Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sprinters vs Distance Swimmers

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If you train in a squad you will have noticed how some swimmers are great sprinters, able to work very hard over 50 or 100m. Others are much less able to sprint but can sustain a strong pace over 800m or further. This is in part determined by the type of training each swimmer is doing but there also is a genetic predisposition to each, some swimmer make natural sprinters, while others are more natural distance athletes.

If you study swimmers closely you'll also notice cross-breeds; those swimmers who can sprint fairly well and also sustain a fairly strong distance pace. These swimmers normally have a sweet-spot around 200 or 400m where they are faster than the pure sprinters and the pure distance guys. These are the middle-distance swimmers, the great Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe being a classic example of the breed.

We can show this graphically as race speed over different distances of race:

The blue line is a middle-distance swimmer. He or she can travel quicker than our distance swimmer (red line) over 50, 100 and 200m. But by the time they are racing a much longer distance such as 1500m, the tables have turned and the distance swimmer is considerably faster. A pure sprinter would show an even greater drop-off in performance as race distances get longer.

Becoming A Distance Swimmer
Perth squad member Suzanne is all smiles after
her once-weekly CSS session!

To become a good distance swimmer, we're not so interested in the ability to sprint very quickly over short distances. Instead we need to emulate great distance swimmers at the elite level and train ourselves to sustain a strong pace over longer distances. The best way to do this is to swim sets at CSS pace with short recoveries between swims. Compared to sprint or middle distance training, the swims are slightly slower but with much shorter recoveries.

If you come from a team sport background such as football or rugby you need to be especially careful of getting this right as you are likely to have a natural sprint ability. Most Arnies fall into this category. A key focus to improve your swimming is to tame that competitive instinct to go hard from the gun in training and to set off at a more moderate pace but one that you can sustain. At Swim Smooth we affectionately refer to this as 'Taming The Arnie'!

When you swim at CSS pace, it feels very easy over the first 50m and only like a moderate effort over the next 100 to 200m. Be aware of this and resist the urge to go too hard too soon! The effort will progressively build and by the end of the set you'll be really working to sustain that same pace.

Aim to complete one CSS set a week and within four to six weeks you'll notice a definite improvement in your distance swimming fitness and race performances. This is a double gain as increased fitness will also help you sustain a better stroke technique without that feeling of your 'stoke falling apart'. You're changing your fitness and becoming more like the red-line swimmer in the graph above.

More information about CSS training and examples of training sets, see our website here:


The CSS Calculator

If you've played with the CSS calculator on that webpage, you might have noticed something a little strange. If you keep your 400m time fixed but reduce your 200m time, your CSS pace becomes slower! At first sight this seems very odd - how can a faster swimmer end up with a slower CSS pace?

To understand this we need to refer back to the graph above. By keeping a swimmer's 400m time the same and increasing the 200m speed, we are saying their physiology is becoming more of a sprinter and that their performances will drop off over longer distances.

The power of CSS training is that it gets you training at the right intensity level to improve as a distance swimmer, whatever your current level of fitness or genetic predisposition.

Swim Smooth!

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