SWIMMING PERFORMANCE PROGRESSION
By Genadijus Sokolovas, Phd., Larry Herr, MS International Center for Aquatic Research, USA Swimming ·
- Among the many different factors involved in putting together a career training plan for athletes, three stand out as the most important
+ Rate of biological maturation
+ Age-appropriate stress(or workload)
+ Changes in competitive performance
The aim of this article will be to describe basic methods for addressing the factors so that athlete can achieve his or her maximum potential performance at the age of maximum physical potential.
Stages in Career Training
Most American swimmers begin swimming somewhere between the ages 6-
- The typical age of peak performance trends in the past have depended upon event duration, stroke, age, and gender.
In order to achieve the goal of maximum results, five career stages need to be addressed. They are:
- Preliminary preparation
- Basic training
- Peak performance
The ages at these stages will vary depending on gender and individual characteristics. Each stage needs a strategy in order to maximize the recommended age-appropriate workload.
The five career stages arrive earlier and are shorter for girls then for boys. This because girls have an earlier rate onset of maturation than boys. “Time reserve” is the difference, in years, from start of the athlete’s career training path until the age of peak performance potential.
This results in an average “time reserve” for career training for girl/women of about 10-12 years and 12-15 for boys/men.
When a well-designed career plan is executed, the athlete will achieve their peak of their physical potential. An accurate estimate of a peak physical window is important in setting up the career plan. We can look at past trends to help create a mathematical model. This model can serve to help us create approximate guidelines in making a career plan.
Past peak performance trends in swimming events
By using the average age of the best swimming times in history in each swimming event we can come up with historic trend for age of peak performance of elite athletes. It appears that the current generation of elite swimmers (especially women) is achieving career peak performance at later ages. If this is so, the average top ten age would change as data is collected and analyzed.
To illustrate a table of the average top ten times (with standard deviations) is proved for all Olympic events and distances (Table 1).
Table 1. Average age of Ten Best Swimmers in History (M + SD)
50 m Free
23.0 + 2.4
21.9 + 2.7
Men (years) Women (years)
|100 m Free||22.2 + 2.0||19.9 + 4.1|
|200 m Free||20.3 + 2.2||19.0+ 4.1|
|400 m Free||20.0 + 2.1||18.1 + 3.2|
|800 m Free||17.8 + 0.8|
|1500 m Free||20.2 + 1.9|
|100 m Back||22.4 + 2.4||19.6 + 3.1|
|200 m Back||23.4 + 1.1||19.3 + 2.1|
|100 m Breast||22.9 + 2.3||18.6 + 4.1|
|200 m Breast||22.2 + 2.1||17.9 + 3.7|
|100 m Fly||21.5 + 1.4||20.0 + 3.9|
|200 m Fly||23.1 + 2.4||19.0 + 3.3|
|200 m IM||22.4 + 2.3||18.1 + 2.2|
|400 m IM||22.8 + 2.7||18.7 + 2.7|
An example of a trend can be factored into career planing is shown in the freestyle events. The trend is that the shorter the event, the older the swimmer. The top swimmers have gotten older as the events have gotten shorter, with women’s overall ages in each event younger than the corresponding men’s events.
In the development of the human organism, there are “sensitive” periods of development. Sensitive periods occur during the fastest rate of development of a given quality of the organism. It is supposed that an increase of stress on a specific physical system during that system sensitive period will maximize the development potential of that system. Extraordinary stress prior to the sensitive period occurs. This may limit rather than enhance potential.
In the case of energy systems, window of sensitive periods estimated to be:
- Aerobic capacity (heart stroke volume, cardiac output, )
– girls 11-12, boys 12-13
use of training sets of longer duration and lower intensity
– corresponds to zones REC and EN1
- Aerobic, Anaerobic mix (maximum oxygen consumption and anaerobic threshold)
– ( girls 12-13, boys 13-14)
use of training sets in zones EN2 and EN3
Working anaerobic capacity (oxygen debt, peak lactate, lactate tolerance)
- – girls 13-14, boys 14-15
use of training sets. in zones SP1 and SP2
General and swimming specific power and strength speed
– girls 14-15, boys 15-16
use of training sets of maximum velocity and short duration bouts of swimming
corresponds to zone SP3
Trends in Performance Progression
Based on elite level swimmers’ biographies, we have calculated their career progression of best times. It has been difficult to collect data regarding training prior to age
For illustration purposes, two examples of windows of career best time progression are provided. In each case, two elite level athletes are used. For comparison, a swimmer who was the top performing11-13 year old was also used. (Usually, these swimmers dramatically slow in improvement or stop improving altogether)
Note that window of performance progression have a wide gap at age 11. This could be due to the variations in the age of elite athletes at the start of their careers.
