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bugmenot 04-07-2009 02:03 AM

swimming beyond college?
I have just finished my senior year in college swimming. I came into college dropping huge amounts of time my freshman year. The next four years, while there was slight improvements in my events (50/100/200 Free), the improvements were just tenths. I went slower in my 50/100 at my final conference meet than I did my freshman year.

In the 100...senior year of high school 49.7, first year of college 47.0, 2nd 46.8, 47.2, 47.2....I am beating guys consistly in practice on a daily basis that are going 44s/45s.

I am practing much better making sets that I would have never made my freshman year. I know that all aspects of my ability in the sport has improved, and every coach has told me this.. my technique, kick, underwater, starts all improved...but my times have remained the same at meets. Why? What do I need to focus on to start dropping times again?

Richardsk 04-07-2009 10:35 AM

I hesitate to comment at all , as I am an ancient slow swimmer myself but it sounds to me as though you have the ability to go faster but are probably not pacing your races correctly. I would guess that you are going out too fast and inevitably slowing at the end. I could be wrong of course. How do you normally split a 100?

I take it you are swimming SCY?

Terry has written about how he coached the sprinters at West Point, which may prove useful to you.

Rhoda 04-07-2009 01:54 PM

What else is going on in your life? Are you getting enough sleep, or trying to juggle too many things at once? Could you be leaving all your races in the training sessions, not getting enough recovery time? (I'm assuming that you are tapering before important meets.) Can you sit down with your coaches and ask them for specific advice?
You might want to try the Us Masters website forum. There seem to be a lot of ex-college swimmers there.

terry 04-08-2009 01:43 AM

First of all, let me say how gratified I am that, though you're still in college, you've found your way to the TI Discussion Forum. As you may guess, most other Forum participants are considerably beyond your years and well behind your speed, but their motivation to swim well and understand the hows and whys is second to none.
Second I'm impressed with your determination to understand why your times improved so dramatically at first, then far less, then not at all. As well, you've posed the implicit question: "Swim beyond college?" I'd like to answer "Yes, yes, yes!" It's far too common for those who finish college to "retire" several years before they've reached their "peak physical potential" which occurs in mid-to-late 20s. If you consider "peak swimming ability" then Dara Torres demonstrates how far beyond college that can continue to improve.

Are you willing to consider the possibility that by pursuing improvement in a more focused way, you might start improving again, and that you might discover you can swim far faster than you can even conceive of right now?
I say this because my college experience was remarkably similar to yours.
I graduated from HS in 1968 with best times in the 200-400 yd Free (there was no 500 in HS then) of 2:13 and 4:53. I'd never swum a 500 or 1000. I did swim one 1650 in an AAU meet (in the days before USA Swimming) with a time of 21:50 to the best of my recollection.

As a college freshman, I went 2:01 for 200, 5:39 for 500, 11:57 for 1000 and 19:46 for the 1650. Sophomore year I improved to 1:55, 5:12, 10:45, and 18:06. Junior year it was 1:56, 5:14, 10:53 and 18:02 (only the last improved from the previous year.) Senior year 1:58, 5:15, 10:58, 18:24. The pain, frustration and disappointment of working so hard -- indeed the slower I went, the harder I worked -- and feeling so hopeless and clueless about having all my times be slower are still fresh in my mind.

The unexpected blessing of that disappointment is that it prompted me to lack of fulfillment caused by the way my swimming regressed the last two enter coaching, a decision that has brought me indescribable rewards. My swimming frustrations also led to the questions about traditional training methods that have been directly responsible for development of the TI method.

And finally, I applied lessons from coaching others to my own swimming, resulting in multiple National Masters long distance championships, national age group records, a medal at the Masters World Championships and being the top ranked open water swimmer in my age group, all since turning 55 three years ago. You can imagine how this feels after feeling so helpless at 21.

Richard and Rhoda have both asked questions well worth considering as context to what's happened with your swimming. For instance, pacing of sprint races is something very few swimmers know how to do. Were your first and 2nd 50s in the 100 less than 2.0 seconds apart? If they weren't closer than that, you spent too much of the race decelerating, fighting through fatigue. Another possible factor is an ineffective combination of Stroke Length and Stroke Rate.

