fantastic article on practice frequency

*Note from Coach Ray:  While I agree completely with the content of this article, it should also be noted that a progressive approach to frequency, duration, and intensity should be constructed into a overall season, and even career of an athlete.  No 10 year old should be training as frequently, long, or intensely as an 16 year old.  This should be developed over time, and allows for the theories on Progressive Overload to take full effect- claiming the end results are greater than if a constant stimulus is used.  Also, considerations for the effect training has on the athletes' and parents' lives should be considered in creating a program.  This is not to say that there will not be a need for some sacrifice from all parties, for an athlete to reach their potential.  

Article below:

Duration and Frequency of Swim Training

Yardage will forever remain controversial in swimming.  Two related yet less frequently discussed topics are practice duration and frequency.  Duration and frequency are closely linked and deserve their own analysis.  Clearly, a 4000 yard practice in one hour is far different than 4000 yards within two hours.  Further, elite distance swimmers may cover 6000 yards in an hour, whereas young kids may cover less than 2000 yards in that same time.  But despite vast disparities in total yardage, the clock moves the same speed for everyone. 
The benefits of shorter and more frequent practices are common sense: athletes can perform higher quality work if the total workload is spaced throughout a day.  Indeed, this justification is one stated reason for Michael Andrew’s unique three times per day regime of approximately 40 minutes per session.  Frequent practices may also replicate swim meet demands where swimmers must perform several maximal short bursts throughout an entire day. (For the original discussion see,  Frequency of Swim Training (listed below this article) 
Most coaches already recognize these benefits, hence the popularity of doubles.  In fact, other than for open water swimmers, the benefits of three and four hour practices are non-specific to pool events.  However, a fitness component can’t be ignored, which is why a swim practice looks nothing like chess or music practice, despite the high skill components in each domain. Whereas a musician may perform their independent practice in 15-20 minute blocks throughout an entire day, that type of practice is often impractical and perhaps undesirable for the physical demands of swimming.
All of which begs the question: Is there a scientific justification for increasing practice frequency performed in smaller blocks?  Summarizing multiple studies on expert musicians, Ericsson (1993) notes,
The goal of deliberate practice is improved performance, and detailed analyses of the musicians' activities during practice sessions in music (Gruson, 1988; Miklaszewski, 1989) reveal careful monitoring and problem solving by the musicians to attain the desired improvements. C. E. Seashore (1938/1967), the pioneering researcher in music psychology, claimed, "Many a student becomes disgusted with music because he cannot learn by dull drudgery. The command to rest is fully as important as to work in effective learning"”
The importance of rest and careful practice requires context in swimming, as performance also includes energy system development.  Competitive swimming does not award medals for stroke aesthetics.  History has also shown that high repetitions are imperative for achievement, in part because humans are not naturally suited to the water.  Yet, within this construct, the goal is to provide the optimal practice environment for skill that concomitantly stimulates the appropriate physiological adaptations.   
The main caveat here is practicality.  It’s theoretically possible you could improve with 4-5 shorter practices a day, similar to how expert classical musicians practice.   But that’s also unrealistic for most swimmers, especially those in school or with jobs (nearly everyone in the sport).  Still, impractical is not to be mistaken as impossible, as many African runners practice the three times per day regime, as it is tightly woven into the cultural lifestyle. 
The interesting thing about practice duration is that it is compatible with both high and low yardage programming.  If you take the overall yardage as given, the next question becomes, “How do you break it up?”  Evidence from the arts, academics, and other highly skilled domains unanimously supports shorter, more frequent sessions while also preserving the strong correlation between overall practice volume and performance.
Rather than starting with the facility schedule and then figuring out what times you can get bodies in the water, it may be helpful to begin with the question, “How would I optimally schedule practice with unlimited resources?”  Optimal may not always be possible, but there are certainly times in which increasing practice frequency while sustaining a constant volume may be desirable to foster learning.
  1. Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. Th., & Tesch-Roemer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

By Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community, for more information refer to Pike Athletics.

Article Two:

Frequency of Swim Training

Singles, doubles, triples? quads?  Unfortunately school schedules, pool availability and long commutes prevent high frequency of swim training. Skilled task are best learned with frequent, unpredictable training, therefore optimizing frequency without the unwanted consequences (burned out, overtraining, decrease in commitment). 

Many teams perform 10,000 yards during one practice, but view practicing four times a day damaging to swimmers' love for the sport.  However, if a swimmer does four 2,000 yard practices, I feel the swimmer will remain fresh, be able to perform proper technique for more cumulative yardage. 

Obviously, this form of training must be cyclic and not continuous.  Therefore, during training periods where the swimmers have more time (winter training, spring break) try a few days of 3 or 4 workouts.  I suggest using test sets on these days, for example, in four sessions the swimmer will have to make a specific time on ten 100s. This provides motivation to the swimmer as they may be able to only go to one workout if they achieve all ten times in the first workout, but if a swimmer is having difficulties it gives them a chance to make these intervals at multiple workouts with mental/physical rest in between.  This theory could also be used over multiple days, for instance, instruct a swimmer they must go a specific time for ten 50s over the next three days.  This can teach the swimmer resilience enhance determination. These scenarios also mimic swim meets with multiple events over many days (perhaps Trials or your next rest meet).

Remember, this is just a variable of swim training and must be a feature of your program design, not the complete program.