Aerobic Training and Aerobic Base: Coaches’ Philosophies- The Secret Behind Their Success



November 1987-January 1988


All that yardage- Contrary to some recently popularized theories, there is no substitute for a good solid aerobic base.”

By James E Counsilman, Ph.D.

 There is not total agreement among the coaches, but over the past 40 years has been a trend among world-class swimmers to increase their training distance to the point that some researchers and coaches believe our swimmers may be training too far.

Today the average nationally ranked swimmer trains between 10,000 and 20,000 yards or meters a day at the peak of the season. This requires them to train four to six hours a day during this period. In the past couple of years a large number of articles have appeared in swimming publications that challenge this concept of mega­ meters or yards of training. In an article by David Salo, entitled “a Quick look at the Distance Myth,” the author states:

As a coach I was bent on achieving a minimum of 9,000 yards per training session because that was how it was supposed to be done. No real swimmer could expect to be the best if they didn’t put in at least 100,000 yards/week. But is this the only way for a swimmer to train and furthermore is it the best way to achieve a swimmer’s peak potential? The author goes on to say,

This article will challenge some long held beliefs on training based on scientific evidence reported over the past few years.

Salo reinforces the credibility of this argument by referring to a study by Garry Dudley entitled, “Influence of exercise Intensity and Duration on Biomechanical Adaptations in Muscles” published in the Journal of applied Physiology. He claims that Dudley’s research questions the value of the distance based concepts of training: “The first finding was the observation that there appeared to be a duration threshold of training whereby additional time beyond one hour does not increase the capacity of the muscle.”

Before proceeding further I want to discuss a few facts concerning Dudley’s research that the· secondary author fails to mention. Fact #1: The subjects in Dudley’s experiments were rats, not humans. This approach was obligatory because the subjects had to be sacrificed at the end of the experiment. This, however, does not give anyone the license to extrapolate that human muscle tissue would duplicate the precise time pattern that occurred in rat muscle tissue in the study. Fact #2: In the original research, only one parameter, that of the mitochondria content (Cytocrome C) of the muscle fibers, was measured. What happened to the other 99 variables that Dr. Tuttle mentioned 40 years ago?

It is a common failing among many researchers to assume that there are no changes at all if there are no changes in the variables they have selected to measure. This mistake was not made in Dudley’s report, but was made by Salo.

So far I have been critical of the researcher, but I have ‘reserved some criticism for the coaches. Not all researchers are as I have just describe them Many are doing excellent work and not naively advocating radical changes in current training methods. Good working relationships exist with the coaches and researchers at many Universities. I believe we have an excellent arrangement here, at Indiana University.

As I mentioned earlier, some coaches are receptive to the concept of reduced workloads for swimmers for the wrong reasons. They are attracted to the possibility of less work for themselves. These coaches deserve criticism.

I also don’t want to give the impression that I believe that some coaches may not be training their athletes too hard and pushing them though too much over-distance training. I am sure this is happening, but I am also confident it is not a – widespread practice. On the contrary, judging from the conversations I have had with coaches on many levels, I would say that the majority of these countries swimming programs are under­ training not over-training. This is as it should be. Many young Americans take piano lessons and practice an hour or two a daily. When a child with great potential is identified, his teacher is faced with a dilemma. He or she knows the child’s practice regiment must be upgraded in terms of time and teaching expertise. The teacher must undertake a far greater commitment or send the promising child to a person who will do so. The teacher must also make the child aware that he or she will have to practice from four to six hours a day if that child’s is to reach his potential. It’s the same with a talented swimmer. Not all competitive swimmers should have to train_ between 10,000 and 20,000 maters  or yards a day. But, once the swimmer has demonstrated extraordinary physical potential and the motivation to excel, the coach is obligated to see that the swimmer  has a well-planned ·program that will allow the athlete to develop this· potential to fullest and that doubtless means 10,000 to 20,000 yards or meters daily at the season ‘s peak. It is essential that any program designed to help a swimmer realize his or her full potential be guided by certain concepts of training. The expert coach bases his entire coaching  philosophy  on concepts.

The researchers can help the coach more sharply define these concepts to the end that they may more fully understand them, but, at this· point in· the evolution of training it is primarily the coaches who have developed the concepts through the process of trial and error.

Of great importance is a concept I mentioned earlier: that of specificity of training. It stated that the body makes specific adaptations to specific stress placed upon it. This could lead the coach to believe that he should train his sprinters with only sprint or high-quality training, his middle distance swimmers with only middle distance sets of repeats, and his distance swimmers with only distance swimming. This is an oversimplification of the specificity concept. In fact, all three groups of swimmers should include all the following types of training in their programs, but in different ratios for each group.

