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Tabata protocol applied to swimming: call it kinetic

Gaston Bachelard was a french philosopher that demonstrated how the
progress of science could be blocked by certain types of mental patterns,
creating the concept of epistemological obstacle. This kind of psychological
hindrance makes difficult the learning of new concepts in the field of science.
In a similar way, Thomas Kuhn, author of The tructure of cientific
!e"olutions wrote in his book#
Because the student largely learns from and is mentored by researchers "who
learned the bases of their field from the same concrete models" there is seldom
disagreement over fundamentals. Men whose research is based on shared
paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific
practice. That commitment and the apparent consensus it produces are
prerequisites for normal science, i.e., for the genesis and continuation of a
particular research tradition.
wimming training, an acti"ity where the so called hard and soft science are
interrelated, is also chained to the epistemological burden of practice through
the years. $ntire generations of coaches and swimmers had been forged and
trained based mainly in an adaptation of what elite swimmers practiced to be
the best in a certain moment.
The continuous impro"ement of the performances reflects the progression in
the methods of training, which suggests that, as long as the swimmers keep
breaking their own records, there is no need to rethink the way we coach...or
there is%
ince &ames 'ounsilman published his first book The Science of Swimming in
()*+, the meters swam ha"e been growing in a substantial way. ,t the
beginning, to swim +.--- meters daily was ok, but then, a sort of inflationary
process took place and (..--- and (*.--- were numbers not so weird.
/owadays there is a shy tendency to 0uestioning the "alidity of this philosophy
of training and some authoritati"e researchers are suggesting that there is
another way to reach high le"els of sporti"e e1cellence.

2a"id 'ostill, one of those scientific, said#
Most competitive swimming events last less than two minutes. ow can
training for !"# hours per day at speeds that are mar$edly slower than
competitive pace prepare the swimmer for the ma%imal efforts of competition&'
There is also an interesting french in"estigation#
, group of researchers studied the training and performance of competiti"e
(--m and .--m swimmers o"er a 445week period. Their findings were as
6ost swimmers completed two training sessions per day7
wimmers trained at fi"e specific intensities. These were swim speeds
e0ui"alent to ., 4, * and a high (- mmol3l blood lactate concentration pace and,
finally, ma1imal sprint swimming7
8"er the whole season the swimmers who made the biggest impro"ements
were those who performed more of their training at higher paces. The "olume of
training had no influence on swim performance.
'ertainly we could recall se"eral anecdotes about swimmers that trained
relati"ely few meters in a season but impro"ed his3her personal best.
To elucidate the ad"antages or not of swimming many meters to reach high
le"els in competiti"e swimming is not a minor issue. The pursuit of a method of
training that re0uires much less time in the swimming pool and in the gym is
beyond the effecti"eness of it. It could a"oid 0uitting the acti"ity in a significant
numbers of potential competiti"e swimmers, those that are e1pected to e1pand
the basis of the pyramid.
The planning of a workout should not only take in account the technical and
physiological aspects of a swimmer. The most important and most o"erlooked
feature in our human material is their emotional and psychological maturity.
That is why I mentioned the interrelationship between the hard and soft
sciences# they are taller than us, they perform awesome in the water but, deep
inside, they are suffering the process of growth, both physical and psychical.
That means that not all are willing to spend or waste endless weeks of hard
training, sacrificing other interests and acti"ities as important as swimming.

It:s a pity, but this is a fact# a huge number of potential world class swimmers
ha"e abandon or e"en could not ha"e been detected simply because they were
not willing to put his head into the water in a, for them, monotonous acti"ity that
last 954 hours daily, si1 days a week.
,re they wrong%
8k, let:s assume that those indi"iduals would not change their mind regarding
to the traditional way of training, B;T, they could be interested in train (.-
minutes a day, < or perhaps * days a week, and still ha"e interesting
performances. Is it possible to swim a fraction than the others and still succeed
at world le"els%
=es, it is.
!emember 6ichel Gross%
>rom ?ikipedia#
e was probably the finest swimmer in the world in the ())"meter butterfly race
from *+,* to *+,,. -n this period he set four world records, won two world titles,
four .uropean titles and one /lympic gold medal. e is perhaps the finest
.uropean swimmer ever.
8n &uly .)
, ()+4 @8lympic Games, Aos ,ngelesB he set a world record in the
.-- freestyle# (#4C.44. That record lasted until eptember ()++.