There are many more questions I could pose for you, but I'm glad you've initiated a dialogue and I hope the help and support you receive here prompts you to consider continuing your pursuit of swimming improvement beyond college. You may find that swimming for yourself may be easier than swimming for the varied goals of the college team. It will also allow you to "own" your swimming, to take full responsibility for your training and performance. That can be a tremendously empowering thing.

terry 04-08-2009 01:57 AM

Winning in Practice
PS: You mentioned consistently beating teammates in practice who swim 2 to 3 seconds faster in races. Have you considered the possibility that your efforts to "win" practice swims may be partly responsible for "losing" on race day?

Joe Novak, one of the swimmers mentioned in the article Richard linked to about my work with the Army sprinters, trained with Jason Lezak for 18 months leading up to the 2004 Olympic Trials. He told me something really revealing about Jason. Their coach, Dave Salo (now the head coach at USC), put great emphasis on "quality" training, which Joe said basically meant going hard on everything.

Joe said that Jason went last in their lane most of the time, swam slower than anyone else in the group 90% of the time, but then would pick his spots and -- when he felt ready -- would swim blazingly fast repeats.

This conforms closely with something Jonty Skinner (who set the WR for 100m Free in 1976) told me when he was Performance Science Director for USA Swimming. Jonty said that, the swimmer who is fastest on race day is not the one with the most highly tuned aerobic system, but the one with the most highly tuned nervous system.

Jonty then said that most swimmers understand the true role of aerobic training. It takes only 8 to 10 weeks of training to reach aerobic fitness. The rest of the season the primary role of aerobic training should be to aid in restoration and recovery, not to continue trying to gain fitness.

The reason for that role is that your muscles need to be fresh and responsive on the "quality days" in your training week. If they're fresh, you'll be able to do practice repeats on those days -- no more than twice a week -- that imprint the coordination for a combination of Stroke Length and Rate that converts to very fast swimming. If your aerobic training between quality days is even a little bit too effortful, you won't be sufficiently recovered on quality day and your nervous system imprinting -- and your races -- will suffer.

Does this describe the training you've done in college?

bugmenot 04-08-2009 02:09 AM

thanks for the responses.

In response to RichardSK:
First off I took a look at my 100's at conference over the past four years and here are exact splits. And yes SCY is what I have trained and focused most of my efforts towards, although I am focused on training for a LCM meet this summer. I think I am splitting what need to, to go my goal times 45.xx.
(22.51, 24.49), 47.00
(22.15, 24.69), 46.84
(22.18, 24.83), 47.01
(22.26, 24.97), 47.23

In response to Rhoda:
I am a college swimmer -- so with my classes and completing a double major/double minor in four years I have kept myself pretty busy. Other than school though...not a whole lot more going internship my senior year as well, but I ensure at least 8/9 hours of sleep every night.

I have sat down with coachs for more advice, several times throughout my college career even...and some of it has proved helpful, but on the same token, times have not dropped as much as I had expected. I am tapering for my meets, but have guessed that with my size, I am possibly not tapering enough. After 6 months of leaving everything in the pool, training 9k+ yards total a day...I then tapered for 3 weeks. No more weights, just some light dryland and abs. Around 5-6k the first week, 4-5k the second week, 2-3k the last week and 1.5k the last 2-3 days before the meet. Do I need even more rest? I have heard of some guys doing 3-4k for 6 weeks before their big meets...

I maintain my weight too ( I am 6'5'' and 195). I cook all my meals and have read several books on sports nutrition to ensure that I my meals are appropriate for training and recovery.

To both, I will check into both of those websites.

bugmenot 04-08-2009 02:49 AM

Thank you for the response. I found many things you mention very insightful, especially the last couple lines in the first post. Also in your first post the line where you write,

"The pain, frustration and disappointment of working so hard -- indeed the slower I went, the harder I worked -- and feeling so hopeless and clueless about having all my times be slower are still fresh in my mind."

hits close to home. I almost wanted to never see a pool again after my conference meet...but I am determined to change my last memory of competion swimming to something more positive.

I have posted my split times as well, which you had also mentioned, all slightly above that 2 second margin you mention. The first split of the 50 seems necessary to be going my goal time of 45.xx though.