  1. Sprint training or anaerobic lactate training-short distances at fats speed with a sufficient time in between repeats to ensure that no build-up of lactic acid occurs. An example would be 20×50 on departure time of 1:00.
  2. Middle or aerobic lactate training­ repeats at a pace that is sufficiently intense to create oxygen dept and high level of muscle and blood lactate. For example, 10×100, from dive on 5:00.
  3. Over-distance swimming or aerobic training -repeats that are longer than race distance and in which little or no build-up of lactate acid occurs. This type would also include some types of short rest, interval

It is obvious that sprinters should do more sprints than distance swimmers and vice versa. Any well­ planned swim program will contain three different groups of swimmers and all three groups will integrate all three methods of training into its program. This type of program is termed a multi-method or integrated program. It is helping the coach understand the need for an integrated program where the exercise physiologist can provide the help I mentioned.

Instead we sometimes get the following kind of advice. A recent article published in a swimming magazine advocated that swimmers should use 60×25 yard all-out-effort swims, departing on 60 seconds, as suitable preparation for the 500 yard event. The traditional training in swimming and other cyclic sports, such as track, skiing, and bicycling is to lay a base of endurance training early in the season in order to build a long-lasting residual effect on the body’s aerobic capacity and then to superimpose high quality or more intense practice methods (anaerobic) as the season progresses.

Is it possible to build endurance by doing nothing but a series of sprints? I doubt it because I tried it about 25 years ago with disastrous results for m distance swimmers. Even the sprinters suffered when we reduced their distance and eliminated aerobic training from their program.

Another very important concept that plays a primary role in designing a training program is that there is an infinite amount of adaptation possible to aerobic training. At this time we cannot quantify it and we assume that it varies from one individual to the next, particularly between a sprinter and a distance swimmer.

One of the main purpose of aerobic training is to raise the aerobic threshold so that the intensity of the work that originally was anaerobic becomes aerobic. This concept alone justifies the use of high percentage aerobic training in any program.

The body can absorb large amounts of endurance or aerobic work, but can tolerate only relatively small amounts of high intensity work. Excessive amount of high quality anaerobic lactate work can push the athlete failing adaptation or.;. a term some coaches prefer-stagnation, and can result in impaired performance in the pool. For this reason we must periodize the swimmer’s workouts. The coach must follow the principle of progressive demand, but must use macrocycle or training that does not put one day of high intensity after another. Experimentally we had put our swimmers at Indiana University under high intensity regiment for three days in a row by doing goal sets of repeats (anaerobic lactate training) for three consecutive days and noticed a depressive T wave in their EKGs and a diminished performance in the pool for a period of over a week.

How far and how intensely are today’s champion swimmers going daily in their practice session? I interviewed a number of coaches and swimmers at a recent US Swimming Championship about their training. Here are some of the responses:

Matt Biondi, world record holder in the 50 and 100 free, trains between 12,000 and 15,000 meters per day ate the peak of his training session. He does 11 workouts per week.

Dan Jorgensen, winner of the 1500 meter free, averaged about 15,000 meters per day.

Dave Warton, American records holder in the 200 and 400 m races, trains between 16,000 and 20,000 meters per day.

Sean Killion, winner of 800 free in American record time, goes about 12,000 and 13,000 meters per day in 11 workouts a week, averaging 70,000 meters a week.

Janet Evans, who set the world record in the 800 and 1,500 meter events, swims 13,000 meters a day in 11 workouts per week. She averages 75,000 meters per week.  It was impossible in an interview to determine how much of this training was accomplished at the anaerobic lactate level, but my guess is that it was between 10 and 15 percent, with the rest of the training being at or below the anaerobic threshold level, that is, aerobic  training.

The use of an integrated or multi­ method form of training permits the development of all the. desirable physical adaptations needed to achieve maximal performance. We must not over simplify training for several reasons: if only one training method is used, only one form of energy release will be developed. In order for adaptation to occur there must be some form of  recovery either active or passive between similar successive training sessions: For example, if only intensive efforts are used in a training program, there must be longer periods of recuperation between these sessions. Such periods can disrupt the whole training regimen. It is important to remember that excessive use of high-intensity· anaerobic lactate work can result in failing adaptation (stagnation).

If a particular session stresses the aerobic capacity of the body it should be followed by a session that stresses the aerobic system. This endurance session can be considered an active recovery period for the body’s anaerobic system.

Total passive recovery would consist of complete rest.

In a single session it may be desirable to stress all _three forms of energy release. In this type of multi­ method training session it is not recommend that all three systems be stresses to the maximally. No single session should be composed entirely of anaerobic lactate or high intensity efforts. Use of only one type of training can result in either failing adaptation and/or a stereotyped response to the training stimulus and ultimately to performance stagnation. In the early and multi-yearly preparation of athletes the coach must consider both short-term and long-term effects. A short-term plan should consider a balanced, integrated program in which any specialized preparation is preceded by larger amounts of work in the aerobic regiment.

The long-term effects are to enhance the overall condition of the athlete by following the law of increased load demand. There are two methods by which an athlete can improve his performance: by increasing his load demands progressively and/or by improving stroke mechanics, strength, flexibility, race strategy, mental preparation, and so on.

This article has been reproduced only in part.







One of the keys to the current success of the American swimming is the use of distance base. Such training, I believe, is essential for every event.

