Pursley Pep Talks: Finishing Strong

Swimming World will publish a collection of coaching perspectives written by Alabama head swimming coach Dennis Pursley. This is the sixth installment of a series that will be rolled out throughout the coming months.

It has been well established in championship competition that the swimmers who are able to finish strong are more likely to make it to the podium than those who emphasize the front end of the race. The following components of training and racing are all essential to strong finishes:

1. Aerobic Foundation
While race-specific training is of obvious necessity to preparation for peak performance, a strong finish is dependent upon a good aerobic base. Threshold training should be strongly emphasized in early-season training to build the base, and then continued throughout the season to the extent necessary to maintain the optimum level of aerobic fitness.

2. Effective Tapering
Overtapering could be the cause of failing to finish strong if a solid aerobic foundation has been established, effortless race pace is achieved in the warm-up and the race has been swum efficiently. In some cases, a drop taper is more effective; in others, a more gradual taper will work better–but in all cases, the taper must be designed to maintain peak aerobic fitness levels throughout the competition.

3. Race Strategy
From a physiological perspective, an evenly paced swim is the most energy-efficient swim. The “get-out-fast” strategy will more often than not end up being a “crash-and-burn” strategy. Swimmers who are patient on the front end will have more gas in the tank at the back end.

4. Race Efficiency
On the front end of the race, more important than how fast you go is how you go fast! In other words, hitting your target splits is not enough. You have to hit them with maximal efficiency and minimal expenditure of effort.

I often hear the comment, “It felt so easy going out.” It ALWAYS feels easy going out, but it will deteriorate on the back half if the front end of the race was inefficient (e.g., poor stroke technique, too tight, wrong tempo, too “short,” etc).

5. Mental Toughness
This is what racing is all about. If it comes down to the last few strokes, the swimmer who is the most determined will generally win. It is important that all of these possibilities are considered when analyzing race performances and planning for future success. There is no doubt that the swimmers who are able to finish strong will be advantaged over their competitors.

About Dennis Pursley
After getting his start as a volunteer coach on Don Gambril’s first Alabama staff, current Alabama head coach Dennis Pursley has gone on to one of the most extraordinary careers in the sport of swimming, a career that led him to be named one of the 25 most influential people in the history of USA Swimming in 2003.

Pursley has helmed coaching staffs throughout the world, including stops as the first head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport, the inaugural director of the United States National Team and most recently the head coach of Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic squad. Pursley returned to the deck in 2003 as the head coach of the Brophy East Swim Team in Phoenix Ariz., before becoming the head coach of British Swimming in 2008.

Pursley and his wife Mary Jo have five children, Lisa, Brian, David, Steven and J.J. Lisa and David have joined him on the Alabama staff.

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