And for your second Very insightful. With weights/everyday morning sometimes proved difficult to "get going" on quality days. My best quality set this year was probably 6x100s off the blocks on 8 minutes holding a 50.low average. The guys next to me that ended up going 44/45s at conference were holding 52/53s (or even worse some of them were going 55s...)

I definitely am not the guy that sprints the warmup either -- I pay attention to technique and getting myself ready to race in the main set. I will definitely try to focus my efforts on more specific areas of practice though.

Could you expand a bit when you say "the primary role of aerobic training should be to aid in restoration and recovery, not to continue trying to gain fitness."
Every Monday our sprint group would do something long, at least 20x100 on 1:10 or faster, over the rest of the week we would do probably at least another 4,000 on this this too much aerobic for a sprinter? Are you saying this aerobic training midseason, may actually be hurting us?

And lastly I am glad to hear from another person to continue swimming too, thank you for the encouragement! Thanks again for the long response!

madvet 04-08-2009 02:23 PM


Originally Posted by terry (Post 2645)

The reason for that role is that your muscles need to be fresh and responsive on the "quality days" in your training week. If they're fresh, you'll be able to do practice repeats on those days -- no more than twice a week -- that imprint the coordination for a combination of Stroke Length and Rate that converts to very fast swimming. If your aerobic training between quality days is even a little bit too effortful, you won't be sufficiently recovered on quality day and your nervous system imprinting -- and your races -- will suffer.

Maybe I have heard this before but I never took it to heart. I will try to make this the focus of my training season.

Richardsk 04-08-2009 04:55 PM

Hi bugmenot

Your splits look very good to me - I wish I could do times like that for 25m, never mind 50 yards.

I remember seeing somewhere a set based on the goal final 50m of a race. The idea was to swim large numbers of repeats at the pace you hoped to be finishing your race in. As the set progressed you came closer and closer to the physical state you would be in on race day on the last few meters (or yards). At the same time you were building neural and muscle memory of how that pace felt. Because your second 50 is always slower than your first, initially the pace would be relatively easy and over a period of time the whole set should become easier. That's the reasoning as far as I understand it.

I would be interested to hear Terry's views on this approach.

CoachEricDeSanto 04-08-2009 06:05 PM

I have been tentative to add my two cents here, because I have never swum your speeds and only coached one person who reached your speeds. But here are a couple things I believe relevant.

In conversations I have had with Coach Kredich of University of Tennessee, I learned that some types of training, specifically training the nervous system to failure (his example set was: 1x100 from the blocks, 2x25 at 100 Tempo, 2x50 Fast...2 Times the goal is to hold your goal race 100 for all of it) can take as much as 6 weeks to recover the nervous system. The muscles recovered long before that, but the nervous system recovers more slowly. So they did other short sprints and a lot of holding technique as tempo increases, but this was considered really hard and stopped 6 weeks out from conferences. This, I believe, fits in with what Terry was saying about the need to rest the nervous system.

Second, I saw an interview with, I believe it was Bill Boomer, about training cats and dogs. Some swimmers, even sprinters, do really well on very long training days (15K a day type sessions). Boomer called these athletes the dogs. They just need to keep going. Janet Evans, while not a sprinter, was a classic dog in his mind. Some, need very limited, very quality training. These he called cats. Gary Hall, Jr was his example there. The point is that every body is different. Our job as athletes is to find where our body fits in. So when you asked about too much aerobic work, the answer cannot be generalized. It sounds like it is too much for your body. Many of the USA elite coaches say the best strength of USA swimming is the lack of unity in our approach. If you are a cat, you can find a cat coach. If you are a dog, you can find a dog coach. Most of us are in between and most coaches are in between. I believe you find the best success when you are aware of your body and fit your coach to your physical and mental needs.

Finally, Terry has written a few times that the racing strategy that worked for his athletes at the Army Sprint group was 25% set your stroke with as little effort as possible, 50% build, 25% hold on. This seems like it might fit you because it helps you finish well. I have had success using this strategy (although success for me means 1:10/100yds).

