Is Your Swim Fitness In A Permanent State Of Snakes And Ladders?

A good way to visualise your training is that each session you complete takes you one small step up a very long fitness ladder:

Your body only gains a small amount of fitness from each individual session but with a great deal of consistency over a long period of time, you can climb that ladder very high and achieve some great performances.

Consistency is the key word here because if you miss sessions then you start to lose fitness again and start to slide down the fitness 'snake':

Sports scientists call this principle 'reversibility' - your body naturally sheds fitness once training stops. Of course you know that already but it might not be obvious how it happens so incrementally and so quickly?

If you train hard for a few sessions, get demotivated, train again, get sick, start again then your fitness is going to look like this and ultimately not go anywhere:

If you take a long hard honest look at your own training over the last few months, has it been intermittent that?

This is a very simple model (you can see a more developed one here) but you can draw some very powerful conclusions from it with respect to how you should train:

- Avoid the temptation to try and climb the ladder too fast with 'world record sets' or 'monster weeks'. These are extremely physically and mentally taxing and can easily lead to burnout, far better to train slightly within yourself but be very consistent over many weeks.

- Think of your training in blocks of 8-10 weeks rather than individual sessions, this is the ideal period of time to stay focused and you can climb a lot of ladder rungs over that period. What happens in each individual session is far less important than the bigger picture of the block. Shameless plug: it's no co-incidence that Swim Smooth's training plans run for this length of time!

- If you have a busy professional and family life (like us!) then design a training routine you can sustain when life throws a few curve balls at you, even if this means doing less than you might on a good week.

- The less time you are able to spend in the water, the more critical it becomes to do the right sort of focus training to get up those ladder rungs. For any distance swimmer, open water swimmer or triathlete we recommend your key 'hard' session of the week is a CSS session.

- Swim at least three times a week to keep the ladder heading upwards.

Swim Smooth!


selby said...

Please to say something about Tapering before an event and super-compensation

James said...

I have a job at sea on a vessel which allows me to train only during the period of four weeks I am at home and then I go back four weeks on the vessel where of course I can't train at all. So I swim four weeks and not swim four other weeks. Everytime I go back home I have to restart again and I have the feeling I will never be the swimmer I was before I had this job. We have a static bicicle on board. Any miracle ideas?

kykaku said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kykaku said...

James, miracles only when Christ decides to come again down here :), meanwhile, there are some solutions, although some of them not so cheap, for example a continuous pool. It's expensive, but if several people are interested its a thing worth to think.

Sarah Hart said...

I've always wondered about this too, I live in England and France half and half. England Oct - Mar where there is a great pool and I swim several times a week, feeling that I am making good progress. Then I go to France for the summer where there is only an outdoor pool on a campsite. It's open in July and August only, and while I make the effort to go whenever I can, there are other problems to contend with, not least the blistering sun and large teenagers dive bombing and swimming into me. Although I do get some swimming done, I really feel that I haven't even maintained the standard I was before I left UK.
So, what to do? My land is on a steep hill, so no "continous" or other pool for me, even if I could afford one...

Adam Young said...

Hi guys,

It is almost impossible to stay fully swim fit when you're not able to swim properly and any interruption is potentially damaging, which is why elite athletes put some much effort into getting the right facilities and being isolated from the world on training camps.

Not being able to train/rest 100% perfectly is a fact of life to a greater or lesser extent for most non-professional athletes, you kind of have to look at is as part of the deal and part of the satisfaction when you do get great results.

Certainly some things like stretch chord routines can help a bit and anything aerobic you can do with your upper body (e.g. rowing) is well worth adding in your routine.

Selby, this kind of model does highlight how easy it might be to over-taper. These days elite athletes tend to taper less than they used to and that might be why world records are still heading ever upwards. The art is making sure you have shaken any fatigue from the training which as long as you're not going wild (see next paragraph!) shouldn't take more than a few days.

Supercompensation is a technique where an athlete puts in an extreme session (or a few), perhaps at super high intensity, and then gets gains almost immediately afterwards. This kind of thing might squeeze a little extra performance out of your body if you get it right. Arguably, if inserted into regular training it can lead to so much fatigue sessions are missed and fitness drops back down again, so you have to be cautious when you do use it. One possibility is to perform such sessions once, perhaps 10-14 days before a big race.


Matthew @ Lasik for Your Surgeon said...

Exactly, a reasonable pace is the key.

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