Sprinter Trying To Do Distance

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    I’m in the middle of my LCM season right now, and I signed up to do the 200/400/800FR in a few weeks. I’m a sprinter who flies for about a 50 and then just falls apart completely, usually because of my legs. I haven’t done the 400/800 in 3 years, (when I was much more of a 200 swimmer,) and hadn’t done the 200 in almost 2 years until last weekend. I don’t know how I should try to race these events. Does anyone have experience with a swimmer like me?

    Here are my FR times (LCM)
    50: 26.98 (March 2019)
    100: 1:00.34 – Split 28.79/31.55 (March 2018)
    200: 2:17.67 – Split roughly 30.0, 35.0, 36.5, 36.0 (June 2019)
    400: 4:53.61 – Split 1:11.29/1:16.02/1:13.97/1:12.33 (July 2016)
    800: 9:57.66 – Split 1:09.76/1:15.03/1:15.67/1:15.47/1:16.13/1:16.49/1:15.98/1:13.13 (July 2016)

    Thanks, Liv.



    I’ll repost some distance info from other threads below. I looked back on your posts; have you been using the technical guide? http://brentrushall.com/macro/index.htm

    For distance training, you need to increase your index of coordination. You’ve been using a high stroke rate and need to slow it down, which is hard and takes time. You’ll also need to start focusing on consistent strokes per lap. Based on the past posts, your underwater double leg kick is fatiguing your legs and you should decrease your time underwater. Also, if your legs are tiring during distance you are kicking too much. Remember, kicking in freestyle is to control pitch and roll, not propulsion. Katie Ledecky and Sun Yang use 1-beat kicks to rotate to their breathing side.

    From previous threads:

    VO2max training is gaining traction in other sports but is still poorly designed in most programs. No matter which events you swim, VO2max is critically important to the amount of quality training you can accomplish and to general recovery. 100% VO2max is also a weird term in physiology; it doesn’t actually represent the highest effort you can achieve but relates to all the energy systems working at maximum capacity at any given time — respiratory muscle, the heart, the vascular system, muscle oxygenation, oxidation cycle, phosphagen regeneration, glycogen usage, and gluconeogenesis. Below 100% only aerobic capacity is heavily stressed; above 100% only anaerobic capacity is heavily stressed (there are differences in trained and untrained populations).
    The general structure of a USRPT set is based on aerobic development through anaerobic stress using intervals which may improve VO2max. The only thing missing is an exact point where we can stress 100% VO2max. Events under 200y/m (for experienced swimmers) are all executed well above 100% VO2max. 200’s are probably in the 110-130% range, 100’s in the 150-160% zone, and 50’s are sprint efforts.
    Just as every other USRPT concept focuses on specificity, in order to improve 100% VO2max we must train in the 100% zone. For trained athletes, a continuous high-effort lasting 5-6 minutes will plateau VO2 for about 4 minutes. From research, an elite athlete running a mile in 4 minutes will be at or above 100% VO2max for about 2 minutes and peaks at about 107%. But because these are continuous efforts to failure they are very hard to repeat during a training session.
    2-4 minutes of stress is not enough time to change the delivery system. In order to induce adaptations to our energy delivery architecture, we really should apply stress for 12-18 minutes. We tested a couple of program designs on an electronic stationary bike. :60 work/:20 rest worked fairly well but progressive overload to :72 work/15: rest probably fell well outside our desired range. :40 work/:20 rest with overload to :48/:12 seemed to keep the training in the desired zone.
    So, it seems that 50’s @ 200 pace, :30/:20 is a little too fast and (for me) 100’s @ 500 pace 1:10/:20 is a little too slow. The optimal 100% zone is probably obtained using 75’s. :49-50/:20 as long as I can do at least 11 repetitions and preferably 16 before changing a variable. Find the :40-:60 second distance/intensity combination the athlete can maintain for at least 12 minutes before failure. Try to keep rest under 22 seconds. Also, I don’t think multiple failures are really beneficial for this training session. In the cycling tests, we never did more than 1 failure and progression was consistent. Save the anaerobic energy for the event relevant sets.
    Training in the 100% zone just means the athlete is optimizing VO2max development which will improve their ability to train at every other pace. This is the much sought after “aerobic base”. Any other pace used as “aerobic base” training is LESS efficient.
    After building initial VO2max the athlete can transition to race-specific paces and sets focused on technical development but I would maintain a VO2max session 1-2 times a week throughout a macrocycle. Again, just 12-18 minutes will induce adaptations to the weakest point in the architecture.

    With the pro swim series starting up again there are a lot of athlete interviews describing their training. Ashley Twichell, an elite distance and open water swimmer, noted she swam “27k” in the 2 days leading up to the event. While stating your “work volume” is still a badge of honor among swimmers, even sprinters, the act of swimming a high volume describes little about the quality of the training sessions.

    Some distance training concepts have been explored in USRPT literature and on this forum. This post will consolidate and add some newer insights into the discussion. From an earlier post:

    “Just as every other USRPT concept focuses on specificity, in order to improve 100% VO2max we must train in the 100% zone. For trained athletes, a continuous high-effort lasting 5-6 minutes will plateau VO2 for about 4 minutes. From research, an athlete running a mile in 4 minutes will be at or above 100% VO2max for about 2 minutes and peaks at about 107%. But because these are continuous efforts to failure they are very hard to repeat during a training session.”

