Swimnetwork.com Special: Design a Training Plan

By Dr. Chris Colburn

You've taken the plunge, and gotten back in the water. You have a training routine, and you've set some some goals. What more do you need? A solid training plan gives you a structured way to both reach your goals and measure your progress along the way. Today we'll show you how to set up your own training plan, based on your routine and goals, to start you on the road to success.

What do you want to do?

You've already set your goals. Now, you want to structure your workouts to help you reach those objectives. Regardless of whether your aim is to learn a new stroke, swim a certain time, or finish a particular distance, put together workouts that will help you to achieve each component of your goals. If you don't have any experience designing workouts, consulting with a coach or training partner may help.

How long is your training cycle?

The length of your training season has a direct effect on how many cycles you can complete, as well as the milestones you set along the way. If you're training for a triathlon, your preparation might last a year or more. If you're following the long course swimming season, you may only have fourteen weeks. In either case, it's often difficult to near impossible for most Masters swimmers to train full time, so careful planning of available workout time is crucial to ensure the best possible preparation.

Vary your training, but keep your eyes on the prize

Many swimmers, even at the Masters level, find themselves getting bored if they do the same workouts every day, or the same series of workouts each week. Spend some days concentrating on strokes and distances you wouldn't normally race. While not quite cross-training, working on off-strokes or events helps to improve conditioning and muscle balance. For example, our triathletes train all four strokes, and they spend at least one day swimming IM each week. Regardless of your goals, keep in mind your original objective! Otherwise, it's easy get lost in the details. Use the changes in your workout to keep your mind and body fresh and ready to attack the next step in your development.

Track your progress: use intermediate goals

Setting a goal that may take a year or four to achieve may seem like an insurmountable task. When we prepare for Nationals a year in advance, we pick meets along the way to break up our training cycles. We set goals for each meet along the way, and track swimmers' progress through their performance at each intermediate step. If the swimmer misses a goal, we look at races in detail to see what the swimmer needs to work on. If the swimmer makes or exceeds a goal, we reset the goal-setting process and set our standards higher. In either case, by tracking progress along the way, we are able to send all of our swimmers back to training with a new plan to reach their long-term objective. By breaking up the time line into more manageable sub-tasks, you can achieve your long-term goals and find satisfaction from meeting your milestones along the way.

Don't forget recovery, or, it really is possible to work too hard!

Over the years, the biggest barriers to achieving swimmers' goals have not been injury, illness, or out-of-water issues. Instead, one of the biggest problems I encounter as a coach is the issue of overtraining. Without taking recovery into account, swimmers often find themselves sore, lethargic, or not able to achieve the speed they were once able to manage. Overtraining can also lead to illness, as the swimmer's body is too broken down to fight disease. We make a concerted effort to design our training programs with recovery in mind. At least one workout per week is dedicated to long, easy swimming to help swimmers recover from the challenges of their other workouts. As we move closer to the end of the season, we increase recovery so swimmers can perform at their best when it counts the most.

When you're ready to start training, make sure to have a plan! Keep in mind the length of your season, the variety of your training, the progress you make, and the rest you need. When you integrate these items into a cohesive structure, you give yourself the best chance of success at go time. Good luck!

Chris Colburn (aka DrCoachChris) is the Head Coach of Academy Bullets Masters in Aurora, IL, and the Chair of the U.S. Masters Swimming Coaches Committee. Chris believes that a good training plan is key to a successful season. He helps many swimmers design their own plans each year.

For more of Chris’ work and for more swimming, go to Swimnetwork.com.

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