View Full Version : Sprinter or Distance Swimmer?

Swimmer Wannabe
November 20th, 2002, 09:30 AM
I am pretty new to competitive swimming and have only raced sprint (50s and 100s) events thus far. That is mostly because short events are all I thought I could handle -- not because I thought I had any particular speed or affinity for these events.

Now, I am working on developing a dryland training program designed to complement my swimming. I need to know whether to focus on sprint events (which need power), middle distance events (which need power and endurance) or distance events (which need primarily endurance). Since my technique is only in the formative stages (so I am not yet equipped to show off any speed I might someday have), how can I tell whether I'd be better as a sprinter, middle distance or distance swimmer? Short of having a muscle biopsy to discern my ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle fibers, is there a way to tell? How do coaches help swimmers choose their best events?

I ask because the dryland program I create will be very different based on my in-pool goals. For example, a dryland program designed for a distance swimmer could totally wreck the performance of a sprinter because intense aerobic endurance training decreases power output. (That's why you won't see power lifters riding the exercise bike except, perhaps, in the off-season.) I want to make sure I get it right. Any thoughts?

Ion Beza
November 20th, 2002, 11:50 AM
Figuring out your muscle fiber breakdown, without a muscle biopsy and without having developed yet as a distance or sprint swimmer, can be done by looking back on the activities in which you already performed.

If you thrived in track sprint races or football, you might have a high percentage of fast-twitch fibers.

If you were inclined toward soccer or long hikes, you might have a high percentage of slow-twitch fibers.

Teenage age-group swimmers develop an undiscriminate base training made of distance swimming, then based on what glimpse of talent they show, they specialize with sharpening training in distance or in sprints.

Adults without a youth swimming background, physiologically have less potential, and might jump directly into sprints or distance swimming, based on affinities for activities prior to swimming.
They get more modest performances than the age-group swimmers.

November 20th, 2002, 11:57 AM
You could just start lifting with a mixture of power and endurance. Then when you figure out what event you prefer, change the lift program accordingly.

"how can I tell whether I'd be better as a sprinter, middle distance or distance swimmer?" -- enter events. Find swim meets to enter and swim the various races.

Personally... I dont think it really matters if you lift for power or lift for endurance. Just lift. Just do it... Make a chart, make a list of exercises, and head on over to the weight room. I've been swimming and lifting for many years... and the important thing is to be consistent with lifting. Consistency + weights = power + endurance in the pool... no matter what event you swim.

Phil M.
November 20th, 2002, 12:39 PM
I've always heard that a good test for fast twitch muscles is the vertical leap. Depending upon your age, if you go 18" + you would fit more in the sprinter range.

But, swimming is primarily a cardiovascular sport. Once you're in good shape you should swim whatever races you enjoy swimming.

Ion Beza
November 20th, 2002, 10:41 PM
I was told about this test that determines one's type of muscle fiber, test practiced at the Olympic Training Centre in Colorado:
inhale air, lie face down in the water, exhale the air completely while laying face down in the water, then observe how much and fast you sink underwater; the faster and deeper you sink, the more of a sprinter you are.

Myself, I keep floating, which allegedly is the sign of a distance swimmer.

I can imagine this test applying to muscle dense football players, but maybe not as much to light frame sprinter swimmers like Pieter van den Hoogenband (Ned) who is listed at 193 centimeters height and 73 kilograms, and Anthony Ervin (US) who is listed at 191 centimeters height and 75 kilograms.
I guess that van den Hoogenband and Ervin are floating too.

Also, after one determines the type of muscle fiber, one new swimmer is facing the acquiring -thru training- of the swimmer specific VO2Max -the cardiovascular applied to swimmer's muscles- , and this is more challenging for an adult whose body doesn't grow much, than it is for a growing teenager.

Leonard Jansen
November 21st, 2002, 10:55 AM
Perhaps more to the point is: What distance(s) would you prefer to swim? Once that's decided, aim your weight work to that. I'd rather be last in a race I enjoyed (open water) than first in a race that was drudgery for me to train for and race (sprints, your mileage may vary).


Matt S
November 27th, 2002, 03:57 PM

The question is not what event SHOULD I do, but what events do I WANT to do. At this point in your swimming career, how can you tell? You've only done 50's & 100's. My first recommendation would be to try a few wild and crazy events you might not consider to see if you would like that sort of thing. I include open water distance swims (or at least when the weather permits that), which is a very different animal than pool meets. Obviously, make sure you can complete an event without getting DQ'ed before you enter it. A trial swim in practice with your coach watching for illegal moves should answer that question.

In the meantime, if you like lifting weights, just do a generalized program as Shin recommends. However, if you have no particular fondness for the weight room, I would not do weights on the false assumption they are the best way to get faster. For beginners, improved technique is the best way to get faster.

However, all that said, do what you enjoy doing. This is Masters swimming. We may all marvel at the folks who set 4 world records in one swim (and other competitive acheivements), but we're all really in this sport because it's fun, and it keeps us active. If you hate the 400 IM, don't do it or train for it. If you love it, do it at every opportunity. I would recommend NOT doing anything out of a sense of obligation, it will just kill your joy for the sport and turn you into a former swimmer that much faster. Do do what makes you excited, and you will swim better, longer, faster.

Happy Laps,

December 22nd, 2002, 12:09 AM
Ion, once again has some interesting comments. When I was a youth I started with novice teams until age 14. So, during the period where the more intense age groups clubs workout on developing you into a 1650 freestyler, I swam 50's and 100's and once in a while a 200. My best events as a youth where at 100's. I was too short to be a good 50 yard swimmer and wasn't develop enough to be a good 200 yarder. In adult hood it seems that the 50's and 100's I do better time wise. But there is a lot of competition in the 50 yard swims. I did win my heat at a 200 yard breastroke by going out slow and actually swimming my last 50 faster than the 3rd 50 yard.

Ion Beza
December 22nd, 2002, 11:55 AM
Originally posted by cinc310

I was too short to be a good 50 yard swimmer ...

Not "...too short..." -if I remember correctly from another thread as you stating being 5'4" tall- when you consider the examples, off the top of my head, of sprinters Angel Meyers-Martino (US) and Catherine Plewinski (Fra), Olympic medallists in 1996 and 1992.

To be tall in order to sprint well, is a helpful prerequisite, but is not everything.

Happy New Year!

December 22nd, 2002, 09:10 PM
Angel Martino was a great sprinter and is around 5'5" which by swimming standards is a little short. The average is 5'8" and above and some of the lady swimmers are 5'10" and above.