View Full Version : Workout "dose response"?

July 25th, 2006, 07:56 PM
Sorry about the geeky title, but I think it is the best description. My question is: How much of an improvement per month will one get for some number of workout hours per week? That sounds confusing, maybe, so here is an example:

If you average three hours of workout per week, for each month practicing you will probably see one second off your 100m time. However, if you average eight hours, you might see five seconds of improvement per month on your 100m time. Imagine a graph with "Improvement per month" on the y-axis (the left side), and "Hours working out per week" on the x-axis (the bottom).

I know there is no way to get an exact number, but maybe the experienced coaches out there might have an estimate with a certain amount of "slop". I also know that you hit a point at which your improvement goes to nothing per month (if you are swimming 0:58/100m say), so, for the sake of argument, lets talk about us slowpokes :) (1:50/100m cruise). Also maybe there are better ways to measure it--improvement per week, day, year, whatever, for example, or times on a 1500m. Finally, it depends on intensity of workout and quality of coaching--what can I say, I still want to know.

I would love if Masters would collect data on average number of workouts/week, 100m times, years practicing, and age; then I could just derive the answer to my question. Seems like this could be part of the yearly dues mailing (hint to any Masters powers-that-be that might be reading this), and that there are enough public health types that swim and care about fitness to analyze the data. And I could find the coach that has a five second/month improvement with only one workout per week ;)

July 25th, 2006, 09:18 PM
There is just no way that you could ever come up with a formula like what you want that would actually work. People improve their times when they get in better shape or improve their technique. How much better shape you get into depends on where you start at and how hard you work. And improvements in technique aren't necessarily related to the number of hours per week you swim. Lots of people swim X hours per week doing the same thing not making any real attempt to change their technique or without the feedback they need to make changes and they don't necessarily improve. About all that can be said is that the more time you spend in the water, preferably under supervision and guidence of a good coach, the more likely you are to find ways to improve your technique. But again, no way are you going to find a forumula that gives a steady improvement per hour per week.

July 25th, 2006, 09:25 PM
I think this is impossible to do as you want.

One thing I have read consistently is that when you attain a certain level of fitness (speed), you must train at continually higher levels of load/effort to improve further. Muscles must be overloaded to generate a physiological response.

So if you were to add an hour a week, but train at the same level, your improvement would be very minor. You might see an improvement in basic endurance but not speed.

July 26th, 2006, 01:11 PM
here it is

July 26th, 2006, 03:55 PM
You clearly cannot link improvement with quantity of training. If we could say that you will improve your 100m time by 1 sec per month if you train 3 hours a week, then you would eventually break the world record!

What is more reasonable is to talk about the equilibrium point that you will reach - e.g. if you train 3 hours per week you might reach a limit of 60 secs for 100m freestyle, say, but perhaps if you increase to 5 hours per week you might manage to get down to 57 secs for 100m freestyle.

In my experience it takes 1-3 months of training at a particular level to adapt to it and reach a fairly stable level of performance. After that you may continue to improve at a slower rate, but to get rapid improvement again you need to increase the level of training.

Different people can achieve different things with the same amount of training. E.g. I've been told that Fred Clatworthy trains less than 20km per week and last year he swam SCM 1500 free in 16:55 at age 35. I've been training 15-20km per week for the last year and would be pleased to break 19 mins, so clearly there's a talent difference!

July 27th, 2006, 03:59 PM
Hi all,

Let me first thank Dobbie for the curve -- Dobbie, where did you get this info-- intuition from coaching or data or somethign else? It is what I would expect.

Second, for all the people who say something to the effect of "the analysis you want is impossible", let me clarify a little:

First, a curve like Dobbie's would probably apply only to someone who is kind of slow; if you are fast already, a little bit of improvement takes a huge amount of work and such an analysis just doesn't apply (it is kind of like when your headache is already gone and you keep taking more aspirin).

Also, everyone who said that the type of workout make a huge difference -- usually either varying in intensity or in quality of coaching or innate talent -- I wholeheartedly agree; however I bet that the *shape* of the dose response curve over practice time remains the same, even though the magnitude might change. For example, with a bad coach and faulty technique and starting at a slow time, I might improve more at 6 hours/week than at 2 hours/week, even though I could never reach better than 1:20/100m no matter how much I worked out because the coach has me doing something stupid.

July 27th, 2006, 04:15 PM
I'm guessing Dobbie's graph was meant to be sort of tongue-in-cheek. I don't think there's any way to answer your original question. There are just too many factors.

July 27th, 2006, 06:15 PM
Since the diagram has no scale on the improvement axis it can't be taken seriously in a quantitative way but I wonder if there are some general statements that one can make about a minimum number of hours needed to improve or a maximum amount of training before diminishing returns takes control that might give one some idea of the shape of the curve.

My coach has commented a couple of times that one needs to swim more than three times a week to really improve. It is possible that swimming less often doesn't allow muscle memory to develop? People here have often mentioned that it takes some time to get their feel for the water back after a couple of days off. My own experience is that I don't make much progress swimming three times a week but seem to improve when I step up to swimming five times a week. If I swim every day I start getting injury prone, but perhaps I have not ramped up slowly enough. Most of my improvements seem to come from "aha!" moments with technique, and these seem to occur more often when I am swimming most days.

July 27th, 2006, 07:28 PM
Most sources seem to say that working out 3x/wk will keep your fitness level steady, 4x/wk will cause slow improvement, and 5x/wk or more will speed up improvement. Of course, an absolute beginner will need less and an elite athlete will need more. I suspect technique improvements are similar - if you don't focus on technique, your technique will not improve (but your fitness will), and you will improve faster with more focus. There are far too many variable to be able to quantify anything. I do remember reading somewhere that athletes should expect to improve about 3% a year and aim for 5-10%, but I can't remember what group it was written for (I'm guessing it was for teen year-round swimmers) and it's probably not applicable to your situation.