Going Dry Part VIII- Creating an Effective Training Session
Planning a Training Session
At this point, we’ve discussed how to plan a training season and a training week. Planning a training a session is where everything comes together and the dryland program is actually executed. At this point, you’ve already established what is going to happen over the course of a season. You’ve also laid out what types of work are going to happen each day during your training week. Now, it’s time to actually plan specific exercises, as well as volumes and intensities.
During the weekly training planning process, the training components were spread across the training days. How should those training components be organized optimally.
There should be a brief period to warm up to start the dryland session. This portion can include any torso exercises, any calisthenics, and exercises that use a large amount of muscle through full range of motion. Ideally, exercises should be selected based upon their ability to elevate the heart rate while simultaneously accomplishing multiple objectives of the training session. For instance, using lower-level torso exercises in the warm-up can contribute to torso conditioning while safely allowing for warm-up. The same can be said for lower body exercises that strengthen and mobilize the hips and legs.
One effective strategy is to view the warm-up as a lower intensity training session. What would you do in that case? Design your warm-up similarly. It should be work. This is a GREAT place to address training components that otherwise get little attention. For instance, if you’ve chosen not to formally address hip mobility, implementing exercises in warm-up use larger ranges of motion through the hips is a great way to touch on this component. The same idea can be applied to any training component.
The most challenging portion of the session should take place during the work phase. This can consist of any type or types of work, as designed in the weekly planning process. Below are some considerations as when and how to best implement different types of training.
In general, torso exercises can be placed anywhere in the training sessions. These exercises can be paired with any other type of exercise.
Intense strength and power components should be placed at a point in the session where fatigue is minimized. Once significant fatigue has been introduced, strength and power will be compromised. While is it not always problematic to perform this type of work under fatigue, coaches need to make that choice with an understanding of the potential consequences.
Lower intensity strength work can be placed at any point in the session. This is particularly true when the primary challenge of these exercises comes from an increased range of motion or faster tempos.
Work capacity can be placed anywhere in the session with the understanding that high intensity work performed after work capacity training will be compromised.
Once swimmers are very thoroughly warmed up, work to enhance mobility can be done to conclude the dryland session. Alternatively, this type of work can be place after the swim session. The reason this type of work is placed later in the session is that you want to ensure that the tissues are very warm prior to using loads to enhance range of motion. This is different than mobility work conducted early in the session during a warm up, were the focus is on movement, not expanding range of motion.
The training structure that I have found to be particularly effective for simultaneously developing multiple training components is the use of exercise circuits. By setting up training to rotate work around the body, the density of work can be increased. This allows for higher heart rates to be maintained and large amounts of work to be performed without compromising exercise intensity. Below are several different examples that could be used. In all cases, they exhibit the qualities of relatively continuous activity and shifting the muscular demands around the body. For higher intensity exercises, rest can be inserted between exercises or between circuits as necessary to maintain the desired performance outputs. Any appropriate exercises can be inserted.
2 rounds through
MB Toe Touch to Overhead Reach
3 rounds through
Rotation without the Feet on the Ground
Rotation with Extension Torque
Lower Strength/Torso Circuit
4 times through
Shoulder Rotation in Sequence with the Hips
Shoulder Rotation Separate from the Hips
Rotation Through the Ground
3 rounds through
*more rest is required when strength loads are higher*
4 times through
Kneeling Arm Swings I
Kneeling Arm Swings II
Kneeling Arm Swings III
2 times through
Overhead Shoulder Stretch
Loaded Overhead Shoulder Stretch
Active Overhead Shoulder Exercise
Any number of circuits, as well as any logical combination of exercises, can be used effectively. The key is to have a purpose behind the construction of each circuit, followed by careful observation as to whether the desired effects are achieved. Over time, coaches will become more skilled in designing effective training structures.
What about volume and intensity? The volume and intensity employed will depend greatly on the time available as well as the training needs and capabilities of the swimmers being coached. It is up to the coach to determine what is possible and what is necessary, always choosing whatever is less. More work can always be introduced over time.
Once you’ve designed the training structure for your session, it’s time to consult your exercise library. One of the most valuable resources you can develop is an exercise library. This is simply a document that lists as many exercises as you can think of that target the training components you’re interested in developing.
Having a great library is important for four reasons. The first is to have sound progressions to challenge swimmers over time. Different exercises will provide different challenges. Based upon the abilities of your swimmers, different exercises will be more or less appropriate. If you have options, you’ll be more effective at selecting the exercises that will most appropriately challenge your swimmers.
The second reason is that different exercises that stress the same systems will stress the same systems in a slightly different manner. This will not only build a more complete swimmer, it will slightly reduce the risk of injury by avoiding stress on the exact same structures in the exact same reason.
The third reason is less physical and more psychological- swimmers get bored performing the same exercises over and over. Sometimes an exercise is valuable not because it’s better or worse, but because it’s different. Novelty is important in maintaining engagement and excitement for training hard.
The final reason to have a great exercise library is for efficiency. Swim coaches are busy and there is a lot of work that needs to be done in many different areas. As you’ve already identified the training components that you’ll target each day by planning your week, a great library allows you to simply select the relevant exercises and drop them into the plan you’ve already created. You don’t have to try to come up with exercises out of thin air. You know your options, you know your objectives, and you can quickly put together an effective dryland session.
With an exercise library in hand, the next step is putting the plan to paper. Below are some questions to think through when creating the daily plan.
Which exercises best accomplish the goals for the training component you’re targeting? Based upon the swimmers you’re currently coaching, which exercises are most appropriate for their current skills and physical conditioning. Effectively matching challenge and ability is the critical step in making a daily program work. Swimmers should be challenged, yet able to successfully execute the exercises with the desired technique. If they can’t, the exercises need to be adjusted moving forward.
