Elite swimmers in Tenerife

Swimmers and coaches during a training session. (Photo: Iñigo Mujika)

I just got back from a swim training camp at Tenerife Top Training. When I was there, I mentioned to my good friend Paco Angulo, co-author and Athletic Club Bilbao professional football team’s medical doctor, that I was out of inspiration on topics for the blog. Years ago he was a swimmer himself, and suggested that I should simply write about what goes on during a training camp with an elite swimming team. Although this may not be anything new for those of you working directly with this type of athletes, I thought it would be an interesting topic for the readers not directly involved with elite sports. So thank you for the idea, Paco!

The training camp I am going to descibe was organised to get the swimmers back into solid training after a week off that followed a competition phase. The camp was attended by nine swimmers qualified either for the 14th FINA World Championships in Shangai next July 24-31, or the 3rd FINA World Junior Championships in Lima, August 16-21. In addition to the swimmers, the staff included the RFEN (Spanish Swimming Federation) technical director, three coaches, medical doctor, physical therapist, physiologist (myself), biomechanist and strength expert.

We all arrived in Tenerife on Sunday afternoon, ready for a solid week of training and work. From Monday morning to Saturday afternoon, each swimmer carried out 10 swimming sessions (for a total of 62 kilometers), 3 running sessions of 30-40 minutes each, five dryland strength sessions of 45-60 minutes each, two beach volleyball sessions of about 60 minutes each, and a two-hour session of kayaking and sailing. In addition, all swimmers swam in the swimming flume 3-4 times, either for biomechanical testing and analysis or to perform specific training sets. All of this adds up to about 30 hours of training. Add to that walking to and from the swimming pool (15-minute walk, four times a day), daily stretching, physical therapy, video analysis and team meetings, and you get an idea of the type of dedication that elite swimming requires.

A typical day for a swimmer at a training camp would be something like this: get up at 07:00 and bring urine sample to check hydration status to the sport physiologist (me); go for a run at 07:30; eat breakfast at 08:15; swimming from 09:00 to 11:00; biomechanical testing from 11:00 to 12:00; lunch at 13:00; rest from 14:00 to 15:15; swimming from 16:00 to 18:00; dryland training from 18:00 to 19:00; video analysis or physical therapy from 19:30 to 20:30; team meeting from 20:30 to 21:00; dinner at 21:00; everyone back in their rooms by 22:00.

The day is not much different for staff members, except that we do not train as much! My day, for instance, typically starts 15 minutes before the swimmers knock on my door with their respective “freshly brewed” urine sample, which I analyse while they are running or eating breakfast to make sure that I hand the results to them and their coaches by the time they head to the pool. I am on pool deck during the swim sessions, available to coaches for discussion about training-related topics or blood lactate testing, and making sure the swimmers comply with recommended hydration and nutrition guidelines. I also carry out skinfold measurements on the athletes once or twice during the camp, make sure that athletes get the right foods on their plates during meals, help the biomechanist and strength coach if needed, and take part in the team meetings.

I usually get my own training (swimming, stationary cycling or weights) done while the athletes are stretching or getting physical therapy treatment, or by taking part in the off-pool activities, like beach volleyball or kayaking. We sports physiologists need to work on our hunter-gatherer fitness too!

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  1. Skipper

    Great blog, during this week what training phases do they shift through from session to session? Is it all base work? Last question what do you use to check the hydration levels and based upon the results if a swimmer was under the base level for hydration, is it as simple as drinking more water/carbohydrate drink? Great Post!

    May 9, 2011
  2. Thank you. There is of course a lot of base work, but they touch on all power systems, always respecting the appropriate recovery periods between sessions depending on specific contents. For hydration status, we use Urinary Specific Gravity, assessed with a digital refractometer. For those athletes who are below euhydration levels, we recommend higher fluid intakes, and sometimes adding salt to the fluid to help retention.

    May 9, 2011