Training Alessia Filippi (’09 World Champ in Women’s 1500 Free) by Cesare Butini (with translation by Camillo Cametti, 2010)


[NOTE: Coach Cesare Butini presented in Italian, his native language. As he presented, the talk was translated into English by Camillo Cametti, which is what is presented here.]

[introduction by Bill Rose]
Again, my name is Bill Rose and I have the honor of introducing the next speaker. As many of you were here before, both of our speakers—this morning and this afternoon—are from Italy, both of them do not speak that much English. But their interpreter, Camillo, does and if you will listen very carefully, I’m sure we’re going to get lots of information. Our speaker today is Cesare Butini. He’s one of the national coaches of Italy, and also the personal coach of Alessia, what’s her last name? Filippi, yeah that’s right! She’s a great 800 swimmer. I know she went 8:15 last year, 8:23 this year. I watched in her Rome [at the 2009 Worlds], and she was fabulous. And it does give me a great deal of pleasure to introduce our next speaker, thank you.

[CB begins]
Good morning!

Somebody was supposed… but do it yourself is better, working better so I hope it works do you hear me? Okay, so I’m very happy, this is Cesare Butini speaking, very happy to be here with you and also very much honored.

[translator]: Excuse, on the other side. This morning somebody put me on this side so…is that okay? (Right here in the middle) In the middle one is better? No right, no left.

[CB]: I apologize for not being enough proficient in your language but I’ll try to be useful anyway.

In Italy, I am the coach responsible for the London 2012 project that the Italian Swimming Federation has started already four years ago.

And particularly I am directly responsible for the 4x200m freestyle women relay.

While we are here together this afternoon, I try to explain to you through the path that Alessia Filippi has walked during or swim during 2009.

My philosophy for endurance training.

I believe that also endurance training which obviously must be a tough and hard training….

The needs to aim to be carried out but without forgetting to take care of the stroke technique.

For stroke technique, I mean basically an appropriate correlation between the frequency and the distance per stroke.

I believe this is the premise for less-energetic cost, for diminishing the energetic cost during a competition.

Now I’d like to show you some basic principle that inspire my philosophy as a coach, and also some basic principle that presides over Alessia Filippi training sessions and workouts.

Then some for the logical principle and some planning principle as well.

Alessia… in Alessia the aerobic mechanism or system prevails on the other systems say in a very significant way.

As you can see her parameters, her values for both aerobic and the anaerobic and the VO2 maximum are below the average, a bit below the average.

This allows for a better planning of workouts focused on enhancing the aerobics system.

Alessia is a very athletic swimmer and she can race in backstroke, medley and middle distance freestyle.

This is obviously an asset, but it may turn in a liability, especially when you need to focus her preparation on specific races, events.

Alessia won a gold medal in the 400 [Individual] Medley [at the] European Championships, long course in 2006 and the bronze on the 200 [Individual] Medley. And then she won gold [in the 400 IM] at the Short Course in the European Championships in 2006. The next year she won again a gold medal on the 400 [Individual] Medley at the [2007] Short Course Europeans and the bronze in the 800 freestyle. In Beijing, at the Olympics, she got a silver medal in the 800m freestyle, and then a gold medal at the European Championships 2008 long-course, gold medal in the 800m freestyle… in both the 800m freestyle and the 400 IM [note: 2008 Europeans were a 5 months before the 2008 Olympics]. In Short Course European Championships in 2008 she also won a gold medal on the 800m freestyle, setting a World Record on this distance and was a silver medalist on the 400 IM and the bronze in the 400m freestyle. And then she won eventually the 1500m freestyle in Rome [2009 World Championships] and got a bronze on the 800m freestyle. So as you can see very athletic swimmer.

In this slide you can see synthetically the training modes that we use in Italy. You have many columns so you have to go from up-to-down to read them.

So the first column you’ll see the name of the energy systems or mechanism.

The second column is for the identification code for every energy system.

The third column shows you the distance we think… the maximum distance we think should be swum in a single training session for each of this energy system mechanism.