It appears that the rate of progression is an important factor for the light career training plan. Similar window examples have been created for all Olympic events and distances.
Practical Use of Career Performance Windows
These windows of career performance are models based on statistical analysis of the world’s best swimmer. They can best be used to design career management strategies.
For sub-elite swimmers, the rate performance progression in windows can be slower.
For example, if an individual’s performance one season is close to the lower level of the window, then the workloads could be adjusted to simulate the a higher rate of improvement the next season. If an individual is closer to the upper level of the window, then adjustments could be made to keep progress going forward at lower workloads. Using lower workloads to keep ideal progress guards against premature over-stimulation, and leaves room to increase workloads when necessary. High anaerobic workloads, especially, are tremendous stress on the organism, and should not be exhausted at the beginning of biological maturation. It should be noted that at age 11, around 50% of the swimmers in the USA do not fall within the windows and an even higher percentage is outside the window as age increases. This model also does not account for the early or late maturing athlete.
LONG-TERM TRAINING IN SWIMMING
By: Genadijus Sokolovas, Ph.D., Larry Herr, MS ·
There are many factors, which influence a long-term (career) training plan in the sport of swimming. Among the factors that should be evaluated include: changes in performance times throughout the career, workload distribution at a given age, and biological maturation of the athlete.
Coaches should understand the· main principles of a career training plan and have quantifiable parameters in order to assess and then maximize performance potential. When preparing a career training plan, coaches should ask some basic questions including, Wheh is the age at peak performances? What are the optimal workload volumes at a given age?
How does the maturity status of your swimmer effect the workload progression in career training?
It is the purpose of this paper to examine the relationships among workload distribution and biological maturation of young swimmers.
Recommendations for a career training plan will be presented, which will aid coaches in designing training programs appropriate for young swimmers entire career.
Age at Peak Performances
Career training includes preparation of athletes from the age at the beginning of competitive swimming until retirement. From the age at the beginning of career training till the age at peak performances (APP) coaches have “time reserve” to prepare each swimmer to achieve their individual maximum potential. APP depends on gender, distance orientation and individual biological maturation of athletes. There are many advantages for swimming coaches to know the age when peak performance should occur for a given event. With this knowledge, coaches can design appropriate workloads in a career training plan.
In swimming, there are many different methods to evaluate when the age of peak performance should occur. One of the most applicable methods is to find the mean age of ten best times in history for each event. The average age of the ten best swimmers in history are presented in Table 1
Event (LC) and Average Age of Ten Best Swimmers in History (M ± SD)
|Swimming Event||Men (years)||Women (years)|
|50 m Free||23.0 ± 2.4||21.9 ± 2.7|
|100 m Free||22.2 ± 2.0||19.9 ± 4.1|
|200 m Free||20.3 ± 2.2||19.0 ± 4.1|
|400 m Free||20.0 ± 2.1||18.1 ± 3.2||.|
|800 m Free||17.8 ± 0.8|
|1500 m Free||20.2± 1.9|
|100 m Back||22.4 ± 2.4||19.6 ± 3.1|
|200 m Back||23.4± 1.1||19.3 ± 2.1|
|100 m Breast||22.9 ± 2.3||18.6 ± 4.1|
|200 m Breast||22.2 ± 2.1||17.9 ± 3.7|
|100 m Fly||21.5 ± 1.4||20.0 ± 3.9|
|200 m Fly
200 m IM
|23.1 ± 2.4
22.4 ± 2.3
22.8 + 2.7
|19.0 ± 3.3
18.1 ± 2.2
18.7 + 2.7
The oldest swimmers are in the men’s 50m freestyle (23 ± 2.4 years). In the freestyle events, the longer the distance the younger the swimmers. The difference between the average age of the ten best swimmers in the history of the 50 and 400 freestyle is three years.
