For those who like to compete in any of the proliferation of Masters competitions or open water events, I thought it would be timely to discuss aspects of training that should be incorporated into your programme leading up to these events.
Once an endurance base has been established early in the season, you will move into Specific endurance work suited to the type of event you are training for, and then on into the Quality Phase of your training.
The endurance phase should have consisted of drill work, and long sets with minimum rest with a particular focus on technique and skill development. The quality phase highlights specific sets and skills needed to race over your competitive events.
If you have only just begun to train, or haven't been training to any particular plan - take heart. You can still salvage your training if you include the following suggestions.
If you want to achieve a personal best time in any of your events (and who doesn't?) you must include some sets where you practice swimming faster than your race speed and also at race speed.
Endurance type training will still play an important part in this phase and still make up the bulk of your training, but in short, the only way you will swim faster than ever before in a race, is to practice in training swimming faster than you have ever been before. Endurance sets may be reduced in volume slightly to allow time in your programme for longer rest, high intensity sets that promote speed. For instance in the Endurance phase if you were regularly swimming a set such as 3(5 x 100m) F/S, you could reduce it to 3(4 x 100m) F/S.
Speed sets are very stressful and cannot be maintained over a long period, so keep them short and of high quality with long rest and /or easy swimming in between for full recovery. If you feel speed or technique deteriorating you are probably doing more harm than good so cease the activity and do something easier. It is critical doing this type of work to listen to your body. If you are feeling sluggish or tired, do something easy instead and leave the harder work for another day when you are mentally and physically able. Failing to listen to your body can result in overtraining syndrome, injury, and loss of enjoyment or even speed. Too much quality training is the major culprit in burnout of swimmers, so should be used sparingly and sensibly. Master swimmers who have high blood pressure or other health related issues should get a doctors clearance before undertaking these sorts of sets as they can place enormous stress on the body and potentially put you at risk. (Any breath holding exercises should also be viewed with suspicion!)
Some sets should be over your race distances, while others will be over shorter distances and are called 'under distance' training. The best way to do this is to break your race distance into shorter segments swimming each segment at, or faster than your race speed. These broken swims are handy to work on other aspects of your race plan such as how to pace your race to learn to Negative Split.
EG to practise for a 200m race you might swim 3 sets or rounds of 4 x 50m taking 10 seconds rest each 50m followed by 1 x 100m of easy swimming to recovery. This set would be written by the coach as;
3(4 x 50m F/S - 10 sec + 100m EZ choice)
Time how long it takes you to do all of the 50's, then deduct the 30 seconds of rest that you have had. This will give you a net swimming time that should be equal to, or faster than your personal best time. Swim 100m easy to recover concentrating on technique, then repeat the whole set another two times. Swimming easily between sets is called 'Active Rest' and is preferable to passive rest where you just sit on the side until your breathing returns to normal. Active rest helps you recover faster and helps remove the toxic buildup in your blood called 'Lactic Acid' which causes deteriorations in time and technique.
Pay attention to the times you do for each repeat 50m, and work at improving how you swim them. Aim to swim them with as little variation as possible, or with the last one being slightly faster than the others so you teach yourself to finish fast.
If you have a goal time in mind, work out what times you would need to split at each 50m to achieve that time, and then try to practise your broken 200s doing these splits exactly.
EG if your goal is to swim the 200m Freestyle in 2.40.00 you would need to swim each 50m in exactly 40 secs. However experience shows that at the start of a 200m swim, with a dive start and feeling fresh, you will always swim the first 50m faster than any other. A sensible race plan which also uses negative splits (ie getting faster throughout the race) would be to swim the first 50m in around 38.00, the second 50m in 42.00, the third 50m in 40.50 and the last 50m in 39.50.
Whilst swimming this the sensation would be one of beginning at about 90 to 95% effort and then increasing the intensity over each successive 50m finishing at 100% effort.
This same set could be adapted for a 100m race by doing broken 100's at the 25m. Establish your goal times and splits in much the same way, though you should probably begin each broken swim with a dive start and at 95% effort on the first 25m.
