Lots of research and individual opinions have been published over the years, regarding the potential ability of human muscle cells to develop strength and endurance. For decades we have been told that there are two distinct types of human muscle cells. One type can develop endurance most easily and the other type can develop muscle power most easily. Different research has often been contradictory and now there are claims that there is a third type of muscle cell which can best provide anaerobic capacity. 

Despite the disagreements found in research some coaches have been able to figure out how to best condition swimmers to swim faster in sprints and distance events. These are the coaches whom we must follow. One of the respected researchers has been credited with saying that “some coaches are way ahead of so called scientific research in conditioning athletes in specific sports."

In any case we know that in addition to training for explosive power and endurance there is an also a need to train for an anaerobic capacity. This is how long muscles can work without additional oxygen. This can be developed with proper training and works like an extra gas tank to be used at the beginning of any race and again at the end of longer races.

An example of proper use of anaerobic capacity is the race swam between one of my swimmers Andre DuPlessis and Lunn Lestina in the 1000 yard freestyle at the Junior Nationals in Syracuse, N.Y. in 1985. These two high school juniors swam side by side the whole race and Andre won by a couple of tenths of a second. They both did 9:08 and broke Jeff Kostoff’s Junior National record of 9:10. The 9:08 stood for several years. Lunn won the 500 over Andre by a couple of 10ths of a second in the same meet as they again swam side by side.

The time of 9:08 is an average of 54+ seconds per 100. However, Andrea’s splits were 51+ for the first and tenth 100. All of his splits for #2 thru #9 were exactly 55.3. Lunn’s splits were essentially the same. This resulted from the use of their anaerobic capacity on the first 100 in addition to the oxygen supplied by breathing. Then they swam “pay as you go” which is just as fast as they could go on only the amount of oxygen they were able to get while swimming at that pace (their aerobic pace). By holding the aerobic pace, their anaerobic capacity was renewed and they were able to do another 51 on the 10th 100.

When in shape Andre could do a 51 on the last 100 of a 500, a 1000 or a 1650. He never did a 51 on the last 100 of a 200. This is because in top competition the 200 is a sprint and all of the incoming oxygen is used to maintain the 200 pace. Andrea’s first 100 was usually a 48 and the second 100 was faster than 55.3 but not a 51+ . It was usually a 52 or 53. (see the comments regarding 200 pace at the end of this article)

Over the longer distance the anaerobic capacity can be renewed and used on the final sprint. Some research indicates that it takes at least four minutes of swimming at the “pay as you go” (aerobic pace) to achieve this renewal.

Anaerobic capacity can be developed by short (8 to 10 second) all out sprints with no breathing, and by other all out sprints with breathing. Top Anaerobic Capacity By Dick Bower (One good example of its use and one coach’s drills to develop it.) Dick Bower has been coaching for 55 years.He is the recipient of NISCA Hall of Fame Award and the National High School Coach of the Year Award.His HS teams won 8 LA. State Meets in the top division.His HS age swimmers have won Pan American Games,World Championships, Sr Nationals & Jr Nationals. His Age Group swimmers have been ranked first individually in every age group included in the USASwimming tabulations.He has published many swimming articles. conditioned swimmers can benefit from longer anaerobic sprints. “Last one fast-one” can contribute to development of anaerobic conditioning (as well as strength and endurance) if the swimmers are allowed a longer breathing break before starting the last repeat in a short rest set. This type of anaerobic conditioning helps sprinters to go much faster and with proper pacing is very valuable to distance swimmers. Post Script: Andre DuPlessis went to the University of Texas and won the Southwest Conference 1650 free with a 15:01. Lunn Lestina went to Stanford University where he achieved a 4:19 500 yd. free, a 9:06.7 1,000 yd. free, and a 15:10 for the 1650yd. free. However Jeff Kostoff whose Junior National record they broke also went to Stanford and posted a much more outstanding record including winning the NCAA Division I 1650 yd. Free in 1984, 1986 and 1987. He also won the NCAA Division I 400 I.M. in 1985 and 1987, set the American Record in the 1650 yd. free of 14:37.8 and the 400 I.M. Jeff also made two USA Olympic Teams. He still holds the National Public High School record of 4:16.39 in the 500 yd. free which he set in 1983.

