Progressive Overload, Conceptual Design

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    Progressive overload involves overloading various parts of the muscular and respiratory system in an orderly fashion. In USRPT, based on the literature, the standard variables are INTERVAL TIME, VELOCITY, POINT OF FAILURE. While DISTANCE is a variable, continuous stroke distance is always the same. In a 25y pool, the athlete will surface, let’s say 6 meters, and swim to the wall. In a 25m pool, the athlete will surface at 6 meters and swim to the wall. In a 50m pool, the athlete will surface at 6 meters and swim to the wall.

    In weight training, the variables are LOAD, REPETITIONS, SETS, INTERVAL TIME. Range-of-motion ROM will always be the same to standardize the exercise (bar to chest then full extension).

    REPETITIONS is missing a USRPT counterpart. When weight training, an athlete will rarely increase the LOAD without first increasing the REPETITIONS to increase capacity.

    The theory suggests that a new macrocycle will include shifting the pool distance from 25 yards to 25 meters to induce a 9.3% increase in REPETITIONS (the times the stroke is completed continuously without a break). VELOCITY stays the same, INTERVAL can be adjusted then decreased, the overload will occur due to REPETITION increase. Then VELOCITY can be increased when the athlete moves back to the 25-yard course at the next macrocycle.

    Happy weekend,


    while I’d agree that it would be possible to adjust the distance. Dealing with that in a pool wouldn’t be that simple. 1. Workout management and 2. Having the capability to configure pool as needed. I could see it working LC or in track. In fact this is what we do with our sprinters in LC that swim the 50. We break the pool into 5m increments. We determine the point in the pool they can no longer hold the velocity and that’s where we start with sets like n x 30m or 35m on 2:00 with 20m/15m recovery swim. Once they are capable of holding a certain number at 30m we’ll try 35m or 40m in a sense reestablishing a new maximum. Push the numbers out again.

    The LOAD can be also be the number of REPS at VELOCITY. In general lifting circles, weight lifters will usually increase the LOAD after they can handle the weight for 15 REPTITIONS. In swimming LOAD=VELOCITY, why not just make the times faster? Therefore increasing the LOAD. Then the swimmers would start back trying to again accomplish 15 reps before adjusting the load.

    I think the key is establishing the maximum number they need to do before making the adjustment. If you have some understanding of how the body handles work with regards to energy delivery you can get pretty close to that number. I’d say within 2-3 repetitions.

    ? All that is not shared... is lost.

    lefthanded swimmer

    As for weight lifting, there’s a lot of research on the body building side. They know what works for building mass without a doubt! I think a common sense approach is to NOT do anything like what the body builders are doing which my understanding is high reps until exhaustion. To build less mass you would not do any lifts to a “failed” state like in USRPT. Low reps fairly close to max. builds strength. Doesn’t it? Spacing out sets for longer recovery builds less mass too. That’s just my two cents. I enjoyed the prior discussion on weights. Thank you coaches. At 6′ 172, I don’t need ANY additional mass so I have a different goal or concern.

    I do like the plyometric explosive work training ideas. Has anyone done much work with Roman Ropes? I would be curious about the results. I found these exercises intriguing.

    Build Your Swimming Power and Endurance with the Roman Ropes Workout

    As for changing the pool distance, that’s an interesting idea. We were on vacation and swam a 25M pool for a week. All it seem to do is mess up the finish (fly/breast especially) for a few days returning to the 25Y pool.


    I just started swimming in a 25m pool for the summer so was thinking about it. Everything is based on what anyone has available.

    As for equating WT terms to swim terms, I would say TOTAL SET POWER is REPS times VELOCITY but it’s really hard to record VELOCITY while lifting without a device. POWER would be LOAD times VELOCITY. Just to be clear, LOAD=VELOCITY means the term LOAD, while lifting, refers to a similar variable, VELOCITY, in the pool. Not that they are equal in magnitude.

    In either a WT or USRPT macrocycle, it seems that increasing LOAD/VELOCITY is always more strenuous than increasing REPS. This is pretty evident in WT, as you said, increasing WT REPS by 50% (from 10 to 15) before increasing the LOAD is an effective progression. Adding weight always results in a significant decrease in work, maybe because there aren’t a bunch of 1lb plates in gyms. In USRPT, increasing the reps to failure is used to adapt to the current VELOCITY. I’m looking at an additional variable, within the macrocycle concept, that can help an athlete adapt.