The remarkable thing here is not the record itself, but the method of training that
he @and his teamB applied# 0uality, not 0uantity.
Aet me share a short passage from an article published a few days before the
()+4 8lympics
"The 0mericans have so much time12a&1that they sometimes waste it," says
3ross. "4ou can train for four hours a day and do nothing or you can train two
hours a day very strong. That is more important, instead of only swimming
meters and meters."
,s a result of all the preceding and with the goal of o"ercome the constraints of
time, I selected a number of ideas from different fields and combined them in
a method that I called Kinetic Density. I de"eloped and tested that method,
first with myself as master swimmer and later with the teenagers of my club. In
both cases the results were positi"e.

>or a better understanding of the 5inetic 6ensity method I di"ide it in three main
/eural efficiency
Eigh Intensity Inter"al Training
Hydrodynamics - Square of the velocity
Aet:s go back to the aforementioned swimming classic The Science of
Swimming by &ames 'ounsilman. ,t the beginning of the book he briefly
e1plains that the drag a body creates as it mo"es through a fluid increases
appro1imately with the s0uare of its "elocity. i.e. swimming . F faster creates 4
F more drag.
6any books and articles that discuss the hydrodynamic aspect of competiti"e
swimming mention this principle, but they put the emphasis in other analysis,
like the angle of attack, lift forces etc. 8f course that kind of researches are
important, but, as there is less co"erage of the 0uare of Gelocity principle,
perhaps the swimming community underestimates its crucial importance.
The basis of the 5inetic 6ensity method is this, sometimes forgotten,
hydrodynamic law. , deep comprehension of it would facilitate its practical
There are se"eral indicators to prescribe different loads or intensities# Borg
!ating of Hercei"ed $1ertion @!H$B, Eeart !ate, a percentage of the time for a
specific e"ent, etc.
To ma1imiDe the effecti"eness of the training, we prefer to use this last criteria,
but, we are conscious that it could be a tricky one.
uppose that we ha"e a swimmer, with a HB of <+ sec., that usually swims (<
1 (-- freestyle e"ery (#9-, at an a"erage of (#(. @+-.<< F 5(.9+ m3sB. To elicit a
physiological adaptation we ask him to impro"e his a"erage time to (#(- @+..+<
F 5(,4. m3sB
If we feel comfortable with a spreadsheet, we could 0uickly de"elop a number of
combinations to plan a whole season#
(- 1 .-- at +- F
(* 1 <- at this or that percentage
(. 1 (-- , first at +-F, second at +< F and third at )-F
This could gi"e us a false sense of confidence, as we think that the
percentages of "elocity are percentages of effort.
;nfortunately, this is not the case. Aike us or not, the s0uare of the speed is
there to remember its e1istence, in a painful, lactacid way.
In our e1ample of (< 1 (-- @(#(. to (#(-B , the increase of speed in ..+< F
e0uals, according to the 0uare of "elocity law, to an increase of the drag of
+.(* F

But lets
happens with the (. 1 (-- descending (59 workout for our <+ secs swimmer.
wim at +- F of his personal best means an easy (#(..<, then +< F is (#-+..
and finally )- F e0uals to (#-*.4 @well done, boyIB
If we e1press that in "elocity @meters3secondsB and correlate the difference in
percentage respect to the lower le"el of effort, according to the 0uare of
"elocity law, the elo0uence of the graph lea"e us speechless.
three seconds faster e"ery fifty meters, the drag3resistance Jumps an
astonishing +4 F.
I suppose that ne1t time we prescribe a descending workout like this, we would
be more conscious of the impact that this kind of effort pro"okes in the
aid that, lets mo"e to the other issue.
Neural efficiency
In this section we will use a free interpretation and application of
'omputational neuroscience. ,s you will see later, this is an important
component of 5inetic 6ensity.
wimming is an acti"ity included in the group of cyclical sports, which could
pro"ide the false idea of an easy task. ,fter all, you Just need to teach the
proper timing to coordinate stroke and breathing and that:s it.
8f course not, you are yelling, and I could not agree more.
The le"el of kinetic sensibility needed to swim effortless at a decent speed
re0uires a lot of practice, under the sound guidance of a swim teacher or coach.
