Why Train So Much?

Why Train So Much?

By Mark Corley, Head Coach, Loggerhead Aquatics

Why do swimmers train so much for a race that can last seconds? This is a question us coaches hear a lot. I thought I’d put some thoughts on paper and try to clear the water (pun intended!).  Swimmers must train faster/work harder within each season, and year to year. This is a physiological principle called Progressive Overload. I’ll go into detail about this principle (read on!) but why train hours upon hours? The basic answer is this…we don’t just race one race per day. If we did, all this training would take a different form. But, as we know, swimmers must race several races per day in a championship meet. Prelims + Finals, individual races, relays, warm ups, warm downs…it all adds up to vast amounts of yards/meters each day of racing. Michael Phelps swam an astonishing 70,000+ meters during his historic Olympics at Beijing in 2008.

Let’s start with Adaptation. Training should produce metabolic, physiological and psychological changes that allow a swimmer to perform at their best in competition.  Due to the stress of training, the bodies chemical factories become larger and more numerous. This change provides more and larger sites for this metabolism to occur so that greater demands can be met. With proper training stress, the body can build an engine that will be stronger and more functional than before. You have adapted!

Adaptation has occurred. Good job! If you keep doing the same thing (i.e. what made you successful last season, or the past few years) you will remain at the status quo, or more likely, you’ll regress. The body is comfortable and that is now your normal state. Dang-nabbit! So, what to do? Well, the swimmer must (under coach direction) increase duration (how long practice is), frequency (practice sessions per week/month/year), and intensity (how hard /fast you swim) of training. Whoa! Now it is becoming way more complex. Your coaches are constantly juggling all these factors. Plus, how are individuals responding? Knowing everyone responds differently to training stimuli. Add in the variables the coach can’t control, such as…school, homework, jobs, nutrition, social life, etc.  – it just became a giant jig-saw puzzle with more than one way to end up with the finished product. “Tell me coach, it’s not all about what terrible torture you can dream up and have us complete in the pool?” “No young grasshopper, it’s way too complicated for just that” (though sometimes we take great pleasure in watching y’all conquer a killer set!).

Progression. Here it is. Basically, it’s managing the adaptation. We keep adding intensity, duration and frequency (all at strategic times in a swimmer’s career) to increase the training load so further adaptation and improvement in performance can take place. The systematic process of increasing the training load is what’s known as progression. Swimmers can’t train at the same speed week after week and expect to improve. They must gradually increase their load (see duration, frequency and intensity) throughout the season (year to year) to provide a progressive training environment that will allow improvement. What worked before, will most likely not work again. It may work again in the future, once other training stimuli have been used. As coaches, we must constantly move the target. It can be frustrating for the athlete, never to hit it. But, at the same time, it keeps training interesting and fresh. Not as monotonous. And as we all know, there is not a lot of mental stimulation from looking at a black line for 8,000 yards! We use many things to keep athletes engaged, but in swimming, it’s as technical as golf. It’s very important. It can be argued that technique and minimizing drag trump any gains one can get from training and increasing the physiological factors. I for one, believe the two go hand in hand. Get fit, polish that technique, minimize drag and you’ll flourish!

This is it, sort of the CliffsNotes/SparkNotes version, but I think you get the idea. Some food for thought - If you only attend 50% of your scheduled practices, do you believe all these factors will come into play? Somewhat, but to a much-lessened degree. If you miss numerous practices you’ll never be on track for Progressive Overload. You will be getting rest when you should be training hard, and never achieving the stressed state of training necessary to adapt to higher levels. In swim coach terms, you’ll never get tired. When you do show up, you’ll be fresh and ready for a killer workout. Your teammates may be dead tired from previous days training and doing a recovery practice. “But coach, I’m ready to go fast today!”  “Great, where ya been the past three days?” Bottom line, trust your coach. Let the coach manage all the training variables. The swimmers need to show up to workouts fed well, rested with adequate sleep, and P.M.A. (positive mental attitude). There are as many ways to train for this sport as there are coaches. But the basic principles of training physiology can’t be ignored and must be a part of a successful program. Loggerhead wants all our athletes to improve all the way through high school and beyond, to do less than this would be doing a disservice to our athletes.

Go Loggerhead!


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