Conversely for a 400m race your start out speed would only be at 85 to 90% effort.
This type of set should be swum once a week.
Middle distance and distance Freestylers are notorious for not doing enough speed work in their programmes. They live on a steady diet of over-distance endurance sets, swimming at slower than race speeds. They believe that more is fitter, and fitter is faster. Up to a point they are correct.
Take swimmer A. His PB 50m Free. time is 35.00. At the very best, he would probably be able to swim a 400m race averaging 40 secs/ 50m (ie 5.20.00/400m), and on a distance programme may be able to achieve this result. But swimmer B who also has a PB of 35.00 includes some speed work in his workouts and improves his 50 PB to 33.00. Swimmer B is now able to repeat his 50m splits in 38 secs (ie 5.12.00/400m),. for the same amount of effort as Swimmer A.
All events use a mixture of energy systems and each one of these energy systems needs to be trained for peak performance. The energy systems being used in sprint work are different from those being used in endurance work. Failing to train either of these will probably lead to a poor result.
To increase pure swimming speed start including some short sprints in every session. Some days do them soon after you have warmed up to simulate sprinting fresh, and on other days place them at the end of your session. This will give your body the chance to practise sprinting when fatigued. You will possibly discover an amazing thing. Some of you may be faster at the end of training! If this is the case I would hazard a guess that you need a longer pre-race warm-up than those who are better at the start of training.
Under-distance swims must be faster than race speed and shorter than race distance. For pure explosive speed for the 50m and 100m events you should be doing distances that last 10 to 15 seconds (eg 12.5m or 15m sprints) that allow for complete recovery each swim. Up to 25m swims with long rest or recovery swimming in between is acceptable.
Distance swimmers training for the 1500m or open water swims should do broken swims at race pace with short rest. Over the course of the season gradually reduce the amount of rest you are taking, but maintain speed. You will need to work to a pace clock and check the time of each repetition to see that you are holding your speed not slowing down. Experience will teach you how fast to begin the set, but it is best to feel strong but well controlled in the beginning so you can build your speed and finish the set fast.
For instance, to train for a 1500m race you could do 15 x 100m aiming to swim each 100m with no more than 1 or 2 second variation and 20 seconds rest each 100m. Do this set as a 'test' once a week. Average out your 100m swimming speed and then aim to improve that average. If for example you average 1 minute and 25 seconds (1.25) for the entire set, the next time you do it depart every 1minute and 45 seconds. Your training set should now become 15 x 100 < 1.25 on 1.45.
When you are consistently getting 25 seconds rest on average instead of 20, reduce your departure time to 1.40. As the season progresses, try to maintain your best average, while reducing your rest interval until you are only having 10 seconds rest. This should give you a fairly accurate idea of what time you could expect to swim come race day.
Refining the details of a race are just as important as the mileage you are covering. Make sure all push-offs, dives and turns are streamlined and explosive, even if you are swimming at slow speeds. Practise accelerating in and out of every turn. A coach can be your greatest asset as they can often see mistakes that you are unaware of. Have them check your skills out on a regular basis.
"To weight train or not to weight train - that is the question!"
Every coach has a different philosophy on the merits of weight training for swimmers. My personal opinion is: "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
Tapering is the cream on the cake when it comes to training for peak performance.
General guidelines for the taper are:
Your body really should only undergo 2 major tapers per year, but you can do some minor tapers to practice and fine tune what you think you need. Practice these at lower level competitions, so by the time you get to your major competition you are confident and sure of what you are doing.
The following is an excerpt from an article by Kay Cox in my book "Mastering Swimming".
"All too often a good preparation is ruined by a poor taper......
Tapering 10 days to a week before an event is adequate; if it's a mini-taper, about 3 days before is sufficient. ...Remember this is the fine tuning phase and the other factors such as sleep, diet, stress, changes in work and environment need to be controlled.....
The general principles of a taper are:
If swimmers are not training every day, then this does not matter, provided the step down is along the same lines."