3 Questions to Ask Yourself Regarding your Swimming Training Program

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Regarding your Swimming Training Program

Dr. GJohn Mullen Blog, Competition, Dr. John Mullen, Training 1 Comment

Overreaching is the close cousin of overtraining

We’ve previously discussed in detail the negative effects of overtraining. Also, anyone in sports understands the importance of training hard and pushing oneself, ideally for the super-compensation effect. However, the effect balance of swimming training and rest for maximizing overreaching, while minimizing overtraining is extremely difficult.

In swimming, many teams perform macrocycles of approximately 3 months, followed by 1 – 4 weeks of deloading, known as taper. However, recent training suggestions involve shorter macrocyles, approximately 3 – 4 weeks in length with a 1 week deloading phase [read about 4 ways to prevent overtraining].

Recently, a group of researchers in Japan analyzed the effects of a 2-week overreaching training program in 24 physically active men. Unfortunately, these men were considered active, but not participating in sport or training, so we must be cautious of extrapolating any findings to elite swimmers. Nonetheless, the study split the subjects into two groups:

  • the overreaching-detraining (OR-DT), in which the subjects performed maximal cycle sprint training on 12 consecutive days, followed by 6 days of detraining
  • the control (CON) group, in which a complete day of rest was provided after every 2 successive training days

The training sessions were identical for both groups consisting of 2 – 4 sets of 30 seconds of maximal pedaling on an exercise bike. Each set was followed by a 7-minute rest period. The resistance for the first set was 7.5% of the subject’s body weight (BW), then 5.0% of their BW.

The peak power output was significantly higher in the OR-DT group at the post-test. The intra-muscular phosphocreatine concentrations increased significantly in the OR-DT group, but was unchanged in the control group. This PCr increase may be the driver of improvement, but there was a greater maximal response of cortisol in the OR-DT during the post-test. Many associate cortisol with negative connotations, as it is a stress hormone. However, cortisol has been provided to cyclists and yield improvements.

Now, before I propose 3 questions to ask yourself regarding your swimming training program, let me highlight some major flaws in this study and why we must minimally extrapolate the results:

  • Non-elite athletes: Like I said, these subjects were not elite. Elite athletes respond differently to stress and training, particularly overreaching and overtraining as their bodies adapt to heavy swimming training overtime.
  • Short-term study: In the scheme of athletic performance, this is a rather short study. A longer study must analyze the results for a year or even more if we were lucky!
  • Control previous training: In mature athletes, these results will likely vary on training experience. We often see novelty yield short-term improvement, but not long-term gains. Remember, long-term gains are the goal and previous training and current training status greatly influence these results.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Regarding your Swimming Training Program

Clearly, this study and the findings have issues, but they can still provoke lively discussion regarding 3 questions to ask yourself regarding

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Thumbs up for being creative and having an open-mind!

your swimming training program:

  1. Why are you doing long-macrocycles? Just because swimmers have used the 3-month training, 1-month deloading regimen doesn’t mean it is best for everyone or specifically each swimmer.
  2. Why do you train 6 days in a row? Would having a training program of 3 days on and one day off yield greater improvement and results?
  3. How do you monitor Overtraining? Overtraining is highly ignored in sports like swimming where training volume is extremely high. Unfortunately, seldom monitoring is performed at the practical level. Nowadays, swimmers (especially children) train more, sleep less, and eat worse. This recipe for disaster is often ignored, when all these stress factors must be considered and monitored. Heart rate variability is one promising method of monitoring overtraining, but a simple test like a high jump could also be used. Sorry to say it, I don’t have the answers for you or your team, but what are you doing about overtraining at your team?

Once again, I don’t have the answers these question and in honesty no one does. Remember, just because it was done in the past, doesn’t make it best or optimal. Instead, do your research, come up with a game plan and track your results, this is how you’ll differentiate yourself and uncover the ideal swimming training program for YOU!


  1. Hasegawa Y, Ijichi T, Kurosawa Y, Hamaoka T, Goto K. Planned Overreaching and Subsequent Short-term Detraining Enhance Cycle Sprint Performance. Int J Sports Med. 2015 Jul;36(8):666-71. doi: 10.1055/s-0034-1390466. Epub 2015 May 6.

Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS Bio: I swam my whole life, starting at the age of 4. I was lucky enough to receive a swimming scholarship to Purdue University. At Purdue, I started in Chemical Engineering, before switching to General Health Sciences. After swimming at Purdue, I coached shortly in North Carolina, before starting my Doctorate program at USC. At USC, I did some research on lung capacities and worked with many high level athletes. After graduating, I moved to Santa Clara, CA to be with my current wife (who is also a swim coach) and began doing dryland programming and physical therapy. I currently have my own physical therapy and sports performance center in Santa Clara, CA (www.trainingcor.com) and am consult with numerous college and club swim teams.

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