How can you establish distance base? By any one of several obvious means:

First, gradually increase the total distance swum in workouts. If, for example, your age group youngsters are doing 5,000 yard a day, you can’t push them up to 15,000 in a week or even a month. You have to stretch it out over a year or maybe two years.

You have to remember that people don’t accept sudden changes in their lives very well, and that when you are dealing with children you are also dealing with their parents. So . you must make changes gradually, particularly in increasing total workout distance. At U.S.C we try to increase our work a little every year, but never to the point that will upset anyone:

Second, you must gradually increase the length of the main series. If it’s running about 1,000 yards and you want to take it up to 4,000 you must do it over a period of months or years. The rate of the increase is something you alone must decide.

The main series is the real work part of the workout. If you are going to increase the mileage, you certainly have to increase this part.

Third, You must increase the amount of pulling done in the workout. Pulling relates to stamina, as kicking relates to speed.

Actually, to establish a distance base, you must increase both the amount and the percentage of pulling. Almost all successful distance swimmers do a very high percentage of pulling in their workouts, up to as much as 30 percent.

Fourth, this adjustment to distance, this establishment of a distance base, can be greatly helped by making distance part an honor and not an obligation. At Mission Viejo, for example, it’s a great honor to swim in the “Animal Lane”. Many other programs do similar things.

Once you make the distance training an honor rather than an obligation, the kids will accept it and be happy to do it.

The establishment of a distance base can be further aided by porting mileage charts on your bulletin board or on the wall of the pool, so the athletes can see how far both they and their teammates are swimming. If a hero or heroine of a particular group is swimming 15,000 and 16,000 yards per day and the younger children are swimming 6,000, the later will learn to honor and respect distance. When their turn comes, they will be happy to be part of it. I try to do this in all my programs.

The next question is: “When do you inject full mileage into the program?” We certainly do not want to do it immediately after teaching a child how to swim, or in the senior year in college, as that’s little late in the game.

We generally do it when training becomes serious, when the swimmer isn’t going to get much above 6,000 and 7,000 yards; but when he moves up to two a day he’ll quickly go to 12,000-14,000 or more. Note: Many programs have their athletes swimming  over 20,000  yards  per day, five and six days per  week.

Many coaches ask: ” At what age should that do this?” If I had to throw out numbers, I’d say that for girls with fairly extensive background, it would be perhaps 11 or 12, and for boys, perhaps 13 or 14. Note the perhaps. There’ll be many exceptions.

One of the factors would certainly be pool time and space. Many clubs don’t have the pool time to putt all their swimmers on a distance base. This could be true of high schools as well as age groups. (Most colleges do have the time and space.) Another question is physical development. I’ve had some college boys who were too weak to swim twice a day, and some kids who were ready to go at 11 or 12. The practice distance will depend upon the swimmer’s physical development.

Psychological readiness is also essential in the establishment of a distance base. If your athletes are not mentally ready to accept the training some of them will begin dropping out when you pile on the mileage. You could hold on to some of them by waiting a little longer – until they are more psychologically geared to accept this increased mileage.

Perhaps the biggest question on this mileage situation is: “Why should we introduce so much mileage?” Why should we battle with kids and parents and pool time and pool space and living a miserable life just to introduce all of this distance?

First, because the distance base will extend the range of swimmer’s events enabling them to add events like 200 fly, 400im, 1650 free, etc.

Kids who are just 4,00 or 5,00 yards a day will find these events very tough. Put them on 16,000 or 18,000 and the meet will become a picnic.

They’ll be able to score more often and have more fun, and their versatility will make them easier and more enjoyable to coach. Obviously, then, swimmers who put in the miles will achieve the maximum success possible for them. When the  swimmer with a good distance base goes on to the next age group meet, he’ll be able to swim five events at every session. Without the distance base, he’ll run out of gas somewhere along the line.

This is a particularly important in the national championship, where athletes have to swim trails and finals plus relays. In high school and college competitions, a youngster might have to swim 12 times in three days against tough competition.

Without the distance base he’d probably collapse.

Shirley Babashoff swam all four freestyle events plus the freestyle relay in the last Olympic Games. Kornelia Ender swam a quantity of events in the 1976 games, winning two of them in one day. Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in Munich. Every day for a week was race day for Mark. The only reason he was able to do it was because he had  had a very tough distance training as a youngster.

Shane Gould won medals in five different individual events in 1972 Games. It would have been impossible without the distance base.

The distance base also insures good strong work habits. Normally, the distance swimmers are your most disciplined athletes. The biggest problem people are the sprinters.

They have more energy because they are not worked very hard. So if you’ll work everyone until they are good and tired, you can be assured that their discipline and work habits will be improved.

Finally, the distance base allows for future success in the sprints. Many critics of the distance base say, ” That’s fine, but I  don’t

want to turn my whole team into distance swimmers.” I don’t either. I have to have sprinters because we’re trying to win relays. But I think that you can have the best of  two worlds by establishing the distance base early in the swimmer’s career while still being able to win a lot of meets.