This is not something that you could master in a short period of time. Hractice5
feedback5practice5feedback again and again and again @heyI, it is a cyclical
sport, remember%B
?alking up and down by the side of the swimming pool we are permanently
monitoring the efficiency of the stroke in our swimmers. , number of items are
checked to "erify if they are performing according to our criteria. But how many
times, if e"er, do we ask where such amount of information is stored% ?hat are
the process in"ol"ed to sort, classify and prepare for a later utiliDation%
Aet:s assume that the information of the sporti"e gesture could be graphically
represented and that representation is stored, somehow, in a database
allocated in the cerebral corte1 for its posterior retrie"e and application.
@'ortical rewiring and information storage.
>or e1ample, if we draw in a paper a mathematical function, the brain should
store the route of the hand in only two a1is# @%,y8
Hlane 'ur"es#
'atenary from
2ifferential Geometry Aibrary. http#33digi5
/ow letLs situate oursel"es at the side of the swimming pool, when we are trying
to show the gesture of any stroke. Aeaned forward, we mo"e our hands
repeating as a mantra reach farther, keep your elbows up, roll your body
In this case, our hand would be mo"ing in a three dimensional pattern @%,y,9B
, 92 mathematical function could gi"e us an appro1imation to what I want to
e1press . 8f course, the e1ample gi"en does not represent the stro$e, is... Just
pace 'ur"es# 'onical heli1 from 2ifferential Geometry Aibrary. http#33digi5
The aforementioned mathematical representations only describe the sweep of
the hand, without any reference to speed or the conditions of the en"ironment.

In our computational model, the representation, storing and retrie"ing of the
swim is remarkably comple1.
The cerebral corte1 of the swimmer process a huge amount of data but to
simplify this theoriDation we put the focus in the most rele"ant. To the last 92
graph now we add four more "ariables#
speed, pressure, le"el of lactic acid and percei"ed effort
@1,y,D,s,p,Aact, peB# 1,y,D, speed, pressure, le"el of lactic acid, percei"ed
urfaces# 6onkey saddle from 2ifferential Geometry Aibrary. http#33digi5
/ow, the stored model is a 92 surface @not a lineB, with a "ariation of colors that
means different data. The stored information to swim crawl at )- F is different
to swim at +< F or at (-- F. =es, perhaps the path that describes the sweep of
the hand, the @1,y,DB function, is similar in the different percentages, but the rest
of information 5 speed, pressure, le"el of lactic acid and percei"ed effort 5 , as a
conse0uence of the 0uare of the peed Aaw, deeply alter the data stored in
the cerebral comple1. , little change in the speed, faster or slower, elicits a re5
arrange of the data that the cerebral corte1 is forced to update. That little
change in speed alters the perception of the resistance generated by the water,
"aries the stroke @http#33w4.ub.uni5konstanD.de3cpa3article3"iew>ile3*.-3<4< B,
modifies the concentration of lactate and impacts on the percei"ed effort. ,nd
all this information goes to that hypothetical database, where is processed and
stored to be later retrie"ed. If we could represent that information in a
mathematical fashion, probably the formula would read as follow
>reestyle for (-- ma1imal effort#
(-- >ree @1
, pe
>reestyle for a workout of (- 1 .-- #
(-1.-- >ree @1
, pe
(-- >ree (-1.-- >ree
1,y,D similar similar
peed (< F faster 5
pressure3drag .-- F greater 5
lactate (*5.- 4
Herci"ed effort @Borg
$1tremely hard omewhat hard
It could be an interesting speculation on how is retrie"ed that stored information
in different circumstances. 2uring a race, for e1ample# is there any kind of
contradictory information between the conscious mo"ement that the swimmer
wants to performs and the learned @an slowerB skills% ?hich of those learned
skills would take control during a swim at ma1imal speed%
I in"ite the reader to change the hat, in 2e Bono
@http#33en.wikipedia.org3wiki3$dwardKdeKBonoB words, and start thinking the
training of swimming as the training of a comple1 skill and not as the
de"elopment of se"eral physiological functions.
If you take this way of thinking, at least for a while, you could ha"e a new
perspecti"e in the debate about the ad"antages or disad"antages of swimming
many meters at slow pace.
If we adopt the criteria of impro"e a skill instead of focus on le"els of lactate or
heart rate, we need to modify radically the 0uantity of the meters swam and,
most important, the type of e1ercises.