    And a reply to a question about distance training:

    “1) The velocity change between the 800m and 1500m LCM events, for high-level athletes, is about 2%. I will assume another 2-3% change to the 3k for this. For ref, the speed change from 100 LCM to 50 LCM is 12% for men and 9% for women.
    2) Technique is tied to speed. However, a 2-3% speed difference for a long event might not be mechanically noticeable for most recreational athletes.
    3) marathon runners need to condition their bodies for ground impact as well as the energy cost of running forward. Swimmers don’t have impact issues so you only need to train for energy costs of moving through water. We don’t need a ton of general volume.”

    Distance swim coaches and their athletes are probably misunderstanding the need for high volumes in running as simply “getting in shape” and erroneously applying these concepts to swimming. The impact effects of gravity are significant for all runners (trust me…) but pretty irrelevant for swimmers. Distance swimmers need to build ABSOLUTE VO2max and improve pulling efficiency. Their stroke rates need to be super consistent.

    A VO2max set was described in the previous “Tips” post on this forum. What comes next for distance swimmers has not been described. It is conceivable that a 1500/3k/5k swimmer may alternate between VO2max and distance “technique performance” sets. The VO2max sets are to energy-delivery failure but the distance sets might be to technical failure. A distance set may be 15×100 at 1500m pace with :20 rest. This shouldn’t result in energy-delivery failure due to the rest periods. So we need to induce technical failure.

    The key to the distance set is strokes per lap versus target time. If the swimmer uses 20 strokes (SCM) per lap and holds a 1:10 for 15x100m then the overload is working down to 19 strokes at a 1:10 target by training the 8 technical elements in microcycles (drag reduction, pulling power phase, turns, etc.). Failure in the 19-stroke session is when the swimmer takes 20 strokes, even if they make the target pace. The goal is to become extremely consistent. Completing 20-25x100m at a 1500m target pace is fine but if the athlete is increasing the stroke rate to maintain the pace then the overload moves back to energy-delivery. And since this is below 100% VO2max (this pace is 90-95% VO2max) it is an inefficient way to train.

    The fallacy of distance training for swimming is that more volume should be completed for longer events. Runners need volume for structural development due to muscular damage from eccentric forces. The reason a swimmer can swim 15k in a session is because there are no eccentric forces damaging muscle. But, in order to swim 15k intensity must decrease. Swimming slower to simply complete more volume is pointless. 50 and 100 swimmers need VO2max training to improve the ability to train (the old aerobic base generalization) and faster work to build muscle and force (which depends on technical proficiency). Distance swimmers need VO2max training to improve energy delivery during races and distance technical training to improve stroke consistency, distance, and efficiency. All training literally centers on an athlete’s 100% VO2max.




    I should’ve been more clear before, I was asking how to RACE a longer event. Like “fly and die” or “build the 100s,” which is my I put in my times/splits. I forgot I’ve already told you guys more than enough about how I swim 🙂 Since I only train for the 50s and 100s at the moment, (adding the 200s next season,) I just signed up for the sake of swimming them again, not looking for PBs. The meet was this past weekend, it went as to be expected for not training those events. I had fun swimming something different anyway.

    I’d like to ask you some questions about VO2max. I started learning about it a few months ago, but couldn’t find that much info.

    ~ So VO2max is the “aerobic base.” That means it should be built up in the “pre-season” (Aug-Oct & Mar-May) and maintained through the competition season?
    ~ How long does it take to develop the “base?” The longer the better or does it have a limit of how much it will improve?
    ~ You said 40-60 sec work / 20 sec rest. Is this THE sweet spot or does a set just need the same ratio?
    ~ Everything I’ve seen has been a 1:1 work to rest ratio. Does this also work?
    ~ Is there any way to tell if your really at 100% VO2max? (without testing equipment) It should be the speed you can hold for 5 min, correct?

    Sorry for not being more clear, thank you for the reply.



    At slower paces, you rely on different body roll and stroke cycle timing. This is just something you need to train to feel comfortable with. Watch Sun Yang swim the 1500 versus almost anyone swimming a 100. Ledecky has great arm mechanics with a high stroke rate but poor body mechanics so she’s not an ideal example.

    I don’t even like calling it a “base”. Bases don’t move. Your 100% VO2 will increase with training. It’s your maximum liters-per-minute of oxygen that can be processed by your entire metabolic architecture. Let’s say you’re at 4.0 liters/min at the beginning of the season – you might get to 4.5 l/m after 3-4 weeks of training. It will take months to years to reach your current maximum.

    If you’re still in decent shape after a short break then about 8-12 sessions will get you back to a good training volume. Your maximum l/m is limited by body type and training experience as a growing adolescent. It can be increased long-term but we’re talking years of consistent training into your 20’s.

    Nothing in USRPT is based on a ratio. The 1:1 in literature refers to the 100 pace intervals but even that isn’t really how you want to program them. The ideal rest period is 22 seconds for repeats slower than sprints but we can use up to 25 seconds for our swim pace clocks. When you work faster than your 100 pace the rest starts increasing up to a few minutes. I usually do 20-yard sprints using a 60-90 seconds interval depending on how I feel and how many I want to do. So even if you’re doing 200’s on your 1650 pace you keep the rest under 22 seconds. As you transition in your microcycles, you want to decrease the rest period before increasing your speed. N x 25’s @100 pace (:15) on :40 goes to [:15 on a :35] before [:14 on a :40]. Going faster is harder than decreasing rest.

    Generally, the speed you can doing anything for 5-6 minutes is your VO2max for that exercise. Will be different for swim, run, bike, row, ski, etc. This is because VO2 is based on the architecture of the working muscles as well as your respiratory muscle. If you never run then your VO2max for running (legs) won’t be great.

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