John Hendricks, for example, was an Australian Olympic Champion (1956) before he came to USC and swam  for four years. John was Australia’s No.1 1500-meter man in 1953. Three years later he won the Olympic 100- meter freestyle.

Mark Spitz was once the world’s  No.4 man in the 1500 and the world record holder at the 400 meters. Yet, in his maturity, he was able to set world records in the 100 freestyle  and the 100-meter fly.

John Naber was the American record-holder  in both 1650 freestyle, our longest indoor race, and the 100- yard backstroke. He was also a 45 – flat 100 freestyler. So the distance base was obviously didn’t hurt his sprinting.

Shane Gould was a world record holder in both the distance events and the 100-meter freestyle.

Rick DeMont actually won the 400 free in Munich and was the world record holder in the 1500, yet he became one of the top sprinters in the world in both 100 and 200.

The distance base makes sprinters iron-tough in the last 10 meters.

Where the normal sprinter begins running out of gas at the bitter end, the distance base swimmer comes on and becomes very tough. All his past ·mileage enables him to swim the last 10 meters very, very fast.

Speed is maintained in the distance program with daily fast sprints. You must obligate you sprinters and non-sprinters to do something fast every day.

I prefer to organize this at the end of the workout. Very often we have 8x25s maybe at 45 seconds. I have the boys race against teammates of comparable ability.

We try to build up these races: here goes the grand challenge… here goes the Grand prix… here goes the champion of such and such age group… here goes the fastest girl we ever had.

Build it up make it a really fun rivalry out of going 25’s or 50’s. Anything over 25 or 50 is not going to give you that kind of speed.

The second way speed is maintained is the distance program is by weight training. Stretching is power is  speed.  That’s  crude formula,  not very scientific, but there’s a lot of  truth in it. The sprint swimmers who stay on weight training will maintain their strength- and this will have a lot to do with their speed in short races. That’s why early in the fall, after the swimmers have been on the maximum weight program for about two months, any of them will come  up with outstanding sprint performances. They’ll sometimes swim times they won’t equal at the end of the year. The reason for this is that  at this point the weight area is a primary part of the program, So if you’ll keep up strenuous weight training through the season you’ll not only maintain speed but also increase it, even while you’re doing distance training.

Lastly, sprinting speed can be insured by some really hard kicking, as kicking relates more than the arms to sprinting.          ‘

We have competitive kicking at least once a week. The whole squad kicks the same series on the same interval and we race. That pinpoints the  weak kickers.

If you work with an age group or high school team of more diverse talents, you can break them into groups of the same age and size. The weak kickers will show up very quickly and you can then bear down on them  and get them going.

Just routine kicking every day (10x100s on 30 seconds rest) isn’t very beneficial. It doesn’t put the pressure on the swimmers. Racing eight people against one another does put the pressure on them.

Each swimmer wants to have respect of the group. I try to do this at least once a week. I think it really helps.

What are the overall effects of the distance base-pro and con?

  1. It will certainly help cut down the size of the squad. Anytime you put in a very tough program the sightseers are going to drop out. As soon as you get up to 16,000 or 17,000 the squad will begin cutting itself. And once you get the squad down to a manageable size: you’ll be able to do some real work.
  1. The distance program will improve the morale and character of the team. Whenever a group gets together on a project and works hard at it – and distance training is hard work- it will develop both individual and group character.
  2. The longer a swimmer stays on distance, the more apt he is surviving his four school seasons. People on light programs have big problem sticking it out. All of us-college, club, high school and junior college coaches- want to see athletes achieve greatness in their mature years.

The distance base will keep them at it longer. You can always go down in mileage, but it’s very tough to go up once the swimmer reaches physical maturity.

The distance program will, of course, create pool time and space problems. If you are getting by on three hours a day of pool time, six days a week, and you double mileage, something has to

One thing that will help will be your dropout rate. The reduction in numbers will save space and time. If numbers remain a problem, you may have to rent more pool time or talk the physical education or recreation department into giving you more time.

The distance base will also place more demands on you time and effort. If you have family obligations, it’s going to be tough. If you are an age group coach working with an AAU club, you are probably going to have to give up over half your weekends of the year, all day Saturday and all day Sunday.

Philosophical note: I really believe that age group swimming is now demanding too much of its coaches. The program is right training-wise, but wrong competition-wise.

All-day meets on every other weekend of the year no way to manage either a sport or a private life. It places a terrible burden on the coaches’ family, and it eventually wipes out swimmers and parents.

We should be thinking of what we can do to save swimming and the people in it.

Each coach must establish the maximum mileage that’s feasible for each segment of his team. Take my club several summers ago. I established three training levels for my mixed group: 16,000 for the very tough experienced semi-distance type, 13,000 for the not so tough and 4,000 for the income semi­ recreational types. So everything came out nicely, we didn’t lose anyone.