I spend my practice sessions doing just that, practicing for each phase. I spend time trying to maximize my top speed for the final 25%. I spend time trying to maximize the speed I can hold and minimize my effort as I set my stroke. I try to get the easy speed as close to my max as possible. Then I work on building from one to the other. Every swim in practice is trying to match some portion of my race. I don't believe doing 20 x 100s on 1:10 matches any portion of your race.

I am spending a lot of time thinking right now about the program that I will set up when I get back into team coaching. I appreciate your post as it gave me a chance to think about what it takes to swim much faster than I ever will.

AWP 04-08-2009 09:07 PM

[quote=CoachEricD;2662] I don't believe doing 20 x 100s on 1:10 matches any portion of your race.

Would it make a difference if that 20x was done with a tempo trainer?

udes86 04-09-2009 02:42 AM

Hi all> I was using a friends login (bugmenot) earlier to post and finally have my own account now! I have found this website so helpful that I intend to return for any questions I will have. This is a great community, everyone helping to improve the sport!!

To CoachEricD,
That kind of set is something we would do well into taper. We were still doing did several broken swims 1-2 weeks out from conference. We probably had 3-4 days total of broken swims within the last 3 weeks.
For example one day in a set of 4x50s on 1:00, I went a 1:36.5...and then at conference I go a 1:43.
The same with my 100; we had a one day doing 50/50, 50/50, 75/25...and I was going 46.lows
And another day doing a 200/100 & 50 broken. All of these swims each of these days at race pace.

Everyone's muscles seemed fully recovered by the time conference rolled around, but if it really takes 6 weeks to recover the nervous system then we need to be sprinting a lot less during our taper. Should the taper be focused more strictly on technique? How much 'all out' swimming should be included in the final weeks before the meet?

I like the way you describe cat/dog training too...I don't know where I would categorize myself yet either. I definitely didn't mind doing 9-10k a day during the college season because I know I'm going to have something to taper from, but then again I am really enjoying the way I am training now doing only 5-6k.
I might also tend to agree that there was simply too much aerobic traing for myself and not enough focused towards quality, technique and kick. It's funny that you mention 20x100s on 1:10 too, because that is the exact set that we did today (holding 1:05s and :59 for the last 100)..haha.

terry 04-09-2009 03:03 PM

Incredibly Useful Advice
The quality and diversity of discussion and thought on this Forum -- as always -- exceeds that you can find anywhere else on the web. A superb example is Eric's reminders of (1) "cat and dog" athletes, as suggested by Bill Boomer, and how it emphasizes the importance of individualizing training, avoidance of cookie-cutter approaches, and (2) the critical and little-understood distinction between nervous system fatigue and fatigue in other systems.

Cats and Dogs
While instinct would suggest that sprinters are cats and distance swimmers dogs, Eric mentioned an example of two sprinters, one a cat, the other a dog. I believe many coaches also generally think of women as dogs (sorry -- in the athletic sense) and men as cats.

Thirty years ago I began coaching two very promising distance swimmers, both male -- from age 10 to 16. From age 13, they began participating in a very heavy week of training over Christmas holidays 100km in 8 days (something I would no longer do as a coach). We always swam a meet on the final weekend of this period. One would just get stronger and stronger throughout, and would usually swim astonishingly well in that meet. The other would just get more and more tired, and would be incredibly flat at that meet. I didn't grasp it at the time, but the former was clearly a dog and the latter a cat.

You'd think the "dog" would have enjoyed greater success as a distance swimmer, but it was the "cat" who broke a long-standing national age group record for 800m and later earned world rankings in 400 to 1500. This occurred because I realized I needed to coach them differently, and -- except for Hell Week -- I've always been more strongly inclined to "cat coaching." When I took care to avoid driving him into staleness, and gave him sufficient rest, he performed amazingly.

Unfortunately his college coach (at Arizona) trained everyone like dogs. This cat swam faster in practice on many sets than George Dicarlo and Jeff Kostoff who preceded him there. Both, being dogs, thrived on that kind of training and broke American records and won NCAA titles while there. The cat had a disappointing college career, though some of his training performances suggest at least the possibility that he could've been faster than either, if trained differently.

Nervous System Training
This is probably the least understood - by both coaches and swimmers - of all aspects of swim training. Few appreciate how critical it is to performance, nor how much more quickly it can respond to the right kind of training -- or how slow it is to recover from the wrong kind -- compared to the aerobic system, which has been far more heavily studied and is therefore better understood.

