The final piece of the puzzle when training senior swimmers is season planning. Another name for this is periodization. Just like age group swimmers, there are certain times in the season where we want to work on certain things. Unlike age group swimmers, our focus changes based on conditioning goals rather than technique building goals. Going through the exercise of scheduling this out can help us prepare what we will do throughout the season up front. Additionally, planning out when our big swim meets are throughout the season can help us plan when we will perform drop tapers and end-of-season tapers. There is no one-size-fits-all, however going through an example can help teach some guidelines you can use on your own.
This example is divided into an entire 16-week season with a midseason invite and end-of-season Championship meet. Each week has a separate training focus, conditioning focus (energy system column), stroke/technical focus and dryland focus. The microcycles listed on the right are simply a single run through of our template and a macrocycle is a grand repeating pattern we perform twice throughout the season.
If we look closely at the example, we will notice that the beginning of the macrocycle is mainly endurance focused with heavy emphasis on aerobic endurance and aerobic power sets. The technical focus is mostly on distance per stroke and tempo which are the two components of any strokes that help us go faster (other than decreasing drag that is). The middle part of the macrocycle shifts the focus to race training with a heavy focus on aerobic power and lactate tolerance sets. The technical focus during these weeks is on race strategy and trying to get the kids to perfect the number of dolphin kicks off the walls and pacing. The final part of each macrocycle is the taper where we try to replicate each race as much as possible and work on details.
We will cover dryland training at the end of Part 4. For now all we need to know is that the dryland portion of the training also fits with the greater plan. Here is a summary of what each focus attempts to improve on a biological level.
No matter the time in the season, we are going to continue covering all aspects of training at all times. The only thing that changes throughout the season is how much time we spend on each training zone. For instance, in the beginning of the macrocycle, we will spend the majority of time in the aerobic endurance anaerobic power zones, however, we will continue to do a little bit of lactate tolerance and speed sets.
Below is a series of pictures that take you through the entire season example week-by-week. In the templates below, notice that the size of the boxes that represent each of the daily sets changes in size to reflect how much time we are going to spend performing those sets. Again, this is just a guideline. If you feel in the middle of the season that you need to deviate (and you probably will have to) then by all means do what is best for your swimmers in the moment.
When the real taper finally comes around, we don't actually want to change a lot of what we are doing, we just want to decrease the total yards and time that we spend doing it. We continue to perform aerobic power, lactate training and all the other training zones that we did before, but just a lot less. If your workout used to take two hours, now it should take one and a half hours and then one hour. In addition, taper is a good time to focus on hypoxic training in order to desensitize the nerves and get kids to hold their breath a little longer. It should not be done with long, easy swims and kids should not be encouraged to hyperventilate before doing a set like this. Instead do short swims with long rests just trying to hold breathe a little bit. Avoid shallow water blackouts at all costs! Lastly, different kids feel they need different things throughout taper in order to help them reach their full potential. Whether this is true or not, giving them some choice yards and free time to work on whatever they feel is best helps them feel comfortable with the taper and confident going into the final meet.
Boujee Coaching Tips
If you are an absolutely obsessed swim coach and want to spend some extra time recording and collecting data on your swimmers and their training, here are some ways that you can upgrade your coaching ability from novice to master.
You may notice the many coaches and swimmers talk a lot about targeting tempo and distance per stroke ideals for each swimming event. For instance, in the 100 backstroke for a female swimmer, the ideal tempo is about 1.2-1.4 seconds per stroke cycle. That means you are performing a complete stroke cycle in 1.2-1.4 seconds. There are also ideal number of dolphin kicks per wall, split times for 25/50 s and ideal times the start and turn should take you, all based on elite level swimmers. If you want to be a coach that trains their swimmers to race around these ideals, you can find all that data on the front page of the Swim Smart website by using coach Baylee’s Race Planner calculator at the bottom.
Because senior swimmers have the ability to overwork and under recover themselves, overtraining can be a concern in this group. We can curb this by building in recovery days into our templates, however, that may not be enough. In addition, it can be very difficult to differentiate between real overtraining and kids that just need to toughen up. This is why we will explore a couple of objective ways to monitor for overtraining.
Before we begin, we need to answer the question: What is overtraining? In general, overtraining is a chronic imbalance between stressors and recovery. If you are chronically over stressing the body (physically with training and/or mentally with school/work) and under recovering (poor nutrition, time off and/or poor sleep) then the body will break down and adaptations will regress instead of progress.
There are multiple theories for why overtraining occurs and the true answer is likely a combination of many of these theories. We won't go through the details of these theories, but the gist involves the body breaking itself down in order to maintain performance in the immediate moment. Imagine a bonfire in your backyard. At first you use the pile of wood that is stored next to the fire. But if the fire burns too big or for too long, you will run out of wood and you will need to start chopping down the house and throwing the pieces into the fire in order to keep the fire burning. In a similar way, muscles will start to break down and burn the proteins in mitochondria they have in order to maintain performance in a high-stress, low recovery environment.
The main trouble with diagnosing overtraining is that you rarely know it’s happening until the championship meet. Many coaches assume that poor performance throughout the season is a result of the heavy training swimmers are doing and that might be entirely true. They hope that taper will bring back the performance at the end of the year. But when overtraining truly does occur, there is nothing to taper since the body broke itself down during the season.
In order to avoid the situation, we can monitor how stressful our workouts are and we can monitor how stressed our swimmers are. Let's start with monitoring our workouts.
Obviously, sets can be really easy or really hard. That means really hard sets will stress the body more than really easy sets. We can objectively apply numbers and calculate how much an entire set, day, week or season stresses the swimmer. The way we will calculate how much stress the training is producing is by multiplying the swimming time of the set by the stress index of the set. Each of the four training zones that we described earlier stresses the body to different degrees. This is the stress index for each of these training levels:
Generally, the faster you go, the more intense the training and the higher the stress index. You may think that speed training should have the highest stress index, but because the repeats are so short, little acid buildup in the muscles is produced and does not create as much stress as other forms of training.
After writing a set, add up the swimming time that is performed and multiply that by the corresponding stress index. For instance, if we are doing 10 x 50 @ 1:00 holding 30s aerobic power set we would multiply 5 minutes of swimming time (10 x 30s) by 6 (aerobic power index). This equals a stress score of 30. Add up all the sets of the day to get the total stress score. You can compare and contrast different weeks, months and seasons of training to get a feel of how much you're stressing your swimmers. Obviously, more capable swimmers will be able to handle higher levels of stress without overtraining. But, this is a good exercise to give yourself an idea of how much to load your swimmers.
Tangent: When writing our workouts on Excel, we have a column to add up time, a column to add up yards and a third column to add up stress scores.
The second option to prevent overtraining is to monitor your swimmers. True overtraining is usually accompanied with a change in mood. This could be an increase in irritability, anxiety or changes in sleep and appetite. A research validated questionnaire called the Profile of Mood States is a series of questions which asks people to rank various feelings on a 0 to 4 scale. The questionnaire then spits out a total mood number, and if you are extra nerdy there are several other subcategories with their own numbers.
Ideally, swimmers would take the questionnaire before the season starts to get a baseline number and then several times throughout the season to monitor how their mood changes. Typically, a total mood disturbance change of greater than 25% is considered about 80% correlative with overtraining. At that point, you can make changes to the workouts as well as see if there are any ways to improve recovery and your swimmers.
You could do the all the calculations by hand for each swimmer in your group… or you can download the free automatic overtraining monitor from the Swim Smart website here: