How do I measure how hard I am training?

Getting better at swimming involves a cycle of training stimuli, adaptation and rest that is continuously varied. The training stimuli can be changed in different ways but most coaches use a method called step loading.

In step loading the stress on the body is increased and decreased over a period that can be as short as a week or as long as a month. Step loading can be achieved by increasing or decreasing the volume of training (the distance of the session) or the intensity of the session.

The intensity refers to how fast an activity is performed or the power or strength required for the activity, or the effort put in during the activity. Adaptation of the body is specific to the training intensity.  This means that if you train for speed, your body will adapt for speed or if you train for power, your body will adapt for power. Therefore, the regulation of training intensity is essential to achieve the desired training outcome.

We all know that there is a relationship between intensity and the specific duration you can swim at that intensity. Sprinters can maintain high intensity swims for a short duration but at some time they will fatigue and will not able to maintain their speed.

The intensity and duration of a swim also determines in which way energy is generated by the body to fuel training. The predominant energy systems used to make energy during a set is sometimes used to label the intensity of the set. The body uses three energy pathways namely Aerobic oxidation, Glycolysis and the Phosphagen systems.

This has given rise to the terms that is used to describe swimming sets namely Aerobic, Threshold or Lactate sets. To try and make some sense out of these imprecise and confusing terms let’s try to equate them to something more understandable.

The term Aerobic usually corresponds to low to moderate intensity swimming of higher distance and duration. Threshold describes the dividing line between intensities that can be sustained for a long time versus those that cannot. Threshold swims will usually be done at close to critical swim speed (CSS). Critical swim speed is measured in a specific test and the result is a time per 100 meter that can be maintained over a long-distance swim.

Critical swim speed relates to the term threshold speed that is often used by coaches. Swimming at this pace will lead to a higher than aerobic intensity swim over a longer duration. Lactate swims are short high intensity swims. Although the above terminology is widely used it is important to remember that all three energy systems contribute to energy production during exercise.

In next weeks post I will examine ways to measure the intensity of swimming.




Photo by: