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Swimming Faster At International Meets

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Spolier alert: I found it shocking that less than 40% of elite swimmers improve their times at intern
 

Swimming In Research

February 10 · Issue #4 · View online
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Spolier alert: I found it shocking that less than 40% of elite swimmers improve their times at international swim meets. I would that number would be significantly higher as Olympians tend to have more customized training programs.

Rio De Janeiro Olympics 2016
A 7-Year Analysis of Olympic and World Championships Performance
This study was conducted over the course of 6 years (2011-2017) and encompassed 7,832 times from 1,619 swimmers (710 females, 909 males). The list of competitions included are as follows:

  • Shanghai World Championships (2011)
  • London Olympics (2012)
  • Barcelona World Championships (2013)
  • Kazan World Championships (2015)
  • Rio De Janeiro Olympics (2016)
  • Budapest World Championships (2017)
Performance analyses of these big meets revealed that only 38% of the swims were an improvement over season best and the remaining 62% were either the same or slower than the recorded best time. What remains unclear is whether this failure to peak is a result of poor planning on behalf of the coaching program or another factor like the inability to perform under pressure.
A swimmer’s training program should allow them to repeatedly peak throughout the season which would allow them not only to qualify for major events, but also to improve on their best at that event.
One interesting observation was that the only nation with swimmers consistently improving at all big meets in this study was the U.S.A. It is often said that the reason for this is that the US schedules its swimming trials only 5 weeks before the event, but this study’s findings offer a contrary perspective:
Changes in performance were largely independent of the time elapsed in between season best and performance at a major event, even with durations ranging from less than 34 to more than 130 days. 
This statement is backed up by the fact that for world champs in 2011 & 2015 the US team was selected a year prior at national championships.
All other countries had a slower mean performance time except for Hungarian swimmers who averaged similar times.
Overall the swimmers that improved their times were finalists, medalists and swimmers from the U.S.A. and none of the factors monitored (stroke, distance, gender nor age) significantly affected time improvements.
Given that the majority of performances at important meets were not an improvements coaches should consider athlete-specific programs that allow repeated peaking.
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