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Preparation For Sprint Events

You Cannot Dive Twice Into The Same Water


Gennadi Touretski

The men's 100 freestyle is regarded as the blue ribbon event of Olympic and World Championship swimming events. Many former gold medallists have become household names. Two former Olympic swimming champions became movie stars-the most famous, Johnny Weissmuller, who later played the role of Tarzan, won two successive Olympic gold medals in 100 freestyle during the 1920s. Two Australians have been successful Olympians in the 100 freestyle-John Devitt in 1956-60 and Michael Wenden in 1968-72.

The undisputed current star of swimming is Alexander Popov, double Olympic gold medallist, World Champion, and world record-holder in the 100 freestyle. Although born in Russia, Alexander currently lives in Canberra and trains at the Australian Institute of Sport, where I have a coaching contract until the 2000 Olympic Games.

At the recent 1998 World Championships in Perth, Western Australia, Australian sprinters achieved significant success, winning gold in the 200 freestyle, silver in the 100 freestyle, and bronze in the 50 freestyle. It is important to mention that, after a long dry spell, Australia was represented by two swimmers in the final of the 100 freestyle. The successful 4 x 100 medley relay team can be explained by the great efforts of the Australian athletes in this event, and also by improvements in the training and technology used to prepare these swimmers.

Gennadi at poolside with protege Klim
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Michael Klim became a household name after the 1997 Pan Pacific Championships where he won the 100 and 200 freestyle events. He set the national record of 49.15 for 100 freestyle in the relay in Fukuoka. His outstanding achievement some six weeks later at the 1997 National Championships, where he established a new world record in the 100 butterfly (52.15), showed us that we had a new leader in the world of sprint swimming.

I would like to share my experience in developing Michael Klim's talent. Reflecting back on the 1998 World Championships and the way we approached the plan, I realized that since 1993 when I first met Michael, I cannot recall an occasion when he was off track or disappointed. His motivation during this period was extremely high. Since this time, he has swum some 8000 km in the pool with almost 500 races in his quest to become the number one swimmer in the world.

Many people have asked me the key to Michael's success. The answer is always the same: natural talent multiplied by the ability to work consistently, and understanding that you cannot dive twice into the same water. The only way to win is with non-stop perfection. For developing athletes it is extremely important that the model swimmer has a strong personality, and swimming with Alexander Popov, the world's fastest swimmer, helped Michael to improve his technique and educate himself in the way champions should behave.

Philosophy of Coaching

The philosophy of coaching sprint swimmers is not very different to that of training other distances. My philosophy is based on the understanding of two things. First, athletes should be fit both physically and mentally, and second, technique should be perfected. This approach helps us divide the preparation into specific parts. There is no one particularly successful method over every other method, because of the great individual variation in the make-up of athletes: age, gender, and anthropometrical characteristics.

Gennadi Touretski and family
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

If we examine current champions in the sprint events, most of them are very tall (greater than 190 cm in height), look very athletic, and are between 18 and 25 years of age. Some of them are at the stage of stable performance, and others in the stage of physical maturation and variable performance. In developing athletes, it is very important to find the key that is suitable for each individual personality. For example, the key for Michael Klim's performance for all distances and strokes is the 200 freestyle. If we compare Michael Klim with Alexander Popov, Alexander prepares for the 50 and 100 events only, without paying attention to his 200 performance. His complementary preparation is for the 100 and 200 backstroke events.

One of the most important parts of the preparation is the training plan. Our approach represents the transformation of training methods from general to specific, from aerobic to anaerobic, from endurance to speed. The key to this preparation is to support and maintain speed throughout every phase right through the training season. If there is a single factor that can identify the champion sprint athlete, and a common feature of the best sprint training programs, it is the ability to swim competitive speeds under the pressure of high workloads and training volumes during the preparation, about 4 to 5 weeks prior to the competition.

The plan usually consists of four parts:

General Preparation

This phase starts with two weeks of technical and co-ordination work with about 40-50% of peak volume. This is usually some 35-50 km per week with about 10 sessions per week in the water, and 5 x 45 minute dryland sessions of fitness work with 2 x 30-40 minute running sessions. At this time, we discuss the plan for the season and the means of developing technique. Progressively the plan is to re-establish the level of the previous preparation. Testing is conducted including blood testing, body composition (skinfolds) and the 7 x 200 step test, and also the 5 x 25 m speed testing. It is very important to motivate the swimmers and prepare the swimmers for the goal of the cycle. A great deal of communication between the swimmer and the coach is essential.

In this stage we use sprint-assisted training with surgical tubing, towing machine, fins with the purpose of stimulating speed and swimming fast while holding good technique (distance per stroke). Occasionally we use fitness exercises in the water such as water polo and other games, and a great variety of swimming drills during regular training.

The next stage is to increase the training volume in three weeks up to a maximum of 80-100 km per week. This is achieved primarily by low-to-moderate-intensity aerobic work in the AM sessions with total volume of 5-6 km per session, with individual sprint and technique work conducted at the end of the session. An example of this would be:

300 warm up
4 x 25 IM
1 x 5000 distance with cruise speed
400 kick + 8 x 50 kick on 50
400 resistance (surgical tubing) + 8 x 25 assisted sprint

The afternoon session is based on repeating the previous distance work, this time broken into 100 metre intervals but with a similar structure:
500 warm up
10 x 25 on 60
30 x 100 on 1:30
(1:10 for Michael Klim, heart rate 140-150 bpm)
500 drills
20 x 100 on 1:40 (1:05, heart rate 150-160 bpm)
400 kick
4 x 100 on 1:40
8 x 25 dive start on 2:00

The requirements for distance swimming and longer intervals include controlling the number of strokes per lap. For Michael, he is instructed to use no more than 30 strokes per lap in freestyle. We continue this type of work for two to three weeks with the intensity increasing after two weeks.