That’s the kind of compromise you will have to make.  I was not cheating the “income” people on 4,000 a day. I was doing them service. If I had put them on 13,000 the first day, they would have been gone. They were not equipped psychologically or physically to handle 13,000. Age group and high school coaches should be doing the same thing.

Once you’ve established a base, be flexible. Halfway through the season you may feel that “these people can do a lot more,” or that “They can’t handle this.”

Play torture master and you will end up wiping out your team. And what would that prove? Simply that you are inexperienced. I know, because I have been guilty of this myself. So it’s really important to think about the base, establish it, and then change it if necessary. You can start slowly, gradually working up to 16,000.

There is no formula for this. You have to find your own way.

This article was been reproduced only in part.


Summer 1996


The Urbanchek-mate system  of training


 Jon Urbanchek, head coach for the University of Michigan and a 1996 Assistant Olympic Swim Coach, created a systematic method for training his swimmers in the mid-1980s. Today, it has become the standard for many elite level coaches.                ·

Urbanchek’s system of training is based upon establishing an athlete’s basic threshold pace. The basic threshold pace is simply an average pace per 100 yards or meters that marks the dividing line between aerobic and anaerobic work.

The basic threshold pace can be determined from various blood lactate tests or from honest effort in a 30 minutes swim (T-30) using pulse counts.

The T-30 test is very practical and can be administered to a large number of swimmers without any blood testing. The test should be done in the swimmer’s specific stroke, except for the butterfly stroke. It requires the swimmer to swim as far as he or she can in 30 minutes.

The total distance swum is divided by 1800 (30 minutes x 60 seconds) to equal yards/meters per second. Divide 100 by this total to equal the total number of seconds per 100 yds/mtrs. (Ex: a swimmer swims 2600 yards in 30 minutes. The basic threshold pace can be found by dividing 2600 by 1800 to equal 1.44 yards per second. Divide 1.44 into 100 to equal 69 seconds per 100, which is a 1:09 pace.)

Immediately after the T-30, the distance is recorded and the swimmers are instructed to take three, 10-second pulse counts. The pulse counts must be spaced 30 seconds apart. The results Usually average between 75 and 150 beats per minute.

Based on the results of the T 30; the swimmer will now have a basic threshold pace. Urbanchek invented this system and presently uses the basic threshold pace to determine an athlete aerobic training pace (EN1), threshold training pace (EN2), maximum V02 training pace (EN3), lactate tolerance pace (SP1), lactate production pace (SP2) and alactic anaerobic/speed training pace (SP3).

Each season Urbanchek writes a training plan for the entire team. The team trains together under the plan, however, the athletes are placed in training groups according to strokes and distances.

Before each practice, swimmers are told what the workout will be and are instructed to find their training paces on charts posted by the poolside. Each athlete has a different pace and rest interval based on his basic threshold pace. Every practice is orchestrated into a symphony of strokes, speeds, and distances where each swimmer swims to their own beat.

Weekly Training Chart for Eric Wunderlich prior to the 1996 Olympic trials (early season)


AM AerobicPulling/Power Kick hypoxic EN1-2Total 6,000 yds Recovery Drills Off Stroke Kick/Power EN 1-2          Total6,000 yds OFF . Recovery Pull/PowerSpeedplay Alactic EN 1-2Total 6,000 YDS Aerobic Kick/Power Drills Hypoxic EN 1-2Tota16,000yds Anaerobic LactateSpeed or Meet SP 1-2                 Total6,500 Yds OFF
PM Anaerobic Thresold3-4,000 yds EN2-3Total 7,500yds Active rest         EN        Anaerobic Threshold 3-4,000 ydsEN 2-3Total 7,500 yds Subjective (go by feel) Active rest PowerH20 Speed Assist Buckets, CordsEN 1-2Total 7,000 yds OFF OFF
1-2           Total7,000 yds V02 Max Lactate EN3/SP1Total 7,000 yds
YDS 13,500 13,000. 7,000 13,500 13,000 6,500

Early Season (Sept., Oct., Nov.) 10 workouts/66,500 Total yards. Weights: T, Th, Sat,

Dryland M, W, F, (Medicine ball, swim bench, Jumps, Plyometrics, Breast Bench


Weekly Training Chart for Tom Dolan prior to the 1996 Olympic Trails (early season)               –

AM Aerobic Technique Pull/Free3-4000 yds Kick Drills EN1-2Total 7,000 yds Aerobic Drills/Fins       Kick (2.0) Pull/StrokePower Buckets,cords REC/ EN 1-2Total 7,000 yds OFFor make ups if missed workouts Aerobic Technique Drills Pull/Free HypoxicKick/ Breast Fins swim REC/EN 1-2Total 7,000 YDS Aerobic Pull back Kick Breast PowerBuckets, Cords Technique Rec/EN 1-2 Total 7,000yds Lactate V02 Max AlacticTest sets          EN2-3 /SP           Total8,000 Yds OFF
PM Thresold 60 min.+or-10min.EN2-3Total 10,000yds Actice Rest    Slow/Fast (subjective) Breat/lM              EN 1-2            Total9,000 V02  Max (IM)Lactate Rainbow set EN3/SPTotal 8,000 yds Threshold 50 min + or-10 min. FreeEN 2-3Total 9,000 yds Actice rest Slow/fast (subjective) Back/ IM EN 1-2Total 8,000 yds OFF OFF
YDS 17,000 16,000 8,000 16,000 15,000 6,500

Dryland: M, W, F (Med. Ball, Swim bench, Jumps, Breast bench




Whatever  happened to the Distance  Base?