Fourth column you’ll have the heart rate frequency, maximum heart rate frequencies allowed.

In the second-last column, the range of blood’s lactate for each system.

In the last column you have the rest in seconds from each repetition.

For Filippi, the areas that are used and that are interesting for her training are the first three and occasionally the fourth one that means A1, A2, B1, B2 and occasionally C1.

In our say training tools, those that we use, we also use various types of physical workouts and exercises that either directly or indirectly are influencing the improvement in performances.

For indirect influence, I mean coordination exercise, both in the water and outside the water.

Coordination is a paramount importance for getting better technique and improvement in technique. Better the coordination is and the better the technique will be.

Better technique/ technique means evidently and less energetic costs.

In high-level training I believe that workouts must be highly specific in order to be effective.

Moreover in high level…in the training of high level swimmers, workouts must be specifically correlated to the specific race.

The exercise in the workouts used must be directly related to technical aspects, particularly to the frequency, for the stroke frequency and distance per stroke, DPS.

In 2009, I have tried to improve Alessia’s performance utilizing a few aspects such as…

Increasing the general volume of workloads.

The intensity, increasing the intensity of workloads.

Increasing the specialization of the workloads with training sets that are more similar to race conditions.

And last but not least, trying to improve the technical factor but also the strategic factor. The race strategies, that’s right.

Alessia equaliarity is that she’s very good in negative splits.

During every training session…

Each repetition has been swum trying to swim the second part faster or at least equal as the first part of the repetition.

I have tried to increase the volume, both increasing the volume during the week, the overall volume in a week and increasing the volume in every single workout, every single session.

I have also tried to increase the intensity through workouts and to increase the aerobic strength or the anaerobic threshold, both.

Occasionally I have inserted in our training program workouts for tolerance, for improving tolerance to lactic acid.

The two aspects are closely correlated actually it’s not easy to increase both the volume and the intensity.

Actually Alessia is capable of bearing, of facing high volumes easily, but not as easily to take high-intensity workouts or workloads, high volumes but not high intensity.

Seeking for a better specialization of our training workouts, I had tried to identify some conditioning or technical elements close to a specific race.

So both in aerobic strength and the alto-maximum, that is lactic acid workouts.

Both these aspects need to be built up with extensive quantitative workouts.

In the final part of the season instead we aim to enhance the systems through quality work outs.

In fact I think that each energy system or mechanism has a double aspect:

Capacity and strength.

For capacity, I mean the total amount of the available energy in that mechanism.

For strength, the ability to provide energy within the maximum energy, possible energy, within a specific time unit.

So we need to try and train the mechanism, at first, with specific exercises aimed at the building-up of the mechanism.

And then to perform exercises, to go through exercises or training stimulus aimed at enhancing the system. Conditional activities aimed to improve in both aspects of the energy systems will be carried out, actually through the workouts aiming at these two aims.

In this light, you can see the volumes of workouts that can be proposed to Alessia during the preparation periods.

As you can see, in period for the general preparation the endurance-aerobic workouts are pretty consistent, pretty high.

Instead the anaerobic of threshold volumes increase during the special preparation period.

An important aspect that is shown in this slide…

Is the possibility to have different repetition on different distances.

According to the choice of either build-up or enhance the energy mechanism.

As an example in [Indiscernible 25:43] VO2 max, that’s the third line.

Which I think should be the base for training middle-distance freestyler.

In the period of general preparation we may use sets on 400—4×400 or 5×300—to build-up this mechanism.

As you can see in the special period and in the competition period, sets will be of shorter distances. Obviously they will be carried out at the higher speed.

Now let’s see some of the principles that will apply to periodization.

We believe that the needs for a good periodization require the vision and the splitting of the season in 3 or 4 macrocycles.

The goal of each macrocycle is to allow the swimmer to achieve the best possible performance in the specific race; that is the objective of that microcycle… macrocycle.

The structure of our macrocycle is subdivided in four periods.

Normally in a macrocycle lasts from 14-18 weeks.

One/two weeks for the start-up period at the beginning of the season.

