Wednesday, February 25, 2015


THE VIKING MANIFESTO: Piecing Together a New Approach to Nutrition and Training for Swimmers from Scientific and Anecdotal Evidence.

Part 6: USRPT.  Duh.

Okay guys, it's time to add one more thing to the list of topics to avoid when you are drunk:  the list is now religion, politics, nutrition, your friend's mom, and USRPT.  That’s right SwimSwam commenters, I know which of you loudmouth regulars is playing that game where you take a shot every time Braden mentions Michael Andrew’s name in an article.  If the SwimSwam comments section was a bar, I know which of you guys I would want to party with.

Yup, in case you haven't already pieced it together, the Viking does Ultra-Short Race Pace Training.  What other type of training could I fit in with only 20-30 minutes, two or three times a week to swim?  

Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and don’t waste a lot of time training old-school when you could be doing USRPT.

I decided after reading through Dr Rushall’s work that the science made sense and some of his claims seemed to fill in the gaps for me. There was something missing in the translation from training to racing with the way I was running my program.  I was frustrated with the inconsistency and guess work involved in managing the various aspects of coaching so many athletes and I figured that since none of my athletes are world-class there really wasn’t that much risk in making the switch to USRPT to see how it goes. I essentially threw the old EN-SP chart out the window.

“Let go, Viking. It’s outdated science.”

I also decided though, that if I am going to do it, I cannot make an informed decision without these two things:
  1. Making sure I do it by the book so I am not still left with questions later.
  2. Getting in the water to try it myself.  Hey, why not?  I had been jogging and had lost some weight, and I had to know what it felt like to truly make an educated analysis.

At the end of last summer I gave a presentation on USRPT to a group of high school coaches to talk about how it worked in our first seasons of training.  I had to admit to all of these coaches that while it was great for my team, it seemed to work better for me over the summer than it did for my athletes even though I trained significantly less than any of them. I usually did one USRPT set for 200 breast one or two nights a week in the LCM pool and one USRPT set for 100 breast pace one or two mornings per week in the SCY pool.  My training was very inconsistent, usually less than 90 minutes per week, and at times throughout the season I was stuck with up to ten days straight with no exercise at all due to my work and family responsibilities. When the dust settled I was confused that I had done so well and showed continuous improvement throughout the whole season, even after being sick for the last two weeks before sectionals. Some people think that USRPT isn’t for younger athletes and might assume that my age somehow made it more ideal for me.  I almost bought into this, even though there really isn’t any logical reason why this might be.  Now that I have spent some time investigating, I am certain I know why:  I started my LCHF journey several months before starting my USRPT journey.  It was not my age that helped me adapt better-- it was my diet.  It is clear as day now.

One of my favorite classes as a PE major was called Perceptual Motor Development.  It had a lot to do with neurology, the brain, and how we learn movements through different developmental stages.  The class was designed so that we coaches can have a better understanding about how to teach students of different ages physical skills in a progression.  When it got really interesting though was when we would talk about neurology and training because several researchers out there, (including Dr Tim Noakes, remember him?) have shown us that the brain is so specific in regard to motor learning that, as those of us who have bought into USRPT like to point out:  “the brain doesn’t even treat slow swimming and fast swimming as the same activity.”  This means that much of the traditional training I did in my first swim career served little more purpose than to increase capillarity to slow twitch muscle fibers.  In my opinion, when we train that way, only the most talented continue to improve and a lot of kids are left to fade away. In Bob Bowman's cup analogy, I guess I just don't buy that we need the Big Gulp. I believe we can throw a better party with shot glasses as long as we fill them with the right stuff. I guess my idea of "capacity vs utilization" is a little different than his.

Now, for most people who have skimmed Dr Rushall’s work, the concept of specificity usually stands out enough to have a little bit of a conversation.  As a matter of fact, John Leonard somehow scrounged together $23k of our USA-S membership dollars to try to prove to us that Dr Rushall hardly knows what specificity is.

It is time to tell John Leonard  what he can do with that $23 grand.