- However, the age of peak performance for the 400m and 1500m freestyles is very This pattern is similar in the women’s events. The longer the distance the younger the athlete. The oldest women’s swimmers are in the 50m
- freestyle (21.9 ± 7 years) while the youngest swimmers are in the 800m (17.8 years). In the freestyle events, ages for peak performances are on average, two years earlier than men. It should be noted that there is greater variability in the age of peak performance in women compared to men.
In the men’s backstroke events, the top ten best swimmers in the 1OOm are about 1 year younger than the 200 m event. However, this difference is not statistically significant. Typically, the same athletes swim both the 100 and 200 m backstroke and the age of peak performance is approximately 23 years. Women backstrokers are about 3 years younger than men are and their age of peak performance is approximately 19-20 years.
The average age of the top ten men’s flyers in the 100 is 21.5 and in the 200 is 23.1 years old. The age differences between the two events are not statistically significant.
- Women flyers are about 3 years younger than men. In the individual medley events, the top ten men had an average age of 22-23 years while women were about 4 years younger then men.
This kind of analysis indicates differences in age of peak performance between men and women, as well as among distances and strokes. In general, age at peak performance for women is approximately 2-4 years younger than men. Second, the longer the distance, typically, the.younger the swimmer. These differences are not the result of limitations to endurance development. They are the,result of the requirements on swimming economy and flexibility that are important factors in longer distances. Usually, swimming economy and flexibility are better. in younger swimmers.
Sensitive Periods in Swimming
A factor that must be considered in an individual’s career training plan is biological maturation. Biological maturation refers to the timing and tempo of the progress toward the mature state. Athletes begin different phases of biological maturation at different chronological ages and progress at different rates. As a result, the age of peak performance may occur differently for each event. As biological maturation of girls is approximately 2 years earlier than that of men, age at peak performances may be slightly advanced in girls compared to boys.
Physical characteristics and physiological systems develop at different rates. In general most children follow a general linear increase in size and strength with age. However, during the adolescent growth spurt (typically between 10-14 years. in girls and 12- 16 years in boys) many parameters show accelerated growth size and strength. These accelerated phases of development are frequently called “sensitive” periods and represent the fastest rate of development. During the adolescent growth spurt, rapid · development in body size, motor skill and selected physiological qualities extends 4-5 years. Children typically gain height first followed by gains in weight. On average, gains in weight lag behind gains in height by 0.5-1.0 years.
Between the ages of 11-14 years for girls and 12-15 years for boys most physical qualities increase significantly. Between the ages of 11-12 for girls and 12-13 for boys is when the earliest increases for stroke volume, cardiac output, and vital capacity are seen (figure 1).
These increases aid in increasing aerobic capacity.
As this process is occurring, swimmers can tolerate higher total workload volumes with low intensity swimming. Working aerobic capacity involves swimming done in sets with low intensity. This kind of low intensity swimming corresponds to the energy zones of REC and EN1.
In a career training plan, between the ages of 12-13 years for girls and 13-14 years for boys begins the period of aerobic-anaerobic (mixed) training. This type of training improves maximum oxygen consumption (V02 max) and anaerobic threshold This kind of work corresponds to swimming in an energy zone of EN2-EN3.
Figure 1. Gain of parameters of aerobic and mix work capacity by male swimmers in career training: .
Between the ages of 13-14 years for girls and 14-15 years for boys,
begins the period for working anaerobic capacity and lactate tolerance. This type of training corresponds to swimming in energy zones SP1-SP2. The last period in the career training plan occurs between the ages of 14-15 years for girls and 15-
, 16 years for boys and is for both general and specific strength/ power (figure 2). Sets for this phase of training are done at maximum velocity and short duration (20-30 sec). This type of training elicits adaptations in adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – creatinphosphate (CP) system which corresponds to the energy zone of SP3;
Stages of Long-Term Training
In the US, most swimmers begin career training at approximately 6-8 years. In some cases, especially boys, career training begins between 8-10 years. The ultimate goal of the sport of swimming is to achieve maximum results at the end of an athlete’s career. Therefore, a carefully constructed career training plan may assist in achieving that goal.