3-6 weeks for the general period.

And 3-6 for the special period.

2-4 for the pre-racing, pre-competition period.

The difference in the duration of every single period…

…is determined by the goal that we want to achieve that is by the most important race in the season.

Each microcycle is divided in several… I’m sorry, each macrocycle is subdivided in several microcycles that may last from 4-10 days—each microcycle.

Conventionally, in Italy we use a microcycle of a week long.

Instead when we are on training camps, we can use microcycles that can last up to 10 days microcycles.

This type of planning from 14-18 weeks gives us the possibility to accurately assess the responses of our training systems of and of our workouts.

Correct mistakes, if we have done any, we do it… we do them in the next cycle.

Also it gives us the possibility to systematically organize, appropriate workout work-loads in the recovery periods.

And also it gives us the possibility to avoid too long periods of heavy load which are obviously harmful.

The danger I can see in our current planning…

…is concerning the intensity. Or actually the danger is the over-intensity.

For a lesser intensity in intensity the workout is measured by the aerobics strength.

We have specific workouts aimed at the general preparation.

Other that are proposed during these special preparation periods.

And other that are proposed only during the pre-competition period.

Those, the workouts in the general preparation period, have little to do with… they don’t have a specificity for the actual ways that Alessia will be swimming during the championship year competition.

In the special period the workouts have one or more specific and conditioning technical… sorry, and conditioning factors that are specific for the race that she will be actually swimming.

During the pre-competition period the workouts will be really specific for the race, which means that they could be sets of repetition of distance that are splits of the actual race distance at that portion.

The goals in the general period in the preparation of the general periods are mainly building-up the premises for performance.

The aerobic aspects will be predominant in the metabolic aspects.

The stroke technique, the biomechanical aspect will also build-up in this general period of preparation.

And also in the gym, the workouts will be aimed to general conditioning aspects.

I would like to say that in the preparation of not only Alessia, but also of all the elite Italian swimmers…

…they are each week 10 or 11sessions in the water…

…plus 3 training sessions in the gym.

And this throughout the whole season.

During the special period, we try building up the performance requirements.

From the metabolic point of view, we try to target the special aspects of the race itself.

From the technical point of view, the biomechanical point of view, we need to take care of the fact that the swimmers now as increased their strength etc is stronger than in the general period and therefore the technique needs some adaptations.

Also in the gym, we need to build-up this special period, this conditioning, physical conditioning, specific to that particular race.

During the race period we need to enhance the performance requirements of these performance elements.

From the metabolic point of view, we need to allow more time for special workouts specific to the race.

Intensity will be increased, the volume will be lowered.

We will perform workouts that can simulate the race or race conditions.

So from the biomechanical point of view, we will actually dedicate much attention to the start, the turns and the strokes technique.

In the gym, actually during the gym sessions, we need maintain and the conditioning aspects of levels already achieved in the previous periods.

After the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing, with Alessia we have tried to identify goals and strategies for the 2009 season.

The main goals were [the] Short Course European Championships in December 2008.

And the World Championships in Rome in 2009.

Other intermediate goals we’re targeting: the condition that you see listed over there.

Italians Spring, Italian Championships. All of these competitions are long course.

(The national Italian championship…) The nationally Italian Championships also will use as tryouts for the World Championships.

The Italian Team Championships.

Some are Italian championships.

And the Mediterranean Games.

During the season, through the season, we have tried to identify the goals that would be our goals in the World Championships; that is, the races that she would that she would have effectively raced in Rome.

We have started the format of the World Championships. And as you know the format in Rome was the program… the competition program was scheduled on 8 days.

Therefore, we have chosen to race in these 4 races—actually in the days that you see listed at side. Second and third day for the 1500, fifth day for the relay; so sixth and seventh day for the 800, freestyle of course, not fly; and eighth day the 400. And…

…if she does that, she was indeed set a new World Record.

Obviously the program was hard to tackle, because as you know both the 800 and the 1500, you need to swim twice: in the heats and the final.