Because quality neural imprinting is more critical to sprinting success than any other events -- because high-skilled movements must be performed at exceedingly high rates and under heavy loads -- and because the potential for overstimulus and thus fatigue is so great -- because of increased reliance on intensive training -- it's far more challenging to get it right when training sprinters.

CoachEricDeSanto 04-09-2009 04:22 PM

To answer your question on taper, Coach Kredich suggested to me that they did not stop hard training 6 weeks out, they just stopped that hard of a set. He would prescribe lots of 25s practicing each portion of the race, for example, just not the whole race, a few times through, all at once.

Do you have any suggested resources to study more on nervous system training? Kredich suggested Tudor Bompa's book on periodization. It has some interesting ideas. I still haven't found comfortable answers to a few questions such as:

1. Why does it take the nervous system so long to recover?
2. What exactly is nervous system fatigue? Using up neurotransmitters? Messing with Na/K levels? Messing with Ca levels?
3. Could part of the aerobic base concept be training the nervous system to recover faster?
4. How can you recognize nervous system fatigue from muscle fatigue? (my guess is that nervous system fatigue would prevent you from ever reaching max speed where muscle fatigue would prevent you from maintaining it. But I have not found any reading that supports that idea.)
5. What is different about cats and dogs that makes them different?

The only readings I have found on nervous system training discuss coordination, weight training with multijoint movements, etc. Not recovery.

terry 04-09-2009 07:01 PM

Nervous System Training
You seem to have studied this subject with admirable depth. When I heard the term "nervous system fatigue" I was deeply intrigued, and sensed it might be incredibly important, but -- typical of my right-brain makeup -- was more inclined toward practical experiments in coaching application, rather than an academic study delving into considerations like neurotransmitters, Na/K and Ca levels -- the last two of which I can only respond to with a blank look.

What form did these practical experiments take? While coaching sprinters at West Point , I figured trial-and-error would be the only way to understand how much nervous system stimulus would be "about right" and how much would qualify as "overstimulus." Being a "cat coach" by inclination and feeling that overstimulus could be a far greater danger with sprinters, I was naturally cautious.

As well, I intuited that nervous system stimulus would need to be more finely calibrated during taper than in mid-season and at meets than in workouts.

Here's how I handled it: In mid-season training, I came into practice with a general plan, but regularly adjusted it during practice. When I saw the sprinters lacked "snap" or were struggling to execute a task they could normally do with controlled effort (whether because of muscular, neural -- or even mental -- fatigue) I'd initially modify the task by shortening repeats, increasing rest intervals, etc. If that didn't work, I'd simply replace all the intense stuff with restorative, easy, technique work (fistgloves a favorite).

In mid-season meets, conscious that they were always dealing with some level of fatigue -- often due more to the routine demands of cadet life, than to anything I'd asked them to do -- I was particularly careful to avoid "oversprinting" in warmup.

I often saw sprinters on opposing teams doing repeated max-effort 25s from a dive start, with their coaches timing each one. In contrast, I gave our sprinters these instructions:
1) My stopwatch stays in my pocket until the race. Do your speedwork only for feel.
2) The feel you are seeking is what you hope to experience during the race.
3) "Rehearse" in short crisp segments:
- Start, underwater, breakout, 2-3 cycles at race speed, then ease off,
- Build into a turn, then turn, breakout and 2-3 cycles at race speed, then ease off. Etc
4) Give your nervous system "advance notice" of the task you'll ask it to execute by swimming a few repeats of just 3-4 cycles the way you'd like to swim during the race. Never sustain this to fatigue.

This warmup plan also took into consideration that most would swim three races, requiring three repetitions of some part of this warmup. I reminded them to be mindful of this during the initial warmup.

The upshot was that they usually seemed reasonably sharp -- considering it was midseason -- during races and could sustain a consistent performance level to their last event. PS: Restorative warmdowns after intense races were just as critical, guessing that the nervous system, as much as the muscles, could benefit from a "cooling-off" period after intense activity.

If I'd been coaching the distance swimmers I would not have felt the need to be nearly so meticulous in planning to accommodate stress or overstimulus.

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