Take Home Points on Base Training for Swimming:As swimmers transition from summer training to fall training, many programs move from a
- Different approaches exist for base training
- Traditional approaches have focused on building an aerobic base through
- Base training should be more individualized than uniform application of high yardage to an entire squad
One of the most referenced studies in swimming (Costill 1991) found that adding a period of two-a-days for increased mileage in the early portion of a training cycle did not lead to significant short term improvements, but did result in significant improvement after a late season taper. Was it the traditional base training that led to improvement or some other factors? Wakayohsi (1993) found that six months of aerobic base training improved 4 x 400m swim test velocity, but its unclear if this training would have effectively transferred to shorter distance racing. (additionally, this study was only eight male swimmers with no control group).
Care must also be taken to accommodate swimmers entering base from different starting points. On a single team you can have swimmers who competed all summer in national and international meets, those who did consistent but not intense training, those who cross trained, and those who barely did anything. Each type of swimmer will require a different approach, no matter how emotionally invested a coach is in his/her one-size-fits-all program (and no matter how much they want to punish the lazy swimmers who didn’t train during the summer). This is a key but often overlooked point of base.
'The longer and more substantial is this basic form of training, the better and longer an athlete will be able to hold a peak performance capability when serious competitions occur. The corollary to this statement is: an athlete's ability to hold a peak performance status is directly proportional to the amount of base (preparatory or background) training that is done." (Rushall 1994)
Now, while most would agree with this statement, the HOW is less clear. Some interpret this to mean base training should include record setting yardage with ample doses of 400-1000yd repeats. Others may interpret “longer and substantial” to mean never take a break. In truth, the varying interpretations of base training reflect the nature of base training as being grounded in as much art as science. True, it’s possible to measure baseline fitness through time trials, lactate, VO2max, etc but deciding how to improve those parameters and what to do with that information is less well established.
Though many definitions of base exist, we should all agree that base is about preparing for the next phase of training. Base can also be seen as having dual purposes, from preparing for future competitions while actively recovering from prior hard training. This may also support the idea of planned time off in which swimmers focus on non-swimming activities.
“The basic preparatory phase can include activities drawn from sports which are related to swimming. This phase of training would also include the greatest amount of auxiliary training. However, because such activities are beneficial for establishing a physiological base, does not mean that they are just as beneficial when highly specialized training is employed. At that time they have the potential to disrupt refined neuromuscular patterns associated with skill.” (Rushall 1994)
Ultimately, base should be seen as simply that: a base. Determine what the athlete needs for late season success and build the foundation from the base phase.
- Wakayoshi K1, Yoshida T, Ikuta Y, Mutoh Y, Miyashita M. Adaptations to six months of aerobic swim training. Changes in velocity, stroke rate, stroke length and blood lactate. Int J Sports Med. 1993 Oct;14(7):368-72.
- Costill DL1, Thomas R, Robergs RA, Pascoe D, Lambert C, Barr S, Fink WJ. Adaptations to swimming training: influence of training volume. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1991 Mar;23(3):371-7.
- Dr. Brent Rushall. ANNUAL PLANNING FOR SWIMMING FITNESS. Adapted from NSWIMMING COACHING SCIENCE BULLETIN: Volume 2 Number 6 - July-August, 1994.
Written by Allan Phillips is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and owner of Pike Athletics. He is also an ASCA Level II coach and USA Triathlon coach. Allan is a co-author of the Troubleshooting System and was selected by Dr. Mullen as an assistant editor of the Swimming Science Research Review. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at US Army-Baylor University.