BY: Cecil Colwin


 Can the slump of North American swimming standards be partly due to less importance being placed on a good distance background?

There was a time when distance training for all swimmers was almost a religion. That era also saw some of the most dramatic improvements in the history of the sport.

Leading coaches believed in the benefits of a distance swimming background and they pointed to the fact that most distance-trained swimmers were able to swim multiple events at maturity’.

They preached the gospel that a good swimmer should be good at all distances. They proved that the broader the base of the endurance “pyramid’ built over all the developing years, the higher would be the pinnacle of achievement.

Young swimmers were encouraged to swim distances as soon as they acquired a good basic swimming stroke.

Only after many years of the long slow progressive buildup were the swimmers gradually introduced to training for specific events.

Building the Endurance Base

Constant repetition of correct movements at slower speeds helps to build ideal stroke patterns, while short sprints tend to cause stroke deterioration.

At high speed, it is hard to detect the faults in a swimmer’s stroke. At slower speeds, a stroke fault becomes magnified, those easier to detect and correct.

Furthermore most young swimmers simply haven’t the musculature to handle a lot of sprinting. Distance swimming, rather than incessant sprinting, is more compatible with the young swimmer’s normal growth and development. Years of carefully controlled training are required to condition the heart muscle.

Research has shown moderate prolonged work to be the proven way to achieve this. Sprint swimming on the other hand is too intensive to permit enough sustained work to develop endurance.

This is not to say that endurance swimming does not build muscular strength and power. It does. But the process is slower and marked by gradual increase in work intensity. It wisely takes into account the inexorable demands of growth on the young swimmer.

The goals is to gradually learn to swim a little further each day, while perfecting stroke and developing rhythm. Most of the time the swimmer is asked to swim at the fastest most comfortable pace.

A young swimmer who can handle a steady diet of distance training soon develops the confidence and determination to swim respectable 1500 free, not just in training but in competition as well. And furthermore, a swimmer’s times over the 100 will also start to improve, without a formal sprint preparation.

Start young swimmers on distance training, and you will be soon surprised at how well they adapt, and how quickly their times will drop; usually with minimum sprint work.

Coaches will find that a thorough background distance swimming help youngsters to more fully realize their endurance potential at maturity.

When a swimmer is older and ready to concentrate on specific events, the necessary speed-endurance will be there to enable any racing distance to be covered at the fastest constant speed.

As the Young twig is Bent… Forbes Carlile, the great Australian coach said: “As the young twig is bent, so will it grow.” By that he meant that the young swimmer started distance training, the greater would be that swimmer’s eventual ability to adapt to hard specialized work. In fact years ago, when I first learned the value of distance training for young swimmers, I was amazed at how quickly young swimmers took to this new program. Older swimmers, to their embarrassment, were slower to adapt and, in fact, were having great difficult in doing so.

As a result, I saw a new generation of potentially more successful swimmers developing right in front of my eyes and soon they were able to push the older swimmers every inch of the way over the long distances.

The truth of Carlile’s philosophy on the importance of early distance training needed no further validation. Carlile called his program “speed through endurance” after the philosophy of German track coach Ernst van Aaken. And Carlile’s approach proved it’s merit with great swimmers such as Shane Gould, Karen Moras, Jenny Turrell, Jane Lockyear, and many others.

Particular proof of his method was Shane Gould’s success in the early 1970s when he broke every world · freestyle record from the 1500 to the 100.

Carlile’s endurance training program was based on two simple components. The first was improving the ability to swim distance (prolong the activity), and the second was to increase the speed of the established distance (increase the speed of the prolonged activity).

Carlile kept the duration of each training period constant. He conducted 11 two-hour sessions a week and the aim was not to increase the duration of each practice, but to have the swimmers try to cover more distance within the given period.

Yards per Minute

Dick Shoulberg (1983) said that here has been an unnecessary tendency to increase the amount of training time instead on improving the speed of the long distance training swims.





By: Paul Quinlan


Denis Cottrell, a graduate in Physical Education and a top level coach in the Australian coach accreditation program, is one of a new breed of coaches who has studied both professionally and by association members, to whom is totally devoted.

Multi Year Development Program

Grant Hackett Born 9 May 1980

Age                                         7-13


Weekly sessions Volume per session Weekly Volume



2-3 km

10-35 km

Many of his athletes swim for both the Miami Swim Club and a Surf Club with top coaches throughout the world. Most of all Denis says he has gained a great deal of knowledge while he was a member of national teams.  Denis makes special mention of the role Gennadi Tuoretski has played since his arrival in Australia  in furthering Cottrell’s knowledge of the  sport.

