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The Most Stuf Part I

Nabisco released a new version of the Oreo, ‘The Most Stuf’, which is obviously superior to its other version because it has ‘the most stuf’ in each cookie. The crème is what makes the cookie. The more crème per bite, the better the cookie.

While Oreos are typically not part of the performance discussion in the pool, it made me think of an important question in coaching-

How can we get the most out of the least with each training task and practice?

Performance is the result of many different factors and skillsets. From a variety of technical skills to all of the physical capacities to the required psychological skills, it all matters. If swimmers are going to improve they need to improve at least some of these factors and skillsets. If they want to reach their potential, they need to improve all of these skillsets. As coaches, we are tasked with providing swimmers as many opportunities to improve these skillsets as possible.

If we’re realistically going to address all of the relevant performance factors, or at least the most important ones, it’s going to take a lot of time. The challenge then becomes how to organize practice on a daily basis to address all of the relevant factors over the course of a week and training year. When designing practices, we want to get as much benefit out of each practice as possible, effectively improving as many different aspects of performance as possible.

We want as much crème in each cookie as possible. To be more effective and efficient in our coaching, how can we get The Most Stuf into every practice?

You Are Always Training Everything

Every set is impacting each skillset, either positively, negatively, or neutrally. The question becomes whether these effects are intentional or not. If we’re going to get the most out of each practice, these effects need to be considered and managed. An appreciation of the global impact of each training set is the first step towards creating practices that effectively target all aspects of performance.

Technique, psychology, and physiology cannot exist without one another. They are simply different aspects of the same process. We can choose to allow the impacts on each aspect to occur through happenstance or by design, with the latter being the most effective strategy for long-term performance improvement.

Multiple Perspectives

We have to go beyond viewing each set as a ‘technique set’ or a ‘training set’ or whatever else description we might create. Any given set or practice is going to impact every aspect of performance in some manner. Confidence is either improved following a set or not. The potential impact of a set on an athlete’s confidence needs to be considered. Same with technique, or any other component.

If a swimmer hits their ‘target heart rate’, but does so with horrible technique and performance times that kill confidence, was the set really a success? If we’re aware of the global impact that a given set has, we can control the impact on each component. This helps to eliminate training baggage.

Once we have an appreciation and awareness of the global impact of a set, we can start to actively design sets that improve multiple targets at the same time, beyond simply ensuring there are no negative consequences to our sets.

What This is NOT About

This not about just cramming as many performance components into a given practice as possible. Just because you perform a given activity, doesn’t mean it’s helpful. Calling it ‘speed work’ doesn’t make it so. The swimmers have to be able to execute what’s asked of them, and do it well. Beyond the execution issue, it’s important to consider whether the inclusion of the added component is making practice better, or just busier.

Simply addressing each element in every practice is not the goal. Improving as many aspects as possible is the goal. How can coaches know the difference? Observation and evaluation. If swimmers are demonstrating success, and they’re improving over time in the areas you’re targeting, you’re on the right track. If not, then practice is likely too busy, or it could be another issue entirely.

Complementary vs. Contradictory

Two different performance threads can either be complementary or contradictory in that they work with each or they work against each other. Steady state aerobic work and improving stroke length are likely complimentary. A ‘lactate set’ to fatigue and improving stroke length are likely contradictory training goals. As another example, including speed or power work after a 4000-meter threshold set is probably not going to have the impact you’re looking for. Including speed or power work after skill work can be very complimentary.

When choosing to add layers to a given training set, we need to consider if these layers are complementary or contradictory. Ideally, each layer makes the set BETTER, not only by addressing multiple components, but by enhancing the impact on the primary training objective.

This can only happen by designing sets with complementary training components in mind. If we’re simply adding various activities without purpose, we’ll end up including contradictory and irrelevant aspects to sets.

If the primary training goal is a physical one, how can complimentary technical or psychological aspects be integrated into the set? It could be as simple as requiring certain stroke counts at different points of the set. It could be an emphasis on dolphin kicking. It could be repeated interactions about self-talk. Each set has the opportunity to become richer by the inclusion of components that make are also important for performance, while making a positive impact on the primary focus of the practice.

If the primary training goal is a technical one, how can complimentary physical or psychological aspects be integrated into the set? How can we add elements of the skills of focusing, refocusing, or goal setting? Not only will this help to develop these psychological skills, it will allow for better improvement of technique.

How can we stimulate physiological development while working on skills? If we’re working on skills at slower speeds, integrating these skills into a low-level aerobic set will simultaneously impact fitness, while also performing technique work in a situation more closely tied with normal swimming. Alternating between a drill and integrating it into aerobic swimming will accomplish this. The same approach could be taken from a speed and power perspective.

If the primary training goal is a psychological one, how can complimentary technical or physiological aspects be integrated into the set? If our primary goal is to help instill confidence, the best way to accomplish this goal is to ask swimmers to perform sets that are challenging, yet have a high likelihood of success. Your options here are unlimited, provided you create clear technical or physiological goals, and then allow swimmers to accomplish them.

If you’d like to work on the ability to focus and re-focus, then you’d want to design training sets that have a high technical and/or physiological demand. Swimmers will need to focus to accomplish the goals, and learn to re-focus when they fail to meet these goals. Along the way, you can work on any technical skills or physiological traits that you desire. It’s ALL being addressed. What’s important is that you are INTENTIONAL about it, as opposed to just letting it happen.

Moving Forward

With limited time and energy available to coaches and swimmers alike, practice must be both effective and efficient if we are to best prepare swimmers to go fast. To accomplish this task, we need to make sure that each set is designed to make sure get the most out of the least. In part II, we’ll make all of these considerations practical with specific examples of how to integrate these ideas into practice.


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