Therefore we have tried to train also the race stress, if I may say so: to train Alessia to cope with the increased amount of stress of race in so much and so frequently.

Trying to race as much as possible in each… in each of the preparatory competition she took part.

This because unfortunately Italian swimmers…

…are not used to race a lot during the same championships. They try to choose a few races normally.

This is the first period of training from September to December, 2008, of course.

As you can see, the training for aerobics mechanism is prevailing over the other mechanism.

The duration is of this period, of this cycle, is 15 weeks, and the general preparation is overwhelming important upon the other type of preparation.

This will of course change in the next the successive period, as we will see very soon.

As Alessia was pretty tired after the Beijing Olympics in this period…

I have tried to adapt her training workouts so that she could recover after very a tiring Olympic.

I have identified 3 zones that are listed over there.

As you can see: low intensity, less than 2 millimoles of lactate;

More intensity, between 2.5 and 4 millimoles;

And third zone, high intensity, more than/over 4 millimoles of lactate.

I have tried to focus our workouts especially on the first zone.

This, after I read an article of sport on the magazine called Sports and Exercise Science.

That was about workouts done with endurance workouts, done with cyclists…

…that optimizes the relationship between…

…an optimal correlation between workouts and low intensity…

…with performances at say in at high intensity and endurance workout.

The percentage out of the total workouts load that they had to be done in this zone, Zone 1 was of 70%.

I have tried to split as you can see in this light.

The work, the workouts and the work-loads, in the various categories that you see on the bottom line A1, A2, etc.

And adding also workouts with legs kicking and with arms and pull.

And this is the legend of the workout. And this is the [Italian]. The next [Italian].

Here you can see the quantity of load of work load in the different zone: 75% Zone 1, 20% Zone 2, 5% Zone 3.

It worked as the European championships short course 2008; Alessia could win the 800m freestyle in a World Record time.

Not only, that she swum a best time also in the other two race events. And what is more important to me, she was able to race on each day for three consecutive days, at a high level.

After this competition…

…we have established the fundaments for our itinerary to the Rome championships 2009.

This first microcycle, in 2009…

…contemplated training camps in Italy until mid-January.

And then in the second part of January and the first part of February, we went to Miami as, prepare for a week as a preparatory phase before going on altitude at Flagstaff, Arizona.

After coming back from Flagstaff, from altitude, we entered in our special training period.

And after 20 day from our return from altitude, we have our athletes including Alessia, have competed in the national championships long course that was in March.

The second period included workouts, somewhat specific. And in this period I had included in the preparation…

…a competition after every three weeks of training. So three weeks of training sessions/workouts, and then one competition as a test.

This allowed me to use to utilize the competition to increase the intensity of training.

And get Alessia accustomed to the race stress, to increase the race stress.

Also during this period we…

… we went to a training camp in altitude; this time in Sierra Nevada, Spain. And that was in June as you can see.

So the planning of this second cycle from January to March contemplated the start-up at low… with a low work load.

Also not so much during the general period of preparation.

And then increment and then increase during the special training period and the competition training period.

During this period, we have made workouts aimed to build up aerobic endurance through specifically oriented sets.

So as you can see…

10x400m freestyle.

The most important aspect in this phase is not the time clocked in each repetition speed, but the amount of lactate produced.

Also in these second 3 sets, as you can see, 3 sets of 200 but 200 etc, the rest time is decreasing each time.

As you can see, the time run are very good, but what is actually exceptional is the level of lactate and we are in full aerobic training here.

We have proposed also workouts to build-up the aerobic thresholds through oriented sets.

Here too we can see that the time responses in term of times of [inaudible 59:30] let’s say are well matched by optimal response in the lactate values.

We have also proposed sets for the building-up of maximum VO2, and with sets also aimed to extensive workout.

In the second part in February, we have also aim to enhance the maximum VO2.

As you can see, the times are very fast, but the lactate is still in the range of normality for Alessia. So, very low in a way.

One more sets for enhancing the VO2 maximum and the lactate, and the first of the five repetitions on the 100, was introductory to the other.

