Training for Capacity vs Utilization (excerpt from Bob Bowman)


I have written in the past on the long term versus the short term goal in regards to swimming and what that might mean. I have decided to let Bob Bowman do the talking this time in an excerpt from one of his talks in 2013. Coach Bowman is obviously most famously known for being Michael Phelps’ coach from the time he was 11 years old. Here he speaks on Capacity versus Utilization training. We are without a doubt a capacity training environment with our swimmers here in Cayman. Alex McCallum, age 22, is the only exception right now. I am always concerned with the ultimate potential of a swimmer and not their immediate success. Happy reading!

Bob Bowman, ASCA conference speech, May 6th 2013

When you think of capacity you’re improving the performance and potential of the athlete. How good can they be? And that’s going to involve some decisions from you about what kind of program you’re running. Where the athlete is in their career? A couple of things like that are very important so you’re going to have to think about those things but they all tie in. Think about improving and expanding the infrastructure of the athlete, right? If you think about it in some abstract terms it’s about like making a bigger warehouse, improving your capacity for inventory, having more trucks to haul stuff around. It’s how do you improve the basis of what goes on in your business.

Capacity training is long-term and it’s more general than utilization training. So the method you employ might have more of a widespread and less specific effect therefore less volatile and therefore it’s going to take longer for the thing to happen, which is fine, right? Time is on our side for the most part. Utilization is about improving the actual. What can we do today? Standing here with whatever the athlete has right now when they get on the blocks, what is the absolute best possible performance they can get right now? Think about improving sales, that’s what we want to do. Let’s make as much money as we can right now with whatever we’ve got. Whatever the inventory is let’s sell it out right now. That’s how you think about it.

Capacity training sacrifices short-term gains for long-term goals. You have to ask yourself, is it more important that my swimmer go a minute in the 100 breast this season? Or go 55 two seasons from now because some of the things that you may do might make him go 102 this season but help him go 55 three seasons down the road. It’s an important concept I think. Capacity training is methodical and systematic. You’re improving systems. Maybe not specific skill-oriented activities I guess would be the best way to do it. You’re trying to increase aerobic capacity. Well, what does that mean? Number and size of mitochondria improve the delivery systems. There are a lot of physiological things that you can read in the physiology books and they’ll tell what’s happening.

All of them are important. Promotes general fitness and general improvements so if you’re working for general improvement that means your swimmer is going to probably be overall better swimmer. They might not be a better 200 freestyler specifically but they will probably a better swimmer and across the range of events, they will do better. Even though it might be like this instead of like that. And in our visual representation here, capacity represents the cup. That is the worst cup ever drawn but you got the picture. You’re building a cup. Every swimmer has a cup which is his potential or glass. Capacity training makes the cup as big as they can be or small, depending on how you do it.

The goal would be to have a big cup so that when you go into the utilization training you can fill it up. Characterizations of utilization training. Short-term focus, what are we going to do this season? For me that’s as short as I can get. I don’t think I can get like the meet next week but I can get March from now. It sacrifices potential for actual right now. You sacrifice what they could possibly do two or three years from now for what they can do this season. And there’s some real value in that. I’m not going one way or the other. I’m not telling you should be doing one or the other. I think a balance is best. A good example of this would be North Baltimore Aquatic Club has a long history of sort of building swimmers and getting them to the top level and I remember Murray Stevens always telling me, “We only taper once every four years for Olympic trials and games.

And I thought that’s kind of dumb because it seems like we taper every season. But what he’s saying and how he would explain it would be, Murray would say, “What you do in the Olympic year and the rest and the specific training you give them is going to destroy their capabilities to do capacity training. You’re going to take that capacity and focus on this other stuff and it’s going to go down. So that when you get to the trials their overall capacity to do ten 400s may not be there but their capacity to do a 100 back in a minute is there. I think that’s a good way to look at it.

Utilization training is dynamic and it’s volatile. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you start doing that stuff. You’re either going to get them really good or they’re going to get crushed. So you have to be a little bit careful with it. It operates at the edge of their capabilities. I think Coach Bergen one time wrote a paper on same concepts. Do you train within the swimmer’s capabilities or are you going to try to get him to train beyond their capabilities? And his conclusion was you have to have both. You need to have training in your cycles that are working on capacity, that are done within their capabilities and that’s kind of on the under edge of their potential, right?

Whereas when you’re training utilization, you’re trying to see what the limit is so you may go past it. You’re trying to do something beyond their current capabilities. And his conclusion was that you have to have both because if you don’t it’s like pushing the refrigerator. If you only push on one side, its true think about it, the why I like the balance of this. Utilization training fills the cups. What are some good examples of some swimmers and cups? I’ll give you one. Michael Phelps before the Beijing Olympic Games, a cup the size of the Atlantic Ocean filled to the brim, took 12 years. Michael Phelps for the Pan Pacs in 2010 a thimble, half-full.

I swear to God when I gave him that example, it was like an aha moment. He was like, “Now I get it.” It’s so true. Didn’t matter how full your thimble is either because that’s what they want to do, let’s do more sprints. Okay, well fine but you can only do a thimble full, that’s not a very good shot, right, if you’re used to drinking two gallons. So that’s kind of how you need to think about it. I also think that it’s interesting to think about how this works throughout a swimmers career because they don’t necessarily need this in the right same proportions to their whole career. How about swimmers who come from a high school background where they’re doing lots of capacity training, they go to a college program where they do lots of utilization training, they get real good, don’t they?

I’ll be the first to say I don’t know what the hell Dave Salo does over there. Obviously it works, right? It perfectly works and I have a feeling I know what it is but I think Rebecca Soni’s better in that program because she had a big cup from Tom Speedling when she got there. They filled it up as he should. With post‑grads fill, the cup. With high school swimmers, build it bigger. How about Ous Mellouli well he trains for the mile. Well of course he does. Who did he have before Salo, Schubert, and big cup? How did Erik Vendt go 146 in the 200 free when he had only been 149 before? He came from Josh Stern, Mark Schubert, came to us. We just filled the cup up. We worked on utilization. We didn’t care that much about – and he still won his best mile 1445 by 14 seconds.

It all fits together in a long-term plan if you look at it that way. So now you can kind of see I think what we’re talking about. It’s not just for swimming. It’s for dry land, mental training, to have to have a capacity to accept some of these things. Then they have to learn the high performance skills. What do you do when you stand on the block at the World Championships? First of all you got to just be able to take a deep breath before you swim when you’re 10 years old before you get to swim, right? [Exhales] Okay, let’s swim. Then 10 years later, you can do that when you stand up at the Olympic Games. It won’t be quite the same. The sphincter will be a little tighter.

entire speech can be found here