Training control in swimming

Learn how you can record your current level of performance in swimming and be able to perform a varied and at the same time demanding swimming program through different swimming speeds in order to achieve significant training progress even in the water.

Swimming as a recreational sport enjoys a rising popularity, not least because of the triathlon boom in Germany. Even endurance athletes such as runners or cyclists of different age and performance classes discover swimming as a gentle supplement to their daily training as well as an alternative form of training in the transitional period. The training is usually self-directed and clearly different from the scopes and content provided by competitive swimmers.

Avoid "tile counting"

Especially triathletes or recreational runners tend to spend as long as possible in the swimming pool at a constant pace in the basics area. This often disparaging referred to as "tile counting" training after the long-term method and without changing style, which in endurance training on land can remain quite attractive for a long time, is a serious challenge in swimming training. This is mainly because the swimming performance is limited to a large extent by the quality of your swimming technique and water situation. As the length of the route increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the correct technique. Here there is the danger of memorizing technical errors so that they can hardly be eliminated later and then stand in the way of further performance development. In addition, the motivation is not just encouraged by such monotonous training sessions in an environment poor in optical stimuli such as the pool - correspondingly bad can be the necessary stimuli realize.

Increase the intensity

In order to keep the concentration on the technical elements of the swimming style, the track lengths must be shortened and regular breaks must be installed. Especially swimmers without competitive background apply a lot of power, the economic swimming technique, eg. B. with a long rear pressure phase or high elbow position, implement and fatigue very quickly. The breaks are needed in order to be able to travel the longest possible route without tiring. At the same time, stronger training stimuli can be achieved with the higher intensities. Interval training, which is very similar to running or cycling, can also help maintain motivation and concentration throughout the unit.

Of course, it is harder for inexperienced athletes to adjust the intensities of the intervals so that they both challenge but do not overwhelm. Therefore, it makes sense to also control the swimming training according to objective criteria. While cyclists are accustomed to relying less on speed than on their pulse or wattage, swimming behaves the opposite. The swimming speed is not subject to external influences such as wind or track topography. In contrast, it is often not possible in the pelvis to get reliable feedback on the current heart rate. The measure for the training control thus represents the swimming speed, usually represented as 100m transit time. It can be determined individually for different training areas and track lengths and adjusted with increasing training progress. In each swimming pool special watches are attached, with the help of which the desired times can be checked easily and without changing the swimming position. But how can the athlete reliably and simply determine his individual area?

Performance diagnostics in swimming

Many hobby or competitive athletes will have already completed a lactate level test to determine the personal training areas for cycling or running training. Such laboratory or field tests on land are very well suited for the discipline-specific training control, but in terms of swimming can only make general statements about the performance of the athlete in the interindividual comparison, but not on the expected swimming performance or different training areas. A transfer of the heart rate target zones by means of rule of thumb from running to swimming also remains extremely inaccurate. The float must therefore be tested in the water. In analogy to cycling and running test protocols, swimming test methods are used. With step lengths of 200-400 meters, a gradual increase in the swimming speed takes place until the float can no longer achieve the required speed. The biggest problem with performing such a lactate level test is that recreational swimmers find it difficult to cover different distances with minimal but constantly increasing speeds without external tempo provision. In addition, the choice of the step length has an influence on the test result. The swimmers must be able to go through at least 2-3 entry levels without fatigue. On the other hand, distances that are too short can lead to a high level of performance, especially for better-trained athletes.

The speed estimation problem could be solved by testing the athletes in a countercurrent system that, like a treadmill, provides exact speeds. In such a countercurrent system, it is also possible to apply spiroergometric measuring methods under load, which replace a lactate decrease with the necessary swimming interruption. The latter test method is due to the enormous effort, the low availability of such facilities and the non-given simultaneous test opportunity of larger groups only for professional and competitive sports. In any case, almost all recreational athletes have the greatest potential for improvement in the technical elements, which is why a purely conditional consideration is not enough. Simpler tests, which can be carried out several times a year and independently at any time, seem to be more suitable and economical here to support the achievement of training goals. This saved resources could be better invested in individually guided technology optimization of a swimming coach.

The 400 m test

A method for checking the current level of performance, which is easy and cost-free for any swimmer at any time, is a continuous swimming test over a certain distance with the maximum possible speed on time. As a track that satisfies many recreational athletes, the 400 m distance has become established.

400m timeGa1Ga2EBSBGa1Ga2EBSB

Tab.1: Training areas derived from the 400 m maximum test (modified according to Hottenrott & Zülch)

When choosing the appropriate track length for the performance review, it must be remembered that factors such as motivation, racetracking and experience play an increasing role as distance increases. Especially inexperienced swimmers often find it difficult to swim at a pace that can be held to the end. If the initial speed is set too slow, the achieved time does not represent the maximum possible power. On the other hand, if the take-off speed exceeds the current level of performance, the swimming performance may drop below the maximum level due to premature fatigue. In both cases, the target time would be falsified, as well, if the athlete does not give everything and remains below his potential. This danger exists above all if the test is carried out on one's own initiative and the corresponding motivation for exhaustion is lacking. In addition, in public baths is not always a trouble-free swimming possible. To improve the comparability of the test results, always make sure that the test is tireless and that the carbohydrate reservoirs are filled up. Optimally, the short warm-up program follows a uniform pattern.

200-500 m in the chest, back and crawl style8 x 50 m technical exercises

4 times:

100 m Ga1

100 m Ga1

100 m Ga 2

100 m EB (each 20-30 sec. Break)

100 m regenerative1 to 2 times 500 m Ga1200-500 m in the chest, back and crawl style
Einschwimmen100-300 m in breast and crawl style
technical exercises8 x 25 m technical exercises
Interval series I

3 times:

100 m Ga1

100 m Ga1

100 m Ga 2 (each 30 sec break)

50 m regenerative
Interval series II1-2 times 400 m Ga1 (1 min break)
flooding100-300 m in breast and crawl style

Tab.2: Exemplary design of a floating unit

If you feel that you have got the maximum performance and traveled the route consistently and without disturbances, you can use the table to see target speeds for the various training areas. The development and stabilization of basic endurance occurs in low (Ga1) and middle (Ga2) regions. The so-called development area (EB) aims at high intensities to improve the aerobic glycolysis in the aerobic-anaerobic transition region. With high-end training (SB), advanced swimmers set high-intensity to maximum-intensity, high-intensity and strength-endurance stimuli in the anaerobic area (eg in the immediate race preparation for a sprint triathlon).

Due to the outlined deficiencies of the presented test procedure, sometimes strong individual deviations can occur. Since no different speed and metabolic areas are controlled in the test, athletes, for example, can be challenged with the listed times for the basic area. Similarly, in daily training Vorermüdungsfaktoren, z. B. by strength training or daily variations in shape, are taken into account.

Also read: Plan B for swimming training in the overcrowded pelvis

Daniel Kilb


1. Kroidl, R., Schwarz, S. & Lehnigk, B., 2007, Kursbuch Spiroergometrie. Stuttgart: Thieme, p. 247.

2. Hottenrott, K. & Zülch, M., 2002, endurance coach triathlon. Reinbek: Rowohlt, pp. 208-213.

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