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Primed to perform

This last month, heading into the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, has absolutely flown by.

While my training schedule in Phoenix has proved somewhat challenging of late – the Phoenix Swim club facility was recently demolished – I saw the silver lining in practising in four different pools.

Every day was an opportunity to race and train in an unfamiliar environment. That said, on my return in August, the brand new Phoenix Swim Club pool will have been completed, which is a real positive.

Before then, my focus will be firmly fixed on Glasgow 2014.

I feel truly blessed to be attending my fifth consecutive Commonwealth Games and honoured to be South Africa’s first-ever five-time Commonwealth Games representative. I’m as giddy now as I was back in 1998.

Being part of a village environment, which never gets old, allows me to observe and interact with athletes from different sporting codes.

There are no two sports that are the same and, within each sport, there are no two individuals who are alike. Each specific sportsman and woman has different strengths, weaknesses and recovery times.

In addition, as I’ve discovered, no two years are ever the same. For example, some years it’s entirely possible to only peak once or twice and other years, scheduling dictates that an athlete needs to peak more than a few times.

That being said, if we examine a swimmer’s season according to the old-school way of training, a typical season is between 12 and 16 weeks in length. The first part and major component of a season’s training, is focused on breaking the swimmer down in trying to develop their capacity.

In order to build this aerobic capacity, you find swimmers training distances and energy systems that are in no way related to the pace at which they compete. The focus is always on total mileage done per workout.

You often hear coaches boasting about the distance their swimmers covered during a single training week. An all-too-common question from coaches to their swimmers is: “How far did you swim today?”

The reality is that the total volume of a training session or week draws very little parallel to actual swimming performance. It’s also not unheard of for certain swimmers, including some South African teams, to complete in excess of 120km of swimming per week. I fail to understand how covering 120km in the training pool relates to race events that take between 21 seconds and 14 minutes to complete.

The last four-to-six weeks of an old-school season (known as the taper) is spent recovering from the months of work and stress inflicted on the body. With the amount of stress placed on the body, this is generally when athletes struggle with flu or bronchitis. It literally takes four to six weeks for the body to finally reach a stage of complete recovery in order to once again compete at your maximum potential.

Based on the huge amount of physical, mental and emotional stress of an old-school training program, it’s almost impossible to peak more than a few times a year, as professor Tim Noakes has alluded to.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have conversed with Noakes on a number of occasions and hold him in high regard. When I returned to South Africa after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, we spoke at length about energy systems used in sprinting and training and old-school and new-school methodologies.

The modern and more advanced way of training advocates specificity.

To recap, in order for your body to perform at a certain speed for a period of time, the body needs to have adapted to the speed, rhythm, timing and tempo that you would experience throughout the course of a workout, a weeks’ worth of training and more specifically a season of training.

However, many coaches expect their athletes to train below race pace over an entire season and then wonder why they fatigue at the end of their races. I believe the only way to improve capacity, capability and stroke technique efficiently is to train the body at or above race pace as often as possible.

Instead of coaches asking each other how far their swimmer swam in a session, the more accurate question would be, “how much was done at or above race pace?”

Based on the more modern way of training, it’s easier for athletes to perform close to their personal bests throughout the year because they aren’t continuously broken down.

Athletes utilising a training program that focuses on specificity are also less likely to fall ill, get injured and experience burnout.

There is definitely a growing trend in the world of swimming today which sees athletes swimming fast all of the time. In my opinion, it’s the only way to guarantee prolonged success.

Good luck to everyone on Team South Africa competing in Glasgow over the next two weeks. I’m excited to be a part of this team and to start racing. It’s now “our time.”

Post your comments and questions below and follow me on Twitter @Rolandschoeman

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