One Coach’s Drills for Anaerobic Conditioning

There are certainly many ways to develop anaerobic capacity and the most successful coaches should be consulted. However, I can tell you what has been successful for me. I do not recommend that coaches make a drastic departure from their usual training program, especially if they have been successful. Just try the following about 3 times a week

The drill which I have used most often is 16 X 25 yards with an 8 to 10 second all out sprint of the stroke assigned by the coach with no breathing and then an easy coast, any stroke to the end with lots of breathing. Individuals without previous training of this type should start with fewer repeats and a longer send-off to get in more breathing. The sendoff which I use most often is 32 seconds because I have a pace clock which can be set to beep and start over every 8 seconds.

This means we can have 8 swimmers in each lane with two way traffic. (Two way traffic is not recommended for butterfly.) Each swimmer in turn starts on a beep and must not slow down or breathe before the next beep. Ten second send offs are best in the absence of a pace clock which can be set for 8 seconds. The interval would then be 30 or 40 seconds This works well for all ages. Again young swimmers and others who have not had this type of training should be given longer send offs and still sprint the 8 to 10 seconds.

The anaerobic capacity develops very quickly with this drill if done at least 3 times a week. In as little as two weeks individuals will start to be able to do more repeats on a shorter interval, have a faster rate of turn over and feel less distress. Good sprinters and distance swimmers visiting our team and new members sometimes fail miserably at first if put in a workout with a team which has already developed anaerobic capacity. The good news is that they will improve in a relatively short period of time.

The best conditioned swimmers can gradually be trained to go longer than 10 seconds until they can go the full 25 yards on 30 seconds. I have had a few swimmers do as many as 40 X 25 yards on 30 sec with no breathing. This brings in an additional level of conditioning which is great for sprinters.

On any training repeat set where there is a breathing rest between repeats, anaerobic conditioning can be achieved along with aerobic conditioning if the following rules are met. The swimmer must swim repeat at a faster pace than that which he/she can maintain on a continuous swim. In this case the individual is using the small amount of anaerobic capacity which he/she has recovered during the rest and uses it on the next repeat.

However, I believe that the greatest anaerobic capacity can be obtained along with muscle power with the 8 to 10 second sprint using maximum The swimmer must swim repeat at a faster pace than that which he/she can maintain on a continuous swim. muscle strength and speed of movement with no breathing.

Easy pacing will allow the swimmer to go farther without breathing but distance is not the object. The object is to burn up all of the available oxygen as quickly as possible. Anaerobic drills can be done for any stroke and should be done in some amount for all strokes. They must be done in pulling, kicking and swimming for an individual’s most competitive stroke. Certain modifications are made for breaststroke but that is another article.

Caution: Anaerobic conditioning should not be confused with hypoxic distance training. The effects are completely different and hypoxic distance training can be very dangerous.

Pacing For the 200 Freestyle

The 200 yard or meter freestyle is not long enough for a swimmer to renew the anaerobic capacity. The splits which we see most often freestyle when a swimmer does a best time and also in record setting performances in freestyle is this. The first 50 will be the fastest. The second and third 50’s will be slower but exactly the same as each other. (This is as fast as they can go and hold the pace.) The fourth 50 will be faster than the second and third 50 but not as fast as the first. On the last 50 the swimmer can afford to put in greater effort (“let it all hang out”) and drive deeper into oxygen debt, because the race will be over. In the last segment of any race (distance especially) the swimmer must make sure that his count is right. The only thing worse than hearing “two more” when one thinks the race is over is to hear “four more”.

In freestyle the proper relationship of these splits in pacing holds true for the fastest swimmers and also swimmers not capable of the fastest times. Pacing in other strokes will vary depending on the stroke and the individual’s present condition.


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