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Old 04-09-2009
terry terry is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2008
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Default 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.
Terry Laughlin
Head Coach & Chief Executive Optimist

May your laps be as happy as mine.

My TI Story

Last edited by terry : 04-09-2009 at 07:04 PM.
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