Age                                         14

Focus              Freestyle distance, technique


Age group Championships Weekly sessions           7-8

Volume per session                 5-6 km

Weekly volume                       40-45 km

Age                                         15

Ten swimmers have been selected from his Miami Club to Australian teams for major international championships. The most notable of the: the current world champion Grant Hackett, Andrew Baildon,


Weekly sessions Volume per session Weekly volume

Technique and endurance


5.5-6.5 km

50-55 km

Daniel Kowalski and Olympic backstroker Joanne Meehan. Like our previously profiled Australian coach Dough Frost,

Age                                         16

Focus              Endurance, technique, speed National Age Group and Open Championships

Weekly sessions Volume per session Weekly volume


6.5-7.5 km

60-65 km

Age                                         17


Endurance, strength, technique  and speed

National Championships Weekly sessions Volume per session Weekly volume


7-8 km

65-75 km

Cottrell has coached his star pupil Grant Hackett since before age 10. Grant Hackett started his swimming career while only seven years of age.

Shown above is an outline of the gradual multiyear development program Denis has for his club



What The Australians  Are Really Doing

Aussies Kieren Perkins, Glen Housman, Dan Kowalski and Grant Hackett are all faster than the fastest American distance swimmer. And 14-year-old Ian Thorpe may be the best yeti

What do they know about distance swimming that we don’t?


By Ron Johnson


There are not many people who would argue that the United States is the world’s dominant player in international swimming. In the most events of 200 meters or less, we have a disproportionate number of athletes ranked in the world’s top 25 year after year.          •

However, in events of 400 meters and more, the United States has become progressively less competitive, especially on the male side. In fact, distanced swimming­ particularly male distance swimming­ seems to have regressed over the last 20 years. Two decades without progress in events where there is arguably likelihood for improvement seems to indicate we have lost our way in training for these distances.

It’s quite a paradox, considering that we haven’t improved in these distance events during a period when pool design has improved, suit design is better, wave-quelling technology has been refined and , theoretically, knowledge in stroke technique has become_ more sophisticated. These and other factors would make it appear almost impossible not to move forward during the last 20 years!

What’s wrong?

Being retired from coaching world-class swimmers for the last four years has afforded me the opportunity to attend and observe major competitions and to talk with the most knowledgeable people in our sport without the distractions of being wrapped up in my own team’s performances.

Throughout the history of our sport, the Australians have been among the more creative innovators. They are presently crushing the world in the longer freestyle races. At the same time, they have also been very secretive about their ideas, and I believe they have given us just enough information-:-or phony information- to lead us into confusion.

Last year, I had the opportunity to talk at length with one of my former Arizona State University swimmers, Marcos Vecolini of Puerto Rico, who trained in Australia under Coach John Carew with the greatest distance freestyler ever, Kieren Perkins.

He shared with me training philosophy of Carew and Perkins along with his log book of workouts for a period of almost one-and­ a-half years.

The following is a summary of what I’ve learned from Marcos. I believe it would be valuable for American coaches and swimmers to compare and evaluate these points with the typical American distance program.


A typical week’s training consisted of long warm-up of about 1,500-2,000 meters in a variety of low-pressure sets.

The main sets varied according to the day of the week. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the main set in the morning was about 3,000 meters. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, morning sets consisted of 1,500-2,000 meters. The swimmers had the weekends Off, which some used to go surfing or play games.

All evening or afternoon workouts would be what we would consider low pressure or aerobic level workouts with a fair amount of variety. The maximum distance in any workout was approximately 7,000 meters.

The daily pattern of training followed a plan similar to the on shown to the next page.

Monday A.M.

Main set:(400-300-200-100)x3 on 1:30 base/100    ·

3,000 meters total

Perkins averaged around 4:05-3:02- 2:00 or below and: 57-: 58

Monday P.M.

Main set: 2x(5×400) on 5:00 sendoff, desc.1-5 from 4:25-4:15

This would be easy for Perkins Total for the day; approx. 13-14,000 meters

Tuesday A.M.

Main set: 30×50 on 1:30-2:00 sendoff (pressure constant) Perkins averaged: 26+ to: 27+ Tuesday P.M.

Recovery-type workout-low pressure (e.g., 10×100 IM on 1:40,80 percent)

Total for the day; approx. 12-13,000 meters

Wednesday A.M.

Main set: 30×100: First 10 on 2:00, last 20 on 1:40;Average: 56-: 57 (pulse in 140-150 range)

Wednesday P.M.

Moderate main set: 20x 100 and 5x 300, relatively short rest interval

Thursday A.M.

Main set; 6x (4×50 on 1: 30/2×25 on: 50), Very fast

Thursday P.M.

Recovery set of 150s or 300s or 250s

Friday A.M.

Main set; 6x (200-150-100-50) on 1:30


Perkins averaged 2:00-1:58-: 58-: 57-: 27

3,000 meters total

Friday P.M..