Also here we can see that at phase that was considerably first response in the lactate values was satisfactory.

These were the results obtained by Alessia at the Italian Championships Long Course, where Alessia has competed everyday for 5 days. Perform at the Italian Championships is on 5 days.

Then the planning for the first cycle, from March to July, that brought us to the World Championships in Rome.

As you can see from the size of each column, the proportion of the volumes for each of the phase that of general special competition have changed compared to the previous cycles.

We are lucky to have 17 weeks ahead of the championships. 17.

Which allowed us to increase to 6 weeks of the special period…

…and to 5 weeks of the competition, the specific competition period, preparation period.

During the preparation and used to perform a test that are aimed to measure the results achieved by our athletes through training.

This testified by 300 incrementing.

We do this, we start each 300 after a minute rest, a rest of the minute at interval of one minute, let’s say. And after the third repetition, we perform the test for the lactate.

The goal for this test is to go at the maximum possible speed on the fifth repetition on the test.

The time that empirically identify a success of the test is represented by the difference between…

…the time is 3:11.2 is the goal. The difference the best 400 meters and the best 100 meters…

[discussion between Butini and translator in Italian]

You understand better than I do, these are coaches alchemist. Anyway you got it, the final target goal is the time of 3:11.2, and that comes aside from the difference between the 400 and the 100, which I don’t understand or maybe you understand.

(The first… ) So the first repetition is slow and then there will be an increase of 5, 6 seconds between and repetition and the other.

In the third column, we have the lactate that we measure after each 300.

And in the next column, we have the heart frequency: heart rates.

In the next one, the speed in meter-per-seconds.

The most important columns in these tests are the last two:…

…the [indiscernible 1:08:30] frequency in the second last column, and then the distance-per-stroke in the last column.

(Yes) According to [indiscernible], the distance per stroke is the optimal propulsive efficiency: represent the optimal propulsive efficiency.

Out of these tests, our program, let say elaborates the paces for the various systems.

Actually I didn’t like the test performed on April 28…

…because when I compare this test with the test we performed one year before in the preparation for Beijing…

…we can see that although the speed of the last 300 is faster in 2009 than in 2008…

…the lactate was too high in 2009: 7.3 compared to 2008 when it was 4.6.

This owing to an increased stroke frequency…

…and a decrease in the distance per stroke.

That meant that Alessia, at that time, did not have a satisfactory of propulsive efficiency.

We have identified the problem with a diminished strength of Alessia.

Therefore we have re-planned the period that would lead us to the World Championship, starting-up again with some general training workouts.

In fact, during our training camp in altitude in Sierra Nevada in June 2009…

…we have exactly tried to carry out workouts with general, say as we are doing the general period of preparation, in order and try to relieve the strength of Alessia.

Here you can see day-by-day how the training went by categories of energetic mechanism.

Where you see the asterisks that means that we also did gym training session.

As you can see from the different colors, the key color is at the bottom line, which identify three different types of workouts.

The volume was pretty high, but not exaggerating in an exaggerate way because we were too close to a competition in August, in the World Championships.

Of the 31 training sessions that we have done in Sierra Nevada…

…24 were carried out in Zone 1,…

…3 in Zone 2,

…and 4 in Zone 3.

The second two zones were concentrating on the second week, while in the first week there was only Zone 1 training session.

This training schedule was proposed on June the 1.

You can see the exercise, the sets proposed actually for a total of 7.4K.

Here also our attention focused a lot on the lactate quantity-concentration, which was satisfactory 1.6.

We have also proposed extensive training workouts such as 1500 or 2×800 and so on…

…and workouts that included sets on medley.

The total volume had never reached the 8Ks, always below the 8Ks—close but not.

Here too, the lactate values are also very low.

In Zone 3, we have also proposed the faster sets of repetitions…

…where you’ll have a lactate. You can see the last column, the bottom there is 7.8 etc, 7.9.

We have also proposed pace race repetition, say simulation of race.

The series was aimed to 150m freestyle…

… fast, very fast.

100m slow for…

…and 3x50m at 10 seconds.

