What Are They Trying To Achieve

By David

It’s good when Swimwatch receive a comment that questions a concept or idea that we hold dear. Readers may have noticed a comment posted on the article about the New Zealand Age Group Championships. It asked some searching questions about Lydiard type swimming training. Best of all, the correspondent made the inquiry in a positive manner. This article will seek to answer those questions. The comment began with the following sentence.

While visiting Auckland Champs last year I took down a few of your sessions and cannot work out what they are trying to achieve. These were the sessions.

A Lydiard program is divided into three sections. Each section focuses on developing some physiological characteristic required in a competitive swimming race. Ten weeks is spent developing a swimmer’s aerobic fitness. Four weeks is spent working on the swimmers anaerobic capacity and ten weeks is spent on the speed work and trials required to race well. The sessions you have recorded all happen to be in the ten weeks of aerobic conditioning. As you can see they involve a lot of long swims and usually total around ten or twelve thousand meters. They might be long but they are certainly not slow distance. I have coached several female swimmers who have swum sets of 20×400 in 4.45. One of them is an Olympic Gold Medalist and is swimming at West Auckland Aquatics right now. What is important though is they swim that distance at that speed aerobically, without going into oxygen deficit; something their anaerobically overtrained competition could never manage. Whatever their racing distances they bring a fit well conditioned body to the next two “race specific” stages of their training.

The goal for a senior swimmer is to swim around 100 kilometers a week through this ten week period. You will hear many critics say that’s too far, or it’s “garbage yardage” or it’s old fashioned. However these critics seem to conveniently forget that Phelps, Lochte, Weir, Bernard, Manaudou and a string of other world record holders or Olympic Champions swim this distance in their conditioning period. Old fashioned or not it seems to have worked for these guys. Even swimmers who now do much smaller distances in training have a background of distance conditioning in their early years. Torres and Coughlin are the best examples.

“I listened to what you said to the kids, which wasn’t much (did you have other talks off poolside before the sessions?) – with anything you can look at something but don’t always see what’s actually going on.”

It is of the utmost importance that swimmers know why they are swimming a set. It would be a very cruel coach that asked someone to swim 10,000 meters without providing an explanation of why that distance was important. Once swimmers understand the reason then they prefer to be left alone to get the distance done. Certainly they do not need me bleating in their ear every 100 meters or so. In that regard swimming is one of the world’s most over coached sports. Obviously when the team is doing stroke correction training then the amount of talking increases. None of the sessions you noticed were stroke correction sessions.

I was so concerned that swimmers I coach understood the philosophy and reasoning behind the training they were being asked to swim that I wrote two books on the subject – “Swim to the Top” and “Swimming – A Training Program”. Both books are sold on Amazon.com and can also be bought through bookstores in New Zealand. They were published by Meyer & Meyer the huge German sports book publishers. “Swim to the Top” actually reached number seven on the Amazon.com best selling water sports books shortly after its publication. The purpose of the books was to provide a thorough explanation of how each stage of a Lydiard program worked. All the sessions noted in your Swimwatch question are recorded and explained in “Swimming – A Training Program”. I refer to that book every day.

Most importantly both books clarify why a Lydiard program such as mine chooses to address the different types of conditioning require to swim fast in clearly different stages. Many coaches have programs that involve long aerobic sets or anaerobic sets or speed work. Most coaches however tend to mix these up over shorter periods than ten, four and ten weeks. Lydiard was a strict believer in addressing one fitness category at a time. He thought that produced a better physiological result.

“I heard second hand that these are normal sessions for your groups.”

The sessions you noticed on our white board are normal for my squads during the buildup conditioning ten weeks. They are not at all representative of the training swum during the anaerobic or speed work sections of the program. Today for example the senior swimmers swan 2000 meters of mixed warm up swimming, followed by 10×25 hard swims with long rest, 6×25 hard kick sprints and ended with 1000 mixed warm down. That’s probably a shorter faster session than most so called sprint coaches would set.

Of course that’s a defining characteristic of a Lydiard program. When it’s time to do aerobic conditioning Lydiard goes further and harder than the others. When it’s time to do speed conditioning a Lydiard program does that shorter and better than the sprint coaches. He called it, providing a balanced program. It is impossible to look at the sessions used in one period and describe them as normal for the program as a whole. The fact that some critics mischaracterize the program as all one type of training is simply a problem of perception. It’s usually just what they would like to think.

“You have had some great swimmers under you in the past is this the same formula that created them?”

All the swimmers coached by me have followed a Lydiard program. Toni Jeffs, Nichola Chellingworth, Jane Copland, Ossie Quevedo, Joseph Skuba, Andrew Meeder, John Foster and Rhi Jeffrey are fine swimmers that I have been privileged to help. Between them they won World and Olympic Championship medals, National and State Championships and held World Masters and National Records. The formula you saw on the white board is indeed the same one used to assist these swimmers.

“I know that Peter Snell would sneak out with the group to do extra ’speed’ sessions without Lydiard’s knowledge – is this what is happened?”

I think you will find this story is more legend than truth. I would never suggest that Snell did not run the occasional speed work session without Lydiard’s knowledge. However the program he followed was a full and traditional Lydiard schedule. Confirmation of this can be found in a book on Snell’s life after running published recently and written by Garth Gilmour. In the final chapter of the book, Snell is quoted as saying that his years as a sport’s scientist have made him increasingly convinced that Lydiard’s training was based on the soundest of training principles. His research had led him to the conclusion that he would change nothing. Neither would I.