In part I, I laid out to key principles for setting up a weekly practice schedule.
You need to RECOVER and you need to plan your training to enhance your recovery.
In this article, I'm going to show you 4 key strategies that will allow you to accomplish those exact goals.
Limit the number of training days
It’s difficult to work hard if you don’t train. As you’ll see below, you can manage training stress by alternating how hard you work on any given day. This is great in theory, but difficult in practice. Most swimmers don’t have the discipline to go easy or moderate. If that’s you, instead of managing workout difficulty, simply limit the number of days you train, and have at it when you do.
The options to train are 2,3,4,5, or 6 days per week. Unfortunately, 1 training session per week probably isn’t going to work. On the other hand, unless you’re a professional athlete, 7 is unnecessary, and probably unnecessary for the professional as well. Not only is it unnecessary, it’s probably counterproductive for the vast, vast majority of individuals. Choose the appropriate days per week that work with your schedule and your ability to recover. If you can’t train as much as you’d like for whatever reason, you can modify training based upon how hard you choose to train, which we’ll examine in the next section.
What’s a training day? I’m going to define it as any day with any significant amount of physical work, whether recreational or with the expressed intent of improving your swimming.
Going for walk? Not a workout. A 5-hour hike with huge changes in elevation? Workout.
Stretching? Not a workout. 2 hours of hot yoga? Workout.
Casual bike ride with friends or family? Not a workout. 90 minutes of rolling hills on the bike? Workout.
Playing light sports with the kids? Not a workout. An hour of pickup basketball? Workout.
As you can see, while there are some obvious examples, the challenge is making decisions about activities in the middle ground. Of course, you should live your life and do what you please. At the same time, if you’re not accomplishing your goals because of extra-curricular physical activities on your ‘days off’, you may have to decide which is more important, or you’ll have to adjust your training using another strategy.
Be objective- Pick a number and stick to it. ONLY change the day if you strategically consider the consequences of doing so. Change if you’re doing it for a reason, not because you ‘feel like it’.
Limit the number of ‘hard days’
To improve, there has to be a sufficient amount of stress. You do need to train hard. However, if you train too hard too often, you’re likely to see your performance stagnate just as often as not training hard enough. Most people just train as hard as they can every day. Because of accumulating fatigue, they end up training ‘sort of hard’ every day. By planning easy, moderate, or hard days ahead of time, you can avoid this problem.
What’s the difference between and easy, moderate, and hard day? While it’s an inherently subjective categorization, it’s something you can get a handle on with a little reflection. Just think back on the workout, and here’s probably what you’ll be saying.
Hard- ‘That was difficult. I was a little bit nervous before the workout and now I am glad it’s over. I’m gassed.’
Moderate- ‘That felt like work, but at no point was I wondering whether I would be able to finish it.’
Easy- ‘That was no problem. I could do that every day of the week and never would be concerned about finishing it.’
There should be a pretty big difference between these workouts. When in doubt, go easier on the easy and the moderate workouts. Once you have you have a subjective sense of the difference between these workouts, it’s time to try to make those differences objective. The difficulty of the workout is going to be dictated by how much you swim and how fast you swim.
The good thing about hard workouts is that you can pretty much do what you want. You know they’re hard, so make them hard, provided you can finish them well. For the others, it makes sense to limit yourself. Put a limit on how fast you can go and how hard you can go. If you want to do a little more work, you’ll have to lower the average intensity. If you’d rather swim a bit faster, then just do less work.
The limits on easy days should be a lot lower than the limits on the moderate days, which should be a lot lower than the limits on the hard days. When in doubt, set the limits LOWER than you think you should. You could raise them if you want to later, but that’s only possible if you start LOW.
Be objective- Set a volume and an intensity that you won’t go past for your moderate and easy days. Stick to it.
Now that you’ve determined the difference between the easy, hard, and difficult days, you’ll need to determine how many days you’ll devote to each. Having already established how many days per week you can or will train, you’ll need to allocate the difficulty of those days. The reasonable options are listed below. While you could add more hard days, they’ll likely turn into ‘sort of hard’ days as you’ll struggle to recover. Very roughly speaking, the easiest option within each category is at the top of the list. When in doubt start easier and then add work as necessary. If you’re running into problems, your easy or moderate days are too difficult, or you’re doing too many hard days. Do less!