A career training plan should incorporate five stages of progression: 1) preliminary preparation, 2) basic training, 3) specialization, 4) peak performance, and 5) maintenance of high performance. Because girls tend to have shorter career training time-line, the duration of each stage is shorter and earlier in girls than boys. It appears that a career training plan is, on average, about 9-11 years for girls and 11-13 years for boys. When a career training plan is followed athletes achieve their maximum performance times during the stage of peak performance. Duration of each stage is presented in table 1.
Duration of stages in career training
|Swimmers||Preliminary preparation||Basic training||Specialization||Peak performance||Maintenance of high performance|
|Female Sprinters||8-10||10-12||12-17||17-20||20 & more|
|Female Distance Swimmers||8-10||10-12||12-16||16-18||18 & more|
|Male Sprinters||8-10||10-13||13-18||18-22||22 & more|
|Male Distance Swimmers||8-10||10-13||13-17||17-20||20 & more|
Stage of preliminary preparation has following purposes: teaching of swimming technique in different swimming strokes; teaching of diving and turns; improvement of interest to compete; development of flexibility, general (aerobic) endurance, balance iri water. Playing, games, and long distance are the main training methods during this stage.
Stage of basic training has following purposes: teaching of
- ‘ advanced swimming technique in· different swimming strokes; evaluation of individual swimming stroke and distance orientation; development of aerobic and anaerobic-aerobic (mix) endurance; development of quickness and agility; beginning of development of general strength. Long distance and repetition training methods are recommended during this stage.
Stage of specialization has following purposes: development of individual swimming.technique; · individualization of technical and racing tactics; development of aerobic-anaerobic mix, anaerobic specific endurance, and general
strength; beginning of development
of specific strength and speed; maintenance of flexibility. Repetition, interval, and sprint training methods are introduced. during this stage.
Stage of peak performance has following purposes: perfection and stabilization of individual swimming technique, diving, turns, and tactical skills; development of distance specific endurance, specific power, transition of specific power to water; development of specific strength speed; maximization of workload volume; modeling (race simulation) of all conditions of competition;
maintenance of individual flexibility. Repetition, interval, and sprint training methods are used during this stage.
Stage of maintenance of high performance has following purposes: maintenance of individual swimming technique, diving, turns, and tactical skills; maintenance of individual power, endurance, speed, and flexibility; reduction of total workload volume with increasing of intensity; stabilization of psychological condition; maintenance of health. Repetition, interval, and sprint training methods are the main training methods during this stage.
Workload Design in Long-Term Training
During “sensitive” periods, athletes can significantly improve their potential within the corresponding energy zone. The same workload volume done at different ages improves factors relating to certain physical qualities differently. When high volumes are done for the development of specific power prematurely, then smaller increases of specific power are noted in younger athlete : Extraordinary stress prior to the sensitive period will suppress response when the sensitive period•
occurs. This may will limit rather than, enhance potential. The same workload volume done after biological maturation will note
greater increases in specific power.
This statement can be confirmed with analyses of relation between strength parameters and swimming velocity. Investigation shows that correlation between
strength parameters and swimming performance is always positive.
Thus, if increase strength will increase swimming performance too. Correlation between strength and swimming performance increases with age. The older swimmers the higher correlation between strength and swimming performance. This shows that before adolescence increase in strength parameters will have lower influence on swimming· performance, than after adolescence. Therefore development of strength and power is especially crucial after adolescence. This conclusion corresponds with analysis of
sensitive periods. The· period of highest rate of improvement for strength for boys is 14-16 years. High volumes of specific strength/ power done prematurely will suppress the response to the same workload after biological maturation.
Different physical qualities have different time and rate of improvement. Therefore each physical quality has own sensitive periods for development. During sensitive period is the fastest rate of development in physical quality.
Sensitive periods for girls come usually 1-2 years earlier than for boys. Duration and time of sensitive periods are presented in table 2.