While I do believe that most of us understand that with the way the brain works, specificity is king in athletics, I feel that many of us neglect it in traditional training.  Dr Rushall claims that technique specificity and mental training are vital throughout his works and are just as important as the actual sets they do.  It’s just that when I hear anyone talk about specificity, it focuses on the neurological, and it almost sounds as though many coaches think we can just not worry about it after we have taught our swimmers proper stroke technique as long as we mix in some sprinting once in a while.  Worse, I hardly ever hear coaches talk about specificity regarding muscle fiber recruitment and adaptation, even among those who use USRPT.  In my opinion, this is just as vital.  This is why LCHF can optimize USRPT, why USRPT can optimize LCHF, and this is also why so many people don’t quite understand why USRPT is truly a brilliant and unique way to train. Lots of people love to talk about Ultra-Short Race Pace Training, but it is very apparent that not many of those people have actually read Dr Rushall's work.  I can't even count how many times I have heard coaches on deck rail against it with gems such as:

"we have been doing that for years.  It's just race pace."

"it's the same as the Sprint Salo book. Why is everybody acting like this is some new thing?"

or the best one--
"It's just lactate tolerance work all the time.  What's the big deal?  Developing kids need aerobic training."

Read it or keep your mouths shut guys.  USRPT is far from any of those things that people assume.  I would recommend USRPT to anyone at any age or any level of competition, especially in conjunction with the LCHF diet.  The following passages from Dr Rushall's work should help tie the two together:

"Some think that USRPT neglects the aerobic system. On the contrary, USRPT exerts nonstop, maximal stress on every oxygen-using source of energy. Its format of short repeats and rests creates a training stimulus that 1) energizes aerobic, slow-twitch muscle fibers beyond the capability of standard aerobic sets; 2) converts a substantial fraction of anaerobic, fast-twitch fibers to the use of oxygen; and 3) binds oxygen to hemoglobin and myoglobin. The overall training effect is to maximize not only base aerobic capacity but also the subsuming “oxidative capacity.” The result is greater speed endurance ― the ability to bring home a race before acid build-up takes its toll...
Ultra-short training produces maximal aerobic adaptation because the aerobic system (Type I fibers) is stimulated continually and maximally and the production of oxidative fast-twitch fibers adds further aerobic function. That contrasts with "aerobic training" or lower-intensity training that, at best, only stimulates maximal aerobic energy production in the Type I fibers. Higher intensity work (race-pace in swimming) is needed to develop maximal aerobic capability (Type I plus Type IIb fiber adaptations). Ultra-short training stimulates maximal energy source production for race- pace techniques. It trains the body to use its alactacid and lactacid energy resources for race-specific tasks better than does traditional (irrelevant) "lactate training".

Traditional training gives us capillarity through distance, and mitochondrial density through intensity, and there is no doubt it can work. This is how Bob Bowman's "capacity/utilization" concept applies to developing athletes.  I am not trying to tell anyone that traditional training won’t work. We see it every day.  I just believe it is inefficient and not optimal, especially with the standard high carb diet.  Now just imagine that you are eating a diet that is shown to make changes within muscle fibers that enhance the ability to work at high intensity without spilling over into anaerobic glycolysis, essentially maximizing your ability to tap fat and oxygen as fuel at high intensities. Then add to it a method of training that converts more fast twitch muscle to be oxidative, meaning a higher percentage of your muscle fibers are programmed to burn oxygen and fat at high intensity rather than relying on the glucose and lactic acid system. Then we basically have an abundance of the right fuel, the right method of fuel injection to make the most of it, and the right engine attached to the car to crank out all that power with less fear of locking up.

Remember these points I made earlier in the manifesto?:

  1. The formula for success in swimming should be technical efficiency and speed at the intensity as close as you can possibly hold to your VO2 max, for the specific distance of your intended race without the negative impact of lactate clearance not keeping up with production.  
  2. If we want to improve supply and utilization both, we should focus on high-intensity swimming done in a way that is designed to cause type 2b muscle fibers to convert to type 2a, and the LCHF diet is the key to unlocking a higher level of potential if we can train for this specific adaptation along with it.  

Essentially, USRPT, when done properly and consistently, is designed to maximize the conversion of fast-twitch muscle fibers to be oxidative, rather than glycolytic. KABLAM!  The ultimate bio-hack.  Fast twitch power optimized to use oxygen and fat as fuel.  LCHF plus USRPT is a lot of capital letters, I know, but I truly believe that this is the optimal way to train swimmers at any age.  Better oxygen utilization, better oxygen supply, and all of this applied specifically to fast twitch muscle fibers, while also warding off the fatigue associated with depending too much on fast twitch glycolytic muscle fibers and anaerobic glycolysis. What better combination could there be to help an athlete go out fast and finish strong in a race?. I believe that this could truly revolutionize our sport.  Add to this all of the general health benefits that we get from leaving the standard high-carb diet behind, and we have a winner.  

