a large percentage of their training time swimming at race speed, with racing stroke rate or faster-than-racing stroke rate, and as a result they swim a relatively low volume of yardage per each hour in the pool.

This debate amazes me because it’s withstood the test of time, and to this day no one has won! And the reason no one has won the argument is because the “answer” is not found in either extreme.

I don’t hear as much debate regarding the teams who train with neither volume nor velocity as their main emphasis. The reason I don’t hear as much about these teams is twofold:

First, I don’t hear as much about it because when speaking of volume and of velocity, we are speaking of two seemingly opposite philosophies – and so as the discussion turns toward a type of training that has no logically-apparent opposite, it’s hard to find (and argue) an opposing viewpoint.

Second, I don’t hear as much about it because the concept of both “volume” and “velocity” has to do with two of swimming training’s most-measured features: volume, and velocity. We tend to value (and discuss) that which we can measure.

The interesting thing to me regarding this argument is this: neither volume nor velocity has anything to do with winning a competition! No one wins by swimming the furthest, and no one wins by swimming the fastest. An athlete wins by slowing down the least over the given volume of the race!

Because of this fact, I believe that proper training must incorporate rhythm and stroke development. I’m not talking about 25s learning technique or video-taping swimmers and graphing their hand placement (both of which do have a certain value, I’ll admit). I’m talking about training the stroke to handle the stress of the race, so that the athlete can maintain their VELOCITY through the entire VOLUME of the race.

My belief is that the athletes who train at either extreme can be good, but not great.  There are so many 8:30-8:45 Female 800 Freestlyers out there...but not as many sub 8:20.  What do the 8:19 or faster women do that the 8:35 women don't?  I believe the talent level is in many cases the same!  Likewise, there are plenty of 15:38-15:59 1500 swimmers out there in the 18 and under age group....but not too many sub 15:30 guys.  What are the guys who go sub 15:30 in High School doing differently than the guys who are going 15:50?  I feel like the talent level is the same! 

And why do teams continually produce athletes who go basically the same time in certain events?  If you don't think training matters, think again.  While one program may be good at developing the entry level National qualifier, others are good at the next steps.  In my opinion, the athletes who can maintain a high velocity through the entire volume of the race are the athletes who are doing the fastest times -- at any age.

Perhaps at another time I’ll get into exactly what I like to do with athletes to help them achieve this goal. Much of what I apply with the athletes in training I’ve learned from some of the top coaches in the USA, who along with me and my former athletes have produced some of the fastest swimmers of all-time over the last three decades.    (And some of these coaches have been unjustly labeled as VOLUME coaches or VELOCITY coaches over time – by the media, other coaches, or the athletes themselves -- but they’d be the first to tell you that there is a lot more to their programs than one adjective over the other!)

I submit that interested coaches and athletes should consider: what does an athlete’s stroke look like when racing the final 50M of a 200M swim? What are the differences in the stroke technique of an athlete who is finishing the final 25M of a 100M swim VS the third 100M or a 400M swim? Certainly, the technique and rhythm used is specific to the swimmer as much as it is specific to the race. But as we place training emphasis on the VOLUME of an athlete’s training or the VELOCITY of an athlete’s training we tend to neglect putting the emphasis where it belongs: the specific stroke rhythm achieved in training that helps us form repeatable racing strokes, which can only be obtained through training rhythm, volume, and velocity simultaneously.

EDIT: for more on this topic, see "Part 2" here: http://createperformance.blogspot.com/2013/07/more-on-volume-velocity-and-rhythm.html


  1. Would love to read a lot more on this topic!

  2. Paul, this is awesome. Please go deeper in your next post!! This one makes a lot of intuitive sense (based on my own swimming career as well) and I'd love to know ways that you coach rhythm during a practice.

  3. Good stuff. More please coach!