Main set; 10×200 on 2:30, recovery speed Perkins averaged about 2:18-2:20

Total for the week: approx. 65-70,000 meters

Saturday and Sunday; No workouts- play around or go surfing


Coach Carew believes that the most detrimental thing that can happen to a distance swimmer is to get to muscular. He even feels that he can predict how a swimmer will perform based on how muscular he is- an inverse relationship.

Consequently, when Marcos swam with Carew, they didn’t do any weight training, although they did some stretch cord-type work and almost 100-200 abdominal repeats per day.

Carew’s swimmers also did very little kicking in the normal week.: about 800- 1,000/day without a board and with hands crossed out front.

Pulling was done with pull buoy (streamlined) only; no paddles. Much of

the pulling was done with what they call advance timing, which is close to a catch-up stoke, emphasizing stoke length and quick rotation.

During the recovery phase, there was constant emphasis on complete relaxation of the muscles of the back, especially those along the spine (the rhomboidei) and the shoulder muscle. Also, once a week or every two weeks, they would time a 1500-but only at 80 percent, not all out. Marcos said the longest continuous swim they ever did was a straight 2,000 but he added that they were “just playing through ”


I asked Marcos what the Australians thought was wrong with American distance swimming. Here are some of the answers:

+ We’re so concerned with base­ type swimming  that we seldom train at or faster than racing speed. The Australians train at or faster than racing speed in a main set five day a week.

+ We’re so concerned with total yardage that we do almost everything on short rest interval sets, which precludes swimming really fast.

+ The Australians think that T-30 swims (hard 30-minutes time trials) to establish your anaerobic threshold is pseudo-scientific voodoo because a swimmer’s· anaerobic threshold changes on daily basis. To stick to a rigid program designed around a parameter is ridiculous.

+  They think we’re too  concerned with science (formula training) and not enough with training fast and efficiently with proper stroke technique. They also believe we have exaggerated concerned with strength training for distance swimmers.

+  The Australians believe our principal technique books on swimming are a joke. They say that the Americans have people writing books on swimming who’ve never produced any champions.

They ask, “Where are the books by Jon Urbanchek, Frank Busch, Bud McAllister, Dick Jochums, Skip Kennedy, Randy         Reese, Richard Quick, David Marsh, et al?”

They say that some of the most prestigious technical books on swimming in U.S. have, given its coaches some very bad advice,. especially in terms of training distance athletes.(Maybe these guys are too busy coaching to find time to write books!).

Lastly, Marcos said that one of Coach Carew’s favorite sayings was, “In order to swim fast, you have to know how to swim slow!”


The Pull: A swimmer should never pull all the way through; instead, he should finish the stoke with an upward and backward sculling sweep (never reach full lock-out position of the elbow). Perkins, Popov, Biondi, Jenny Thompson, van Almsick all look like they’re not finishing the stroke, but they hold propulsive water all the way to the surface.

Also, the pull is not initiated with a downward, outward and backward sweep of the hand. On the contrary, it’s started with downward, backward and slightly inward sweep of the hand.

Body Position: The fact that swimmer’s elbow is up on the hand entry is not as important as keeping the elbow elevated on the catch (first part of the pull). The palm down entry out front is important with the fingertips pointing toward the bottom of the pool throughout the pull. This means a. constant change of the pitch of the wrist throughout the pull so that the fingertips stay pointed toward the bottom of the pool. Also, a closed recovery is the best to keep the body in good alignment, however, the hand should be externally rotated, and the back and shoulder muscles should be very relaxed. Lastly the Australians believe in a lot of rotation in the shoulders and hips. ‘

Distance per Stroke: There should be less emphasis on distance per stroke (DPS) and more emphasis on body position in the water while carrying as much tempo as possible with reasonable DPS.


When the Australians had their less successful period in the distance swimming, they were doing weights and very long distances weekly and daily- but that was 30 years ago.

They think that is where the US is now.

All of their training is done under pulse-control parameters. Perkins, for example, is almost always in the 140-150 range or below per minute­ even on a difficult set like the 30×100 meters (long course) on 1:40 or 1:50, holding : 56-: 57. The maximum pulse for training is 150.

The Australians also do blood tests about once every two weeks or so to determine the oxygen-carrying propensity of the circulatory system, but not lactate levels. They stretch at least 20-30 minutes every workout day, and most of Coach Carew’s workouts end with sculling drills- especially backward sculling, face down, feet first with a buoy. The Australians also place an importance on buoyancy for distance swimmers. In fact, if a swimmer isn’t buoyant, the coaches tell him that he’s better of training for other events.

As far as the taper is concerned, they still perform some quality sets, but the yardage is cut. The taper usually lasts about two to three weeks, and there is also a major emphasis on stretching during this period. Before the World Championships in Rome in 1994, I observed Perkins doing 9- 12×100 on 1:50 at: 56-: 57. A few days later, he set the current world record of 3:43,80 for the 400 meter free.

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