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Cause or Effect?

Inputs and outputs.

Both are critical to performance.

The energetic cost of swimming is tightly related to velocity, with velocity being determined by a combination of stroke length and stroke frequency. Coordination and technical profiles are closely related to velocity. To swim in a coordinated manner with a high stroke frequency and stroke length requires a high energetic input.

Without high (metabolic) input, high (movement) output is not possible. Unsurprisingly, faster swimmers typically have greater physiological capacities. Many have concluded that the inputs determine the outputs.

What if it is the other way around? What if fast swimmers demonstrate enhanced physiology because the technical skill they possess allows them to access a greater percentage of their physiological reserve?

In other words, perhaps slower swimmers lack the ability to express the physiological capabilities they already possess due to ineffective technique skills?

So, which way does this relationship run? What is cause and what is effect? Are metabolic inputs dictating output possibilities? Or does the movement output determine the required input?

Some considerations-

  • As much as physiological capacities constrain the expression of technical skills, a lack of technical skill will constrain the ability to efficiently display physiological capacities.

  • Individuals will likely present individually determined limitations.

  • If coaches focus on developing physiology above all else, the requisite technical skills will not necessarily follow.

  • If coaches focus on developing the skills required for competition in competition contexts, the majority (admittedly not all) of the physiologically requirements will likely be developed.

Obviously, we are not faced with choosing between input- or output-driven training programs. A nuanced and balanced approach will almost always be more appropriate. The key may be in possessing the flexibility to view the training process from both perspectives, or even better, considering both perspectives simultaneously.

To work through this process, coaches can ask themselves some simple questions.

At any given moment, am I favoring physiological development? If so, am I aware of the cost to technical development. Is there a way to achieve the same physiological development without the technical baggage? If so, how can I implement it?

In contrast, am I currently favoring technical development? Am I aware how physiological development is being compromised by my choices. Is there a way to achieve the same technical development without the impairing physiological development? If so, how can I implement it?

While metabolically/physiologically-focused training paradigms have certainly served the sport well and allowed for performances to develop over the last 100 years, progressive approaches will always be required for further advancement.

Too often, technical and physical development processes are considered as separate.

They are not.

The first step is to appreciate how movement drives metabolism. With effective and appropriate movement, the appropriate physiology will develop. With more consideration about how movement drives physiology, as opposed to how physiology drives movement, more options for progress will present themselves.

Once there is more balance in perspective, we can move toward thought processes that unify the development of both elements, improving both the effectiveness and efficiency of the developmental process.

It’s not cause OR effect, but cause AND effect.

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