    The hardest part about LCM is, assuming 6 meters underwater, 50 meters of LCM “swimming” distance is about 16% longer than 50 meters of SCM. And 50 meters of LCM is 31% longer than 50 yards SCY. 25 meters SCM is 13% longer than SCY (again, this is the distance stroke swimming assuming 6 meters underwater from the wall).

    Anyway, just spitballing some ways to create less strenuous increments of overload. When you change variables by over 5% things can get messy.


    LH Swimmer,

    Ya, bodybuilding is overly concerned with sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (the pump) to create “volume”.

    Training should focus on shifting the power curve of specific muscle towards the optimum point needed for your sport/event. Every exercise can be explosive, aka powerful. When a workout blog refers to “strength” they mean maximum force, everything below that falls somewhere on the power curve. The swimming power curve depends on your needed velocity (sprint 50 to 1650/open water) and the fact that the resistance (water) never changes. If you want to swim a faster 50 (or 1650) you need to shift the power curve towards the specified event by:
    1. Increasing mechanical stroke distance and maintain/reduce drag (technical)
    2. Increasing stroke rate without decreasing mechanical stroke distance (coordination)
    3. Increase energy utilization at the specified velocity (matching sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy to the resistive forces)

    Building “mass” is important but generalized. You can build mass in a few swim-specific muscles to improve performance. Heavy leg day builds generalized mass in a way that’s not important to swimming.

    I see the roman ropes all over the place now and it’s a bit much. This goes back to CSCSs having the word “conditioning” in their title. If a swim coach thinks thousands of yards in the pool every day isn’t “conditioning” their swimmers and they need CSCSs to program sled pulls and battle ropes something is wrong with the community. CSCSs don’t know what they are doing and are making things up to fill a time block.


    The load can be an increase. Its just in velocity as you would be changing the amount of effort needed to move the weight. i.e. the mass of swimmer through the water. Much like adding 2.5-5 lbs. It’s just from the velocity end. If you believe that the velocity is the key than that’s where the adjustment would need to be made. To make a progressive overload of the system.

    By adjusting the distance you would be follow the basic tenants of the Parametric System. 1. Velocity is set and you increase the distance swum at velocity. i.e. 6 x 25 building to 12 x 25. I guess you then have to figure out at what number of repeats that you can do in a row would determine or warrant an increase/adjustment in pace. That’s the tricky part. Because it’s not the same for every athlete and when you are responsible for the performance of 40 swimmers. Even adjustments of less than 1% get messy as hell.

    The MxS question is correct. Near 90-95% and on occasion 100% attempts of 1RM with VERY long recovery time between lifts. Really good and basic book is Bompa’s “Periodization of Strength” on strength training. We have to stay away from muscle hypertrophy (the pump) as it will increase the size of the “boat” and based on experience not the “engine” I posed this very question to Dr. Tudor Bompa, about increasing mass in swimmers and his response was ” swimmers are like wt. lifters, in that you want to be the strongest lifter in your wt. class and not increase mass. Mass for the sake of mass is you still have to move it down the pool. F=MxA. I would chose #3 from above post as this is far more specific to swimming and mass would probably be developed through METABOLIC STRESS.. A question about energy utilization. Is the loss of velocity in events 1:00 or faster due to 1. energy delivery or 2. Force production?

    Agree whole heartedly about “Russian/Battle ropes” If you had the idyllic situation and could set up a cycle of first developing Anatomical Adaptation or just general fitness phase/cycle (first 2-4 weeks of a season) then I can see maybe some purpose for their use. After that not sure what is going on other than work for work sake.

    CSCSs’ You are exactly right. I have had to have sit down talks with the GAs that they are not about conditioning the kids, WTs.and dryland are supplemental to swimming and WILL be the first thing either stopped or reduced if the kids slow down in the water. If you look back at the original post “thoughts on WT” and they applied DC to what should be done with regards to weight training and selection of exercises for swimmers they wouldn’t fill 45 minutes.

    Sorry about the fragmentation of the reply.

    Enjoying the conversation

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