LCHF plus USRPT.  This is the Viking Method.

Think about this.  I don't care who you are-- once you start creating more lactate than you can clear in a race your performance is going to suffer.  No amount of "lactate tolerance" training or mental toughness is going to change that to the degree that it should be the focus of high-intensity swim training.  Also, training slow-twitch muscle fibers to optimize a race that lasts less than two minutes doesn’t seem that smart either.  These are flaws in the most basic concepts of swimming training.  We have been shooting arrows at either side of the target, with very few of us lucky ducks ever actually hitting the metabolic bullseye.

and then there’s Vlad Salnikov…  apparently he could train however he wanted, smoke a couple cigarettes behind the blocks and then get up and sprint a world-class mile. That guy had it all.

Again, most aerobic work done in a traditional swim practice serves to maximize the aerobic potential of slow twitch fibers, and any speed work with enough rest between repeats to recover beyond the optimal time will train fast twitch muscle fibers to be more dependent on anaerobic glycolysis.  USRPT brings about a better training response to fast swimming due to the short repeat distances short rests between repeats allowing for maximal oxidative adaptations and allowing more actual swimming time to be devoted to accurate race-specific swimming.   In USRPT the amount of rest between repeats is probably the biggest factor that sets the reality apart from what people assume about USRPT.  When you also consider that USRPT is self-regulating to avoid neural fatigue as well as the cumulative fatigue that can lead to over-training, it is like the cherry on top of a really huge sciency sundae.  Not that I would eat the cherry… or the sundae.  Just making a point.  This is the best of both worlds in specificity, as it covers the neurological side as well as the metabolic side with pointed specificity regarding muscle fiber recruitment and adaptation.

Doesn't it make sense to focus on recruiting more fast twitch fibers to fire aerobically with fatty acids and/or ketones rather than through glycolysis?  Before reading my manifesto, many people might say no, because glycogen is the “preferred” fuel and fat is the "slow-burning fuel," but, oh yeah, the textbooks were wrong about that. Aren’t the high adaptations shown in the UCONN study enough to convince you that the longer we adapt to the LCHF diet, the more we can take advantage of this metabolic software hack by increasing our ability to oxidize fat as a fuel at increasingly higher intensities? Since it is possible to train our muscles to burn fat and ketones more efficiently through the LCHF lifestyle, it seems to me that there could be a compounding effect when combining it with USRPT.  How fast do I have to swim in my forties to give y’all proof?  I fantasize that a swimsuit company will sponsor me and help me afford to drop one of my stipends and free up a couple of hours to train like the young pups again.  My 15 hour work days just don’t leave much time for training… but I don’t think I need it.  I am gonna keep getting faster just doing what I am doing.  Watch and see.

not me im in my prime.gif
Too old to swim lifetime bests at 40?

The only negatives I have found with USRPT so far are that it can be hard to expect kids to have the mental will to make the most of it day in and day out (hence Dr Rushall’s insistence that mental training is just as important as physical;) organizing a crowded practice can be tough (although my team has gotten pretty damn good at it;) and that one of my swimmers who had been accustomed to high yardage gained about 15 pounds after the switch (which would have never happened with LCHF.  He has dropped some carbs and already lost most of it in a few weeks.)  Anyone who has never tried USRPT probably would not guess how damn hard it can be when an athlete wants to improve.  Last night my workout was a total of 300 warm up and 15x50 breast on 50, holding 32 high’s in the yard pool.  Holy crap it hurt.  By my third fail I was nearly hyper-ventilating.

amy- hurts and dying.GIF

The best parts of it:  the kids on my team get into it and it gives them more accountability.  I love doing it and feel I am wasting so much less time. My role as a coach has changed for the better.  My swimmers can expect to race well all season, yet we have had very few disappointments when they suit up at the big meet at the end of the season.  So far, it has been a win, win, win, win, win for us.  I am happy to give coaches advice for implementing this with their teams, but that is a post for another day.  I made a few mistakes in the transition to becoming a USRPT team, but right now it is a pretty well-oiled machine. My greatest recommendation if you are thinking about giving USRPT a try?: Read every damn word of those Swimming Science Bulletins.

The next chapter in my manifesto is a pretty important one…  “How in the heck do I even get started on a Low-Carb High-Fat Diet?” Yes, I realize I have talked a lot about LCHF without really talking about what I actually eat.  More to come!

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