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Saturday May 7th we ran a combined workout with our Srs (13-17) and National Training Group (NTG) athletes (14-18). We wanted to mix the groups to challenge the Srs and have the NTG athletes be leaders, so while it was not ideal (having a one size fits all interval vs appropriate intervals based ability) it still worked out well.
The objective of the practice was to be mostly aerobic development with some higher endurance (threshold) work for the stroke and mid distance groups. For our Sprint group we had some lactate production on the kick and dive 50s.
That Saturday was ending our 5th week of the LC season. They were off on Sunday.
Here we are again ready to move onward and upward with the Eagle Swim Team. Coach Scott Ward and his staff operate out of Owings Mills, Maryland and this Saturday morning practice was five weeks into his long course season, so the 50m pool was in operation.
The swimmers were grouped into middle-distance, sprint, and stroke clusters. Although the main workout for the three clusters looks similar, with lots of 4 x ‘n’ as well as similar intervals, the intensity demands and their order of presentation differ quite a lot. This is not one set of exercises conveniently tweaked to mask a corporate approach across all swimmer types; rather it is three markedly differing sets totaling 4.3km (Mid), 3.2km (Spr), and 3.8km (Stk), but arranged to allow management and control in what was probably a pretty busy pool.
The warm-up started on land with some dynamic exercises and then moved to the pool where everyone went 1,000 of mixed low-intensity work including stroke counting, kicking, and drill-build combinations.
The middle-distance group (4,300m) start with kicking at EN1 and descend the set of four to 100% effort. This is followed by ‘cruise’ swimming 125s at EN2 (remember they’ve resurrected and locked in their best stroke count during the warm-up) alternating 25s with ‘strong’ kick so the legs are being well activated early in the practice and early in the set. Then 600m back at EN1 level with coach-specified drills and swimmer-choice drills as well as build swimming by 50s.
That series of preparatory swims totals 1,300m and sets the swimmers up nicely for the meat of the exercise which is 4 x 400 looking for best average. We don’t know the speed of the swimmers but as the normal groups were combined we can assume there would be a larger than normal range of abilities. As they are all going on a 5:45 interval their relative speed would affect the amount of rest but, generally speaking, we can assume they were looking for speeds around the mid-point of the zone stressing the ‘lactate clearance’ capabilities.
That zone combines aerobic and anaerobic work. It is above the anaerobic threshold speed (so anaerobic activity has become more pronounced) but below the critical velocity where the slow twitch fibers switch to using glycogen as their favored energy source. Freestyle stroke rates would probably be in the mid-40s (40 cycles per minute or 1.50 seconds for each complete cycle) and heart-rates around the 175 mark, although that’s not really important because whatever the heart rate is it is caused by the stroke rating. The heart rate is an effect; the stroke rate is the cause.
The set then moves back down to EN2 for 800m, then 400m of recovery drills, before spicing up again for the final 4 x 50m which were done as one build plus three at 200m pace plus 1 second.
The varying intensities, therefore, are spread across the whole set but grouped so that their effects build then release, build again, release etc. The overall effect is solid high-end aerobic development with the added spice of targeting the clearance capabilities as well.
Let’s do a ‘what-if’ scenario. What if the four 400m swims for best average had been spread across the whole mega-set instead of grouped together? How would the physiological training effect change? Let’s say the first 400 was placed after the 4 x 125, the second 400 after the 4 x 150, the third after the 4 x 200 and the final one after the 4 x 100 recovery. Each of the 400s could have been of a higher intensity (because there’s only one of them at a time) so they could wander into VO2Max territory – freestyle stroke rates in the high 40 range, instead of the mid-40s. This set strongly stimulating the aerobic metabolism and intermittently plunges the knife under the ribs and twists, stimulating the muscle cells to use more of the oxygen which is being delivered to them and to use it more effectively. In other words a higher percentage of the transported oxygen is utilized. That will increase the speed at VO2Max which is what every swim coach should look for.
It’s not better or worse than Coach Ward’s set, it’s just different. It’s an example of how deliberately manipulating the details of a set can dramatically change the effect on the swimmer’s muscles, especially at the lactate tolerance/VO2Max/lactate production intensity levels.
SPRINT AND STROKE
The sprint and stroke clusters also follow a build and release pattern but theirs are different to the middle-distance group and different to each other. Lots of work has gone into the design of this practice.
The sprint group start with speed work on kick then drop to EN1 drills, then back up to speed with dive 50s for time and stroke count immediately transitioning into 50m recoveries. EN2 follows, then EN1 and back to speed work again where the dive 50s + 50 recovery set is repeated, this time immediately followed by 25s high-velocity overloads and 25 easy looking for distance per stroke – the 25s HVO are not mad-dash, frenetic, whirlwinds, they are high-speed controlled, efficient sprints.
The stroke group also does the 4 x 400 for best average. They go on a 6:10 interval and have 1,100 of preparation comprising EN2, then EN1, then the SP set of dive 50s and recovery 50s. That’s a tad more demanding than the middle-distance group’s preparation so the 400’s are followed by 6 x 100 of recovery drills. Nothing here is randomly assigned; it’s all very well thought-out. However, they are not allowed to sleep it off; the dive 50 set is repeated and their interval is slightly shorter than the sprint group were allowed. I would assess the stroke group’s ‘main set’ as the most demanding of the three clusters.
The practice concludes with everyone doing 40 x 50, all on 0:55 at EN1 intensity, so in effect, a ‘cool-down’ exercise. All the 50’s were done with fins, which would take the systemic stress even lower, and the four strokes were mixed with an increasing amount of swimmers’ choice in blocks of 10 x 50.
A choice 100 topped off the practice but the previous 2,000 was the real warm-down and very nice one too; beautifully conceived and constructed to send the swimmers off for their weekend feeling good-to-great about themselves.
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