Are the current exercises becoming stale, or is there further room for improvement? Changing exercises is an art. You must balance the need for repetition to enhance skill with the need for variety to prevent staleness and boredom. If swimmers are still engaged and working through mistakes, it makes sense to stay with the current exercises. However, if swimmers aren’t engaged, aren’t motivated, and have the skills locked down, it’s time to move on.
How can I ensure that the training structure is novel as well? As much as exercise selection can create monotony, a consistent structure of training can also create monotony. Retaining the same structure while shifting exercises can still feel like the same training for some swimmers. Every 3 weeks or so, it can be valuable to change up the structure to create a novel stimulus, both physically and psychologically. While this often happens organically with shifting training emphasis over a season, coaches may need to preemptively create a change as necessary.
How much volume is appropriate for each component? How many sets are appropriate? How many repetitions? How many total exercises? What total volume is required to facilitate an adaptation while still allowing for other type of training to be performed? The training volume ultimately chosen will depend on the training goals, the exercises chosen, and the time available. The best way to figure out the desired volume is to WATCH. Are they improving or not? Are they handling the volume well, or not? With observation, you can lock in on what’s required.
How much intensity is appropriate? Intensity can be adjusted by the resistance used, speed of repetitions, or exercise selection. How much intensity is required for the training adaptations you’re looking to facilitate? If swimmers can’t execute the exercises with appropriate technique, intensity is likely too high. In contrast, if the tasks aren’t challenging enough, intensity needs to go up. Know what you’re looking for and adjust intensity over time to get there.
How are you going to create progress compared to the last time a similar session was completed? As with all training, overload is required for improvement eventually. The difficulty of specific exercises, volume, intensity, and density can all be increased over time. What makes sense for the swimmers you’re coaching? What makes sense in the context of your seasonal goals?
While securing the physical adaptations is a major concern, coaches must also appreciate the logistical aspects of designing an effective training session. A plan must be designed so that swimmers are in the right place at the right time to achieve the objectives of the session.
How can I structure the exercises in a way that flows smoothly? Every training session has a ‘flow’ to it. The flow is either good or bad. When exercises are paired appropriately, they flow smoothly from one to the other. Swimmers shouldn’t need to move across the facility and back to complete a given circuit or exercise task. Make sure training is set up so that transitions can be smooth, fast, and seamless.
How can I organize the exercises so the purpose of each training segment is clear? The goal of each training section should be clear to each swimmer. This can be stated verbally and the structure of each training task should reinforce the message sent by the coach. If several exercises are haphazardly thrown together, clarity will be lacking. Swimmers who understand the purpose will be better engaged?
How can I organize the exercises so that it is clear to all swimmers exactly what needs to be accomplished? Beyond establishing clear training objectives, swimmers should know exactly what they need to do. What are the critical tasks of each exercise? Where should the focus be? Is the primary concern range of motion, repetition speed, or something else? Make sure the session is set up so that this can be clearly communicated.
How can I structure the exercises in a way that allows for swimmers to accomplish a large volume of work without compromising the necessary intensity? As we’ve discussed in previous installments, a comprehensive dryland program consists of multiple objectives. By organizing training effectively, more work can be done in less time to allow for more of these objectives to be achieved. By alternating the types of work performed and the muscular systems utilized, coaches can shift the work around the body while continuing to work at a steady effort.
Is there enough equipment for every swimmer? If the answer is no, how will the session be organized so that the necessary equipment is available when required. Swimmers should never be waiting idly unless specifically recovering from high intensity efforts. If they are, it is likely a logistical issue that comes back to poor planning.
A few more observations that may help you with designing and implementing effective training sessions.
Be patient. It often takes multiple exposures to the same training session for the swimmers to really figure it out. Don’t be afraid to repeat sessions. The repetition allows them to improve their skills. If they are improving, they won’t get bored.
Minimize redundancy. Avoid performing 5 different exercises that all serve the same function. Try to accomplish as many different objectives as possible with as few exercises as possible. Train as many functions of the torso as possible and establish range of motion as much as possible. When you can do both simultaneously, you’re in business.
Work to maintain density by effectively rotating work around the body.
Frequency is an effective tool. Try to do a little a lot, as compared to a lot a little. Small doses are very effective over time.
By reflecting on how well each session was designed and executed, you can continue to enhance your practice. When reflecting upon how each session went, the following questions can be useful.
Were the swimmers able to perform what they were expected to do? Did the session run work like you envisioned?
Did the swimmers know what to do at each stage?
Did the exercises flow well together?
Were the exercises appropriate for the skill and conditioning level of your swimmers?
Were the swimmers able to maintain intensity throughout? Was volume appropriate?
Were any problems the result of poor planning, poor execution, or both?
Effectively planning a training season, training week, and training session is the result of knowing what you want to achieve, knowing the abilities of your swimmers, and then determining how to bridge the gap from where you are to where you want to be.
I have tried to lay out the critical questions that by asking and answering, can help to guide coaches toward creating effective problems. Designing effective dryland programs is a skill that improves with practice and reflection. By thinking critically about each of these questions when planning, coaches can anticipate how outcomes and establish contingency plans when their inability to fully anticipate the future is revealed. Upon careful reflection and conjecture, coaches can re-navigate the plan, adjust their strategy, and learn from their experiences. Over time, they can move closer and closer to achieving their objectives consistently.
Once that becomes reality, they will have the skill set to develop swimmers who possess a distinct competitive advantage in terms of the physical resources they bring to the pool every day in training and in competition.