Duration and time of sensitive periods
|Physical Quality||Age for Boys||Age for Girls.|
Most of different physical qualities, anthropometric and other parameters have S-shape of changes: with initial spurt on the beginning of biological maturation, peak velocity and deceleration on the end of biological maturation (figure 3). Parameters influencing aerobic working capacity (V0 2 max, vital capacity and others) develop earlier. Parameters of those influencing anaerobic-aerobic (mixed) working capacities (02 debt, anaerobic threshold and others) develop later. This pattern continues through anaerobic work capacity, power, and strength.
Figure 3. Progression of physical qualities in career training.
Workload should support natural development of different physical qualities. This will allow athletes to achieve maximum performances. During sensitive periods different physical qualities improve naturally. If this improvement is supported with corresponding workload, then athletes achieve the best results. The same workload before or after sensitive period leads to lower progression, than during sensitive periods. The highest correlation between different physical qualities and swimming performance
corresponds to the sensitive period time. This shows that different workload progression during career training should·occur at different times. During sensitive periods the rate of increasing of workload should be the highest. After sensitive period corresponded workload should increase, but rate of increasing should be slower.
Analyses of changes in different physical qualities (aerobic, mix, and anaerobic endurance, speed, strength) shows that workload volume should correspond to them. This enables to create models of workload progression in different energy systems. The models of workload progression are based on sensitive periods for physical qualities and age at peak performance for different group of swimmers. The pattern of workload progression in long-term training should correspond to S-shape curve, which is characteristic for physical qualities;
The age at the beginning of career training is similar for all strokes and gender of swimmers. Since the age at peak performance depends on gender and swimming event, the duration of career training is different. For girls distance swimmers duration of career training is about 9-10 years, for sprinters – 12-13 years. For boys distance swimmers duration of career training is about 11-12 years, for sprinters – 14-15 years. Also, total workload volume at age at peak performance is different for gender and swimming event. Since career training for sprinters is longer and peak
workload volume is lower, their workload’s progression is not so forced as it is for distance swimmers. Usually elite level men swimmers have about 15-20% higher workload volume than women. Sprinters have lower total workload volume but higher intensity. The models of workload progression were created based on analyses of workload volume by swimmers at different age (table 3, 4, 5, and 6).
Workload progression in career training for male sprinters (in yards)
Table 4 ·
Workload progression in career training for male distance swimmers (in yards)
Table 5 Workload progression in career training for female sprinters (in yards)
Workload progression in career training for female distance swimmers (in yards)
Presented models of workload progression are based on normal matured athletes. The workload progression in each energy system corresponds to the sensitive periods: aerobic, aerobic anaerobic mix, anaerobic, and strength/power. If athletes are early biological matured, workload progression in each energy system should occur earlier. Also they achieve the age at peak performance earlier. Workload progression for late matured athletes should occur later.
- Age at peak performance depends on gender, swimming event, and rate of individual maturation. Age at peak performance for women is approximately 2-4 years younger than men. The longer the distance, typically, the younger the
- During the adolescent growth spurt many parameters show accelerated growth size and strength (sensitive periods of development): aerobic capacity – 11-12 for girls and 12-13 for boys, aerobic anaerobic mix capacity – 12-13 years for girls and 13-14 years for boys, anaerobic capacity – 13-14 years for girls and 14-15 years for boys,
– general and specific strength/ power- 14-15 years for girls and 15-16 years for boys.
- There are five stages of career training:
- preliminary preparation,
- basic training,
- peak performance, and maintenance of high performance.
The duration of each stage is shorter and earlier in girls than boys.
- The same workload volume done at different ages of career training improves factors relating to certain physical qualities differently. During sensitive periods the rate of increasing of corresponding workload should be the highest. The pattern of workload progression in long term training should correspond to S-shape curve, which is characteristic for physical qualities.
- The rate of workload progression for distance swimmers is faster than for sprinters, because of higher total workload volume and earlier age at peak performance. Accelerated workload progression for girls occurs 1-2 years earlier than for boys. The models of workload progression are based on sensitive periods . for physical qualities and age at peak performance for different group of