6 days a week
3 easy, 2 moderate, 1 hard
2 easy, 3 moderate, 1 hard
4 easy, 0 moderate, 2 hard
3 easy, 1 moderate, 2 hard
2 easy, 2 moderate, 2 hard
1 easy, 3 moderate, 2 hard
3 easy, 3 hard
2 easy, 1 moderate, 3 hard
1 easy, 2 moderate, 3 hard
2 easy, 4 hard
5 days a week
3 easy, 1 moderate, 1 hard
2 easy, 2 moderate, 1 hard
1 easy, 3 moderate, 1 hard
3 easy, 0 moderate, 2 hard
2 easy, 1 moderate, 2 hard
1 easy, 2 moderate, 2 hard
2 easy, 0 moderate, 3 hard
1 easy, 1 moderate, 3 hard
4 days a week
3 easy, 0 moderate, 1 hard
2 easy, 1 moderate, 1 hard
1 easy, 2 moderate, 1 hard
0 easy, 3 moderate, 1 hard
2 easy, 0 moderate, 2 hard
1 easy, 1 moderate, 2 hard
0 easy, 2 moderate, 2 hard
1 easy, 0 moderate, 3 hard
0 easy, 1 moderate, 3 hard
3 days a week
1 easy, 1 moderate, 1 hard
2 moderate, 1 hard
1 moderate, 2 hard
2 days a week
2 hard (you can recover the rest of the week!)
1 moderate, 1 hard
Be objective- Pick a schedule and commit to it. If you want to change the schedule, make sure you’re doing so because you’re making a strategic decision, not because you ‘feel’ like it.
Limit the number of consecutive hard days
This is an extension of the previous concept. Avoid training hard on consecutive days, and I would almost never schedule 3 hard days in a row unless there was an extremely unusual situation. Human beings can handle a lot of work, provided there is recovery. If you’re training hard 3 days in a row you’re not getting the required recovery. However, if you balance the hard days with moderate or easy days in some sort of an alternating fashion, most swimmers can handle more work just fine. The key is stay disciplined and make sure easy stays easy and moderate stays moderate.
Be objective- Remember you’re rules for the difficulty of the days. You only can go X fast and you can only swim Y meters, depending on what you decide. Set the numbers BEFOREHAND. If you don’t, those numbers will always magically rise when you’re in the middle of a workout.
Limit the total workload.
No matter how many days per week you swim, and no matter how you organize your hard and easy days, there is only so much work the body can handle. After a certain volume, it’s going to be really hard to recover, no matter what you do. The more work you do, the more energy you expend, and that energy needs to be ‘returned’. That energy gets returned with rest. As importantly, the more work you do, the more damage you inflict on all of the tissues in your body. Those tissues need to be repaired, and while nutrition is important, it ultimately takes time for that repair to occur. That requires time.
What’s that volume for you? I don’t know. However, you might know. What are you normally doing? Add it up for 3 weeks and then that number by 3 to get an average. Do you feel pretty good when doing that amount of volume? Then drop it by about 25%. If you DON’T feel good when doing that amount of volume, drop it by about 50%. This is your starting point. See how it goes for another 3 weeks. If you feel good, you can CAUTIOUSLY increase the volume, although you probably don’t need to. Make this your limit, and ONLY increase this number is you KNOW you can handle it and REALLY believe it’s necessary to continue to improve.
Be objective- I am only going to swim X meters this week. I am only going to swim X minutes this week. Don’t give yourself an option of going more. Be disciplined! You can increase this number over time in a planned manner. Doing so because you FEEL like it is a great way to mess up a great process.
Limit the number of consecutive hard weeks
If you’ve been controlling the number of days per week you train, how hard each day is during the week, how often you train hard consecutively, and how much total work you’re doing, there’s one more aspect to consider. You’ll want to limit the number of weeks in a row that you train at a ‘normal’ workload. This creates a little bit of a safety valve to alleviate any accumulating fatigue that might cause you problems sooner than later.
It doesn’t have to be a big difference in loading to make a big difference. However, it should FEEL like a big difference. It should feel easy. You can experiment with how you reduce the training. Some people like to keep the volume the same and drop the intensity. Some people like to keep the intensity the same and drop the volume. Some people like to do a little bit of both. Give it a shot and try what works. You’ll also find that this is a GREAT indicator for the best approach to take when tapering. Whatever strategy allows you to train really well after backing off is going to help maximize your tapering.
Be objective- Plan recovery weeks where you reduce the intensity and the volume. Rather than planning on ‘taking one when you need one’, plan to take one every ‘X’ number of weeks. If ‘X’ is 3-5, you’re thinking correctly.
If you're able to execute on these strategies, and STICK with it, you'll find you're enhancing your recovery, and improving faster than before.
FASTER. EASIER. BETTER.