Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is a 10,000 Fly a Good Idea?

No. That's the short answer. Of course, if it were that easy I wouldn't be devoting an entire post to the ongoing comment war over at sleepy, holiday time Swimswam. Last week, Swimswam contributor Chuck Warner devoted a "Lessons from Legends" column to great big challenging swims, among them Mary T Meagher, Madame butterfly herself, swimming a 10,000 fly.

Commenters were outraged. They called the set and others like it "abuse". Warner felt obligated to defend and further explain his original post, pointing out that in the cases he was recalling, the swimmers had requested the challenge. The post had sparked another edition of what you might call the "volume wars".

On the one side, you have the "traditionalists" who see big volume as the not broken and certainly in no need of fixing model of fast swimming. On the other, you have the revolutionaries who think there is a better way to train someone for a 2 minute race than something that takes nearly two hours.

The arguments, aren't totally convincing either way. For instance (paraphrasing Chuck on a few of these):

"Ian Crocker did a lot of 200 flys in high school and Eddie Reese says it made him fast"

Are we therefore to deduce that doing a lot of 200s fly causes faster swimming later on? The evidence is far to flimsy to establish the most tenuous correlation. Low volume pundits might point out that the exalted one, Dave Salo, has coached some of the world's best distance swimmers despite having a book published with "Sprint" before his name in the title. That also means little to me except to reinforce that Salo is an awesome coach.

Here is the truth of this debate as I see it: these big swims are exciting to talk about in the same way you might mention climbing Mount Everest. I would not recommend attempting something as dangerous to many, if any people. There may be a few people who have some combination of extreme room for growth in their aerobic capacity, especially at a young age, that doing something this amazing helps them.

The problem comes when we try to extrapolate and replicate. When I read about Mary T Meagher going a 10000 fly, I am first amazed. Then I think about her teammates. Were they getting just the right challenge for them? And of Meagher herself, was she coached and prepared to be successful beyond the point of diminishing returns in her aerobic capacity growth? I have little information on either, but Meagher's swimming did decline significantly into her 20s: her 2:05.9 form from age 17 had slipped all the way down to 2:10.8 by the 1988 Olympics.

All that to say, coaches do themselves a disservice when they move to their own low volume or high volume corner. Despite most people considering me a "low volume" coach, I can see where and how and in what situations it works to swim longer. It's a reminder to me that I have to keep a lot of tools in my tool box. I can't say I could ever see myself giving a swimmer a 10,000 fly but my mind is open to the fact that I may some day coach a swimmer who needs to do precisely that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. It was 24x200 @ 3 (scm) FL one down/one up breathing...if the breathing cycle was broken, they had to start over

    -Current PPSC coach. I always hear about the legend of Sharon Power!

  2. I can tell this is an elitest post by the fact that you left the little message about posting from your iPad at the bottom. Somebody had a pretentious Christmas...

    Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Chris, I think you hit the nail on the head at the end. You have to be able to do hit curveballs and fastballs. Unless you coach in a scenario where you only get to take the kids you want to take, and you're really good at figuring out exactly what kind of a swimmer you're getting, you need to be able to work different ways, adapt your coaching, etc. If you try and force everyone into your style, you're going to lose some.

  3. Training swimmers is an imperfect science. Whatever side you fall on, we all can agree that conditioning is a huge aspect of this sport. Race specific work is important as well. Finally, we must teach our swimmers confidence. The best coaches know that each swimmer will need a slightly different approach to gain these ingredients. Call it low volume, high volume, mid distance training, whatever you want to call it, there are many different ways to skin a cat.

    Thanks for the insightful post.