Eere is where comes into play the third and last component of Kinetic 2ensity
High-intensity interval training
Aet me put it clear from the "ery beginning# aerobic training is "ery important
when we plan according to Kinetic 2ensity 6ethod
the percentages and "olumes utiliDed are much smaller than those used by
traditional methods. In our criteria, after swimming a certain number of meters
in ,T , the gains are smaller in comparison with the time de"oted at such effort.
?e try to optimiDe the !8I @return of in"estmentB and our capital @timeB is
scarce. o, we do use subaerobic workouts, but in a smaller proportion than
other clubs do.
,lso, we refer to the sets and workouts that compound Kinetic 2ensity with a
different nomenclature, as they reflect better the goal of each workout.
The structure of the season is undulatory, following a pattern of . weeks load 1
( reco"ery or 9 1 (. ?ithin the weekly planning also we alternate days of load
with reco"ery ones, but here we are more fle1ible in function of the performance
of the team.
Eowe"er, as soon we start the season, we include high percentages of
e1ercises specific to the competition and G8.ma1. ?hy% ,s those elements
need a considerable amount of time to be mastered by the swimmer, we don:t
see the point to wait till the peak of the season to remember that we need to
focus on them.
8ur approach is to impro"e a comple1 skill and we work with that goal in mind.
,ccording to our standards the measure of any impro"ement is gi"en by,
among other factors, swim efficiency, the amount of meters swimming at or
close to race pace and le"el of effort to perform that workout. To swim at race
pace should not be confounded with lactacte tolerance. ?e adJust the ratio
effort3rest to permit the swimmer to learn the feeling of the race without
produce high le"el of lactate. hort distances @.<, <- and C<B with (< to 9-
seconds rest are the usual and up to (.-- 5(<-- meters for the total "olume of
this workout.
This kind of workout is to impro"e the neural efficiency.
To meliorate the G8.ma1 we were inspired in the research of Geroni0ue Billat,
the french in"estigator. 8ne of hers famous in"estigations is :ery Short 7*;
s<*; s8 -nterval"Training 0round the =ritical :elocity 0llows Middle"0ged
>unners to Maintain :/( ma% for *# minutes'
tarting from this and other Billat:s papers we de"eloped se"eral routines to
build up G8. ma1. ,s is "ery difficult to our club to afford biochemical analysis
of lactate, we concede that a good rule of thumb to calculate the optimal speed
to elicit G8. ma1, is to take the time of a 4-- meters at full speed. Then, the
workouts are based on distances from .< to (-- meters at that speed. The test
is "alid for three strokes# freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke.
Eowe"er, neural efficiency and a good amount of meters at G8. ma1 are not
enough to ha"e a balanced program.
I am not referring here to more aerobic work, I already put that clear at the
beginning of this section.
?hen we started to combine neural efficiency and the Billat:s method the
workouts were encouraging. But when the moment of truth came, swimming
meets, the results were not correlated with the amaDing times that the team had
been performing.
,fter some @numerous really...B analysis we arri"ed to the hypothesis that those
disappointed outcomes were the conse0uences of the ad"antages of ha"e
been swimming many meters at high speeds with little production of lactic
To make the long story short, at the end of another round of in"estigations, we
read about the Tabata:s method. Eere is a short e1planation from ?ikipedia#
Tabata method
0 popular regimen based on a *++? study by -9umi Tabata uses () seconds of
ultra"intense e%ercise 7at an intensity of about *@)A of :/(ma%8 followed by *)
seconds of rest, repeated continuously for # minutes 7, cycles8. Tabata called
this the -.* protocol. -n the original study, athletes using this method trained #
times per wee$, plus another day of steady"state training, and obtained gains
similar to a group of athletes who did steady state 7@)A :/(ma%8 training ;
times per wee$. The steady state group had a higher :/(ma% at the end 7from
;( to ;@ mlB$gBmin8, but the Tabata group had started lower and gained more
overall 7from #, to ;; mlB$gBmin8. 0lso, only the Tabata group had gained
anaerobic capacity benefits.
The maJority of the practical applications of Tabata are aimed to terrestrial
acti"ities, "ery few mention our en"ironment, the water. $"en though this EIIT
is "ery, "ery hard, in the water is possible to resist it better for three ad"antages
The body is in horiDontal position, so there is less workload to lift and
pump blood
There is no impact
The water dissipates heat more effecti"ely than the air
o, the logical ne1t step was to adapt ensei Tabata:s method to our planning.