These 50s were performed at the various strokes so that the IM could be trained and races.

The lactate was measured after the repetition of the 150.

We have proposed so called control sets, they had the goal of both training the athletes but also of assessing where the athletes was in that particular moment.

This set, as you can see, counter plated repetitions on the 100 for 32 times.

So 1 set of 3 repetition at 1:15, one minute fifteen, on each 1:15 you start for…

In the rest time of 1:45.

The training consists in keeping a pace similar to the race pace in the 1500m race.

And above all trying to increase the speed in the second part of the repetition.

As you can see the first 4 sets are swum at an average speed of 1:04…

…and the lactate value is of 2.2 millimole.

In the second part the lactate values increases to 3.9, but luckily enough also the speed of the repetition increases.

This workout besides aiming to train the physiology of the swimmer…

…was aimed to improve the race strategy, in order that Alessia could be very safe in performing a negative-split race.

This is the percentage of the workouts proposed in altitude in Sierra Nevada, according to the different three zones: 88% Zone 1, 8.2% Zone 2, 3.8% Zone 3.

After five days from descending to sea level, we competed at the Mediterranean Games in Pescara—which is actually at the seaside Adriatic Coast of Italy—and the results were excellent.

The last period: to approach the World Championships in the best way. Contemplated a training camp in Rome, itself, at the facilities by the Foro Italico—venues that some of you may know.

Here too, the load of kilometers as a start to resend around the 14 of July.

Instead, in this period it has been raised or increased the intensity of the workouts proposed and as you can see, there are 4 workouts proposed in Zone…

… in Zone 3.

I want to take five more minutes of your time to underline the importance of what we call control sets.

Control sets may have different effects according to the general volume…

…or according to how they are articulated. Is a three series of….

The most important aspect is to see how in the development of the preparation…

…at increasing the pace, the lactate decreases: that’s very interesting, the lactate level.

This means that the swimmer, that Alessia, had reached an optimum adaptation to race condition as she was ready to race in Rome.

At last a control sets that we perform with Alessia wearing the Jaked bodysuits.

Which he said, luckily enough, is now an old tool and confined to the archives of swimming.

The set is excellent because we have a first part at an average of 1:01 with 3.0 level of lactate.

The second part, at an average time of 60 seconds something, and the lactate level of 5.1.

I want to focus your attention on the two values: 5.1 and then after three minutes 4.8 the lactate level. That means that Alessia has already started to eliminate the concentration of lactic acid in her body.

Last thing, the World Championships in Rome went very well. we were very happy except for the 400 IM.

The 400 IM were scheduled on the last competition day in Rome, on the eighth day. Alessia competed probably a little bit tired or a little bit lacking of concentration for her previous successes.

This is a broken 400, 8×50. That’s Alessia swim before Beijing: you can see Beijing 31 July and in Beijing Alessia swim for 45.

And the bottom line you can compare is same broken 400, the same sets. They swam in Rome on 21 July, almost a year later. And, as you can see, it is much better than in Beijing. So that’s why he was disappointed about the outcome of the 400 IM in Rome…

…with the lactate concentration even lower than Beijing.

[audience member]: While you were on that slide, what was the race on the 50s?


[audience member]: The race that [inaudible 1:30:08]… 50s on the six minutes.

[CB]: What is the question? The rest, you want to know the rest, yes? Seven seconds, the rest.

(The last slide) As I said at the beginning, the versatility for Alessia is a great thing, but is also a very difficult thing when it comes to properly training Alessia.

I made the choice of training Alessia mostly in freestyle during the conditioning period.

And in each training session the load for the training other stroke was of just 800m or 1K.

Once in each week, I have tried to simulate the race condition, with sets that were breaking the actual racing distance. Like 12 by 4×50 on each 10 seconds, starting on each 10 seconds.

Or other sets that could simulate in a proper way, the race space of the 400 IM.

I thank you. [applause] Thank you for your attention. The next time, if there will be one, I hope that I can speak by myself in English (and let me say I hope too). Thank you.

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