USRPT Part 3 – The Principles of Training

The title is a well used phrase in the coaching fraternity – and any aspiring coach will be well versed in what the science books say about these principles (or should be at least!!) Sometimes though things can become a bit cloudy – and what was intended is often not what is translated into an athletic programme. Part of the evolution of USRPT has been to match these principles with little room for error and in a well managed programme there is certainly more opportunity to ensure that you are adhering to them as opposed to veering away from them. Arguably the most common misinterpretation is that regarding Training Overload – an element that is often attempted too quickly at too young an age, or one that is attempted with a tad too much gusto and overload becomes over-training!!

So lets take a quick look at overload in relation to USRPT and how its sets to prevent the occurrence of over-training.

  1. Overload – the method in which the demands of training are gradually increased in order to cause adaptation in the body and illicit a response for heightened performance.

This can be as simple as increasing the weight on a squat each week, or adding an extra lap of the track on your morning run, but anyone can write those increments and they can be classified as incredibly general – if the extra weight on the squat is not of sufficient amount then no overload will occur; if the runner has the ability to actually run 5 more laps then putting just one more on the end probably won’t achieve much (unless of course it has been carefully planned and is part of a bigger goal). The great thing about USRPT and overload is it is specific not only to the demands of the sport but also to the individual performing it. For example, A set of 30×50 at 200 pace for one swimmer may have on the previous occasion elicited a chainĀ of 12x50s before the first fail (onset neurological fatigue); a further 3 exposures before failure 2 and a final 2x50s before the 3rd fail and cessation of the set. Thats a total of 17x50s made at 200 race pace. A second swimmer may have done the same set but gained results of 9 swims to first fail and a further 6 in total after that – totalling 15 reps. In looking to apply the necessary overload here the coach (or swimmer) can target 3 main variations for the next time the set comes around:

The first is to swim the set the same but attempt more 50’s in a row before the first fail – even just one more (in the above example the second swimmer managed 9 reps here – normally we would want to see this total reach 12+ so this would be a good focus for the next set). And in learning to hit ‘just one more’ the swimmer is developing coping strategies in maintaining that desired pace.

Second is to swim a greater number of total 50s (15 or 17<) – here even if the first value is less than 9 or 12 the swimmer may ‘find’ something more toward the end of a set and increase the total exposures. Either way their capacity at performing that skill at that pace is increasing.

The third is to reduce the target time and this can throw up a tough pill to swallow for some athletes, which we ill look at below…

The first and second techniques will ensure that any further trials achieved on a subsequent set will definitively overload the system as the previous results indicate the most a swimmer could have achieved at that time (assuming the swimmer was attempting the set conscientiously and trying his/her best). Even if the swimmer was not trying their best, eventually they will catch up because if each exposure requires a heightened response they will soon be performing more trials at increased intensity (or they will decide they don’t actually want to train hard to improve as a swimmer and will take up another sport instead!)

The third technique is the big hitter and the one that will allow swimmers to really progress – and know that they deserve to progress and know that when it comes to the race they will swim faster. Once a swimmer can successfully achieve a desired number of repetitions at a specific pace (the 12 in a row in the example above is a good indicator as 3x race distance) then they should be so tuned in to swimming at that pace that come race day they can simply repeat the feat and hit the target time. As the target times are reduced and the successful trials over time are gradually increased, then the swimmer learns to swim succinctly at the new pace (0.5 seconds per 50m = 2 seconds over 200m) and should be able to perform the next race at the new time (2 seconds faster).

This aspect however, some swimmers find tricky initially – the concept of overloading by reducing the target time – not least because this means that the number of successful trials will be less the next time round! The important area to remember is that each target time will provoke its own response specific to that time, be it 200 pace, 400 pace or 1500 pace and so any fluctuation will warrant the swimmer to require adaptation to be able to perform the associated skills at that different velocity. Even substantially less repeats will elicit this response (as well as maintaining previous standards) in that the mind and body are having to adapt to a new stimulus. So if swimmer A goes from hitting 17×32 second pace 50’s, to only 8 at 31.5, each one of those 8 newly achieved reps will have stimulated a learning response in the swimmer and added a new layer of development potential to his/her repertoire!

Overload does not have to be massive – and it certainly shouldn’t all be about volume. Yes we need to increase the enduring capacity of a set target time, but the process of constant realignment of those goal times and regular re-setting of the adaptation process to a new faster stimulus -and all the technical adjustments required for this – ensure that USRPT meets overload demands and some!!!

Overload should be individual; it should be specific; it should be easily monitored, adjustable and constantly evaluated. USRPT ticks all of those boxes with aplomb!

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