Ask a Coach!: Is Almost 10K Too Much Work for a Young Teen?

PHOENIX, Arizona, November 7. THE Ask A Coach! series today focuses on how much is too much work for a 12-13 year old in training. Tennessee associate coach of men's and women's swimming and diving Tyler Fenwick looks at why volume sometimes is a good idea even at a young age.

Don't you think a 9300 is too much work for 12-13 year olds boys and girls?–Kerry

Hi Kerry!

Sounds like you've been putting some time in the water! I do not have much detail to go off of here, but I'd like to answer your question the best I can. I think a common mistake athletes make is to look at the total number of meters at the bottom of a workout instead of paying attention to the way the workout is structured. 9,300m is certainly at the upper end of what I might give to a 12 year old, but I'm sure your coach has a well-designed season plan and that this workout fit into the equation. There are a few things that come to mind when I read your question.

First, the fall is typically a time that coaches are building their athlete's aerobic capacities. Aerobic capacity is the functional capacity of your cardiovascular system which can be measured by the amount of aerobic work you can do in a given time period. Part of our job as coaches is to find ways develop our athletes' capacities so that they can use oxygen efficiently. It's very difficult to do this without swimming some distance. Where these sets might not always be your favorite, they are extremely important. Even our college sprinters at Tennessee are at a point in their training where they have some days near 8-9,000. Building aerobic capacity is a lot like designing a fuel tank in a car. We want a large fuel tank so that we have energy to race at a higher level of intensity and to finish well.

Second, you're at an age where you're aerobic system needs to be developed. There's a small window between the ages of 12-16 where your body is growing and your aerobic system can be trained more effectively than any other period in your career. Aerobic infrastructure training for swimmers in their early teens helps to develop mitochondria, capillaries and enzymes. These are essential in producing and delivering energy. The more of these you have, the more energy can potentially be produced. This system is critical when you train and especially when you race! Your coach realizes this and it sounds like your workouts are being written with this in mind.

Swimming can be challenging in so many different ways. You're forced to balance your time, wake up early for practice, spend weekends at day long meets and sacrifice much of your free time in the process. There are days where you might walk into practice and see 9,300 on the bottom of your workout. A long day looks like it will never end. This is a moment for you to make a decision. Will you make the most of the next two hours, or try to get through it? Your perspective and attitude control whether you get the most out of a workout and your ability to enjoy the process. Every practice is a chance to get better, why not seize the opportunity? If you are struggling with your workouts, a recommendation would be to ask your coach if there is a time you could sit down to review your season plan and discuss the rhyme and reason behind each set. Coaches love to talk swimming and it would be a great chance for you to learn more about how training works. Good luck!

Our resident expert coach currently is Tyler Fenwick, Tennessee's Associate Coach for the men's and women's swimming and diving program. Fenwick has coaching experience at both the collegiate and club swimming level. Before moving to Tennessee, he spent three years (2009-12) as the Head Men's National Team coach for the Mission Viejo Nadadores, a premier gold medal club in Mission Viejo, Calif.

In his time with the Nadadores, Fenwick's athletes posted 58 National Age Group top-10 swims, 24 top-three swims and seven #1 ranked swims. His swimmers broke 13 Nadadore club records, four Southern California records and one National Age Group record. This past year alone, two swimmers each made the U.S. National Team, Junior Pan Pacific Team and Junior World Championship Team. Two of his swimmers won gold and bronze medals at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships. To cap it all off, he coached the 5k National Champion, David Heron, at the Open Water National Championships. Heron has since committed to rejoining Fenwick as a Volunteer after his senior year of high school. Another distance freestyle recruit, Evan Pinion, has also decided to be a Volunteer in college.

If you would like to submit a question to Coach Fenwick, email us or leave a comment below! All swimming-related questions are welcome!