Bobcat Basics… Conditioning for Ultra Short work…

Ultra Short work may seem at its very core a pretty easy form of training. Short repeats, short rest, short workload! When we are looking at perception of an activity, then this probably holds true. Particularly in a sport where it is the norm to train volumes akin to a 400m runner embarking upon a daily marathon regime!! (Im pretty sure the runner would not entertain the idea of such a drastic form of overload, but in swimming it seems par for the course…)

Specificity is the key to Ultra Short work – it conditions and trains the body at race speeds and faster in order to mimic the demands placed on the athlete during competition; and by completing large volumes of it (4-5 times race distance – not 400 times!!!!!) the neuro-muscular patterning is heightened, delivering a pre-conditioned form of energy production throughout each race. So whilst the perception (duration/time) may seem fairly straightforward, the demands placed on the body are not. It is intense, fatiguing and allows little room for error. In contrast to some big volume sets where a random sub maximal pace is set, potentially with compromised technique (certainly not race technique) and often as long as the turnaround time is adhered to the set is generally deemed successful. Ultra Short is only a successful form of training when ALL facets of training are adhered to: race approach; race pace; race technique; race skills – all held over multiple repetitions with very short rest!! Not so easy after all…

As Ultra Short work is therefore quite different to some forms of traditional training – what might be the pre-requisites for embarking on such a programme? If it is demanding, then surely like any other form of increased workload there must be an element of pre-conditioning that allows the athlete to limit negative responses to the workload such as burnout or injury.

The answer to that… of course there is! Even the fittest, most highly trained swimmers that begin Ultra Short work can find it very tough to adapt initially. Brent Rushall warns of coaches switching their programmes immediately to an Ultra Short format, because if 10 sessions of sub maximal work are suddenly replaced by 10 intense workouts (that might be seen in Michael Andrew’s programme) then the negative responses above are pretty quickly going to be realised. Gradual progression is the key – and even when in full Ultra Short mode, early season progressions are a great way to re-introduce the demands to come… So how can we do it?

At VBRC we have always enjoyed the short rest format in sets and will use sets such as 20×50 of 35/37.5 or 40 seconds (athlete dependent) as indicators of required training fitness – if the set can be completed (fairly) easily (holding good form, double leg kicks off walls, no breathing on break outs etc) then we’re good to get started on some further progressive work. Training for the above could be the initial 2 weeks of a season, mixing distances, using pyramid sets etc but still keeping the reps and rests short (25-75m).

After the above we will work some ‘pace plus’ sets – 200 pace ‘plus’ 3 seconds, 2 seconds, 1 second etc. The idea that upon completion of the sets the intensity can be gradually incremented as the body adapts. But the main set we are going to look at today is the fly conditioning set – very tough, but self regulating (as all Ultra Short work should be so as to avoid ‘over-training’). It consists of 20×25 Butterfly going every 20 seconds (you could use 22.5/25 depending on ability of swimmers) but the key element is that each rep will only afford no more than 5 seconds rest. At the point that a rep cannot be completed (missed turnaround, stroke break down etc – this is deemed a ‘failure’) then a 60s rest is taken before continuing with the set; the aim is to get all 20 reps done before 3 failures occur.

The important point about this set is that failures are expected to happen and they are key to providing progressive information about how well an athlete is adapting to the load. If in week 3 of early season work only 8 reps in total are achieved, but by week 5 (assuming 2-3 exposures per week) 14 reps are achieved, then we know adaptation is occurring and the swimmer is improving on those specific demands. The idea being that when a set of 30×25 Butterfly at 100 race pace is programmed later on, then the carry over from multiple short repeats with very short rest should be apparent, in that the swimmer is already ‘familiar’ with the demands.

Always do your dry-side warm up and mobility work, but give it a go – see how you get on!

And just a final note: A lot of the work referred to in this (and other) blog(s) is classified as ‘Ultra Short’. This is not directly the same as USRPT work, which is a specifically designed form of training with set parameters defining its very characteristics. We Bobcats utilise USRPT sets also to great effect, but without wanting to mis-interpreted as a blog purely about USRPT (which it is not as many ideas and opinions are purely our own and not always those of Rushall et al) – the general term Ultra Short therefore will more often be used with specific references made to USRPT. If that makes any sense at all!!!!!!


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