, classical @for usB Tabata:s workout is + 1 .< more than full speed, starting
e"ery 9- secs.
o, to recapitulate, Kinetic 2ensity is compounded by#
Be conscious of the 0uare of speed law# small "ariations in speed are
reflected in big changes of the drag3resistance, with a strong impact in
the stroke and the fatigue of the swimmer
/eural $fficiency# to swim many meters at high speed with efficiency and
with little production of lactic acid. hort distances, from .< up to C< with
(< to 9- seconds of rest are the best option.
, lot of G8. ma1 according the method of Billat
Tolerance to lactic acid, Tabata:s Hrotocol
,fter se"eral months of been using this method we noticed the following
wimmers are more focused in the technical aspect of the stroke. ,s the
workouts are composed by shorter distances their attention is more
effecti"e, is less probable that they change to automatic mode as usual
in longer series @+ 1 4-- perhaps%B
The sense of rhythm and effort is stimulated in a daily basis. ,s a
positi"e conse0uence, they learn faster how to regulate themsel"es in a
The loads in the workouts are more intense than other traditional
methods, but as the time de"oted e"ery day is less than (.- minutes,
there is no maJor danger of accumulated3hidden fatigue, the kind of
tiredness that could dri"e to o"ertraining. In this sense the period of
reco"ery is shorter and the same applies to the taper.
The type of workload allows a more specific stimulation of the fibers,
according to the distance for which the swimmer is preparing to.
Herhaps I would put a 0uestion mark in the case where the swimming meet
would be strenuous# a lot of races with 0ualifying heats, semifinal and finals.
6aybe I would add more meters7 this is a homework to be made.
,t the present moment, we use Kinetic 2ensity only with swimmers of (95(4
and up, with at least one year of traditional training. I don:t think this method
should be used in younger kids.
/ow, the practical e1amples, Just in case you were asking.
>irst @please, don:t laughB let me put my personal e1ample.
,ctually I disco"er this method almost by accident. Back in .--<, after a short
hiatus in master swimming measured in years, I remember finishing a tearful <
1 4-- in an unconfessed time and promising myself to in"ent a more realistic
way of training. That was when I started to looking for other strategies. Aater on,
in the .--C ,rgentinian 6aster 'hampionship I won the +-- meters
@http#33www.fen.org.ar3resultadosK.--C3.&8!/,2,.TMTB and the 4-- I6
@http#33www.fen.org.ar3resultadosK.--C39&8!/,2,.TMTB. , few days after the
meeting I realiDed that I had the times to swim in the MII >I/, ?orld 6asters
'hampionships N Herth ,;5 .--+. o, all that summer I trained using Kinetic
2ensity and then flew to ?estern ,ustralia
@http#33www.fina.org3proJect3docs3masters3maK.--+KswK6.pdfB . In .--) I
swam in the outhamerican 6asters 'hampionships
8k, for an old man in his <-:s is a nice story, but how about younger
I ha"e been using this method with my swimmers since .-((. In this few
months our kids impro"ed their times and started to perform well at regional and
e"en at national le"el. In the summer .-((3.-(. we swam only once a day, no
more than 4<-- meters and complemented the training "isiting the gym three
times a week. /ow in the winter we swim an a"erage of 9---59<-- meters <
days a week. !esults%
,ll the team impro"ed their times, from <- to +-- meters freestyle and also in
styles. The three best swimmers @born in ())C and ())+B integrated the team
that won the $H,2$ games @patagonia regionB
8ne of these swimmers won the .-- breastroke and the other one made the
time to participate in .-- backstroke ,rgentinian 'hampionship @.#.-.*CB. This
last championship is for the fastest swimmers, not for age groups. ,lso, two of
those swimmers, a girl and a boy, classified to represent ,rgentina in the Giochi
della Gio"entQ .-(. @Games of the =outhB http#33giochidellagio"entu.coni.it3 in
Herhaps you are asking yourself ?hy this funny name, Kinetic 2ensity%
?ell, it surged naturally. If you put the percentage of the different workouts in a
pie chart....
it is ob"ious that there are much more 0uality workouts than the orthodo1 way,
the speed training has more relati"e weight than the rest of the e1ercises, in
other words, more Kinetic ensity !!!
?ritten by 6iguel 'orsi
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