Anaerobic threshold; lactate tolerance, EN1, A4 – sound familiar? No, lucky you!! If like me you have been involved in coach education during the past 50 years, these terms are going to appear pretty mainstay in the daily juggling of what to do when… and why!! However, if like me you’re not really a fan of these labels, and you would rather look at the individual athlete than a set of predefined terms – then you will probably look on the above as a tad superfluous.That is not to belittle their purpose though – there is a fair amount of evidence that supports the manipulation of the varying approaches to overloading the energy systems and methodologies for doing this – and athletes have gained success going through strict regimes faceted on these principles (I would example the post 50s East German teams here – which is where a large portion of the theory of energy system training was developed – but I guess we can attribute their success to less organic procedures!!!!)
I have dabbled in these areas and for sure it makes planning a darn sight easier – a bit like writing a recipe – put all the components down in the right order and hey presto – out comes an Olympic champ!!!! Unfortunately it rarely works like this…
I share the assertion that separated energy systems simply do not exist – that there is no such thing as anaerobic threshold and your energy providing system does not magically ‘change’ to a different supplier 40 seconds into an activity. Instead that each component of energy production is constantly working, leading, backing up, facilitating in-exercise recovery in response to the stimulated demands placed upon it.
Ultimately moreover, it is less ‘what’ is planned in a training session and more ‘how’ it is performed. I read a great article last week regarding the intent of an athlete during training (check out the Facebook page to view it), and how that would be the determining factor in an athletes success and not always the vision the coach has when writing the sets! That goes for any strain of training modality, contemporary race pace or old fashioned yardage! If the swimmer does it well, with the required intent, then they will get the benefit…. no use doing a 100m pace set aiming to hit 13 seconds and only hitting 13.5, with a sloppy break out! Conversely not a huge amount of point going 30×100 with un-streamlined push offs and zero focus on the propulsive elements required on every single stroke cycle – or just not a lot of point going 30×100!!!!!!
The limiting factor in my mind however, is that no matter what intent the swimmer doing the yardage set applies – if that person is in training for anything other than a 1500m fs and those 100s are swum hitting race target time – how can 3000m at sub pace rate, utilising a different technique to that seen in a race, placing no specific demand on the body that will be replicated when racing and offering no race skill crossover, be beneficial? Particularly when we are talking about senior athletes…
Different folk will have their own opinions on this – required fitness, tenacity, robustness, toughness – and whilst there is potentially a place for slow swimming to learn fundamental techniques with younger swimmers, I believe that training needs to become more specific to the demands of the sport en masse. Techniques learnt at race velocities; endurance learnt at race velocity; skills learnt at…. yep, race velocity. It is ironically very hard to achieve this, requires tenacity, robustness and toughness – but also it increases specific fitness, the ability to sustain a rate or pace for a given period of time! Ironically also it is volume based, but in relation to race distance, not just how many irrelevant metres you can fit in a 2 hour stint!!!
The science of this is all here – unlike the largely anecdotal evidence for traditional energy training. So next time you train, train with intent and be specific…. be VB!