The goal of the Specific phase is to prepare the skills and energy systems necessary for competition. At this stage, the aim is to maximize the volume of swimming undertaken at competitive speeds. From analysis of the training of the best athletes, it is evident that the proportion of speed and/or specific work rarely exceeds 20% of the total training volume. While the volume of work decreases some six weeks before racing, the weekly training volume is still quite substantial and some reach 50-60 km per week in this phase. In this phase, Michael Klim does not swim further than 6.5 km per session with up to 10-12 sessions per week.

An example of the afternoon session for a standard Wednesday in the weekly program is:
600 warm-up
8 x 50 on 50 (descending 1-4)
8-10 x 400 (4:30) + 60s rest + 100 freestyle
(55 to 52 seconds)
1000 kick and pull
10 x 50 alt 100 pace, easy
300 swimming down


The word "tapering" is very commonly used by coaches. The swimmer should develop his readiness in the general and specific phases to achieve competitive speeds in a heavy workload. This is particularly important for the second 50 of a 100 race, and the second 100 of a 200 race. Later this is achieved by reducing the volume and improving the recovery. Speed will develop automatically through more heightened activity of the nervous system and supercompensation of physiological capacities.

At this stage, a favourite exercise is three days of simulated competition approximately three weeks from competition, with a further day approximately 10 days from competition. This work typically takes the form of:

Day 1 (Monday - AM)
300 warm-up
1 x 100 butterfly (e.g. 54.60)
3 x 50 on 3:00 (e.g. 25.0, 24.6, 24.6)
6 x 100 recovery on 1:40, heart rate 130-140 bpm,
8 x 25 dive on 2:00
1000 kick and drills

The last high intensity training session is held 5 days before competition.


The key is constant attention to the quality of technique but without making excessive changes such that swimmers "lose" their technique and/or feel for the water. To illustrate this point, I would like to tell a story from last year when we invited Scott Volkers and a top Russian coach, Victor Avdyenko (coach of Olympic Champions Denis Pankratov and Evgeny Sadovyi). Both presented their training theories in about 20 minutes, and journalists and coaches were very surprised that the two coaches had very different approaches: Advyenko's approach could be characterised as high volume-low intensity while Volker's is medium volume and higher intensity. Both coaches have been extremely successful at the international level. I have had the opportunity to work with both Volkers and Avdyenko, and they share one characteristic: a great ability to control, influence, and teach their swimmers efficient technique.

The most important aspect in teaching is that the swimmer is learning and acquiring the correct technique. The swimmer needs to develop a self-organized psychosomatic system based on positive feedback or information derived from the training program. The role of the coach is extremely important in selecting the information and using the correct words and images for the swimmer to understand and learn the skills. In Australia, this is best illustrated by the "heart rate" set in which the coach informs the swimmer of the desired pace and heart rate. The swimmer needs to develop a balance between effort and technique in order to achieve the correct pace and intensity. In my opinion, when we speak of technique we need to understand that this includes the biomechanical information such as the stroke rate and stroke length, physiological responses such as lactate and heart rate, and performance time. This should act as positivie feedback and influence the technique in the best possible way.

Immediately after the 1996 Olympic Games, Michael Klim's technique was modified to incorporate the old-fashioned straight-arm recovery. The longer recovery seems to lengthen the stroke. The particularities of Michael's technique (straight arm recovery and late body pitch) move his centre of mass forward, which helps him to reach the correct horizontal body position without overkicking. Generally I use the principle of the three R's to explain and teach good swimming technique:

Rhythm: the basis of maintaining the quality of motion. As soon as rhythm is lost, distance per stroke and speed decrease.

Range: through the stroke we can determine the optimal range for competitive swimming. In training the goal is to reduce the number of strokes per length.

Relaxation: Johnny Weissmuller was reported to have said that the secret of sprinting is relaxation at top speed.The feel of the water is the ability to balance the propulsive force and counter it through the stroke. In training, the goal is to minimize the intracycle fluctuations in acceleration and deceleration that occur at different phases of the stroke.


The importance of starting and turning is well described. In the 100 freestyle event, the start and turn cover almost 30% of the total distance at a speed greater than the average race speed.

There are six essential points:


Is Australia going to be the fastest swimming nation in the world in 2000, and start the new millenium with the fastest swimmers in the world? There is a lot of work to do and not much time available. As the Sydney Olympic Games approach, time seems to go more quickly and tension mounts. We need to answer many questions. In order to predict the situation in the Olympics, I will consider the following issues:

The problem of organizing sprint training is complex despite its outward simplicity. Perhaps sprint swimming is at a lower level of evolutionary development than that of other events in the swimming program. Animal experiments and practical experience show that speed develops 3 to 4 times slower than strength and 23 times slower than endurance. Who is going to be the number one sprinter in Sydney 2000?

From a presentation on the preparation of sprint events given by Gennadi Touretski, coach of world record-holders Alexander Popov and Michael Klim, at the 1998 ASCTA Convention.

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