Coach Ben Titley on Periodization Training (Part II in Series)

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Coach Ben Titley on Periodization Training (Part II in Series)

Ben Titley is a disciple of Bill Sweetenham’s theories on periodization. In 2021, as head coach of the High Performance Center-Ontario, he worked closely with Penny Oleksiak and 10 other Canadian Olympians. For his efforts, he was named Canadian coach, Junior coach and Aquatics Canada coach of the year.

Titley came to Canada in 2012 after a highly successful tenure at the Loughborough International Training Center in Great Britain. Most recently, his Canadian junior protégés Summer McIntosh and Joshua Liendo excelled at the 2022 FINA World Championships in Budapest.

There, McIntosh won the 200 butterfly and 400 IM in national and world junior record times (2:05.20/4:32.04), copped silver in the 400 free (3:59.39; NR) and led off Canada’s third-place 4 x 200 free relay in 1:54.79. Liendo earned a bronze in the 100 meter freestyle (47.71) and butterfly (50.97) and silver as leadoff in the 4 x 100 mixed freestyle relay as Canadian coach Ryan Mallette continued the mentoring done by Titley leading to Worlds.

Reverse Periodization: Part I

“I am not sure my program is 100% reverse periodization—particularly in the latter part of the cycle/preparation,” says Titley, “but being exposed to this work and sharing ideas with Bill (Sweetenham) and Coaches Tim Kerrison, Stephan Widmer, Shannon Rollason, etc. has led me to a strong belief of the following:

1. After a period of rest and recuperation—i.e., a two-to-three-week break after a major competition—the brain and body need to be reintroduced to the correct patterns and movements that they are looking to create for later in the season. For “most” athletes, that means lower-level, technique-focused, high-intensity, race-specific swimming.

2. This buildup can be achieved in many different ways, i.e.: through technique using equipment to assist correct body position, etc. Speed can initially start with an isolated focus—i.e., kick, pull, underwater or assisted work. It can also progress in duration as the athlete is able to hit the specific markers. In Week 1, it might be 15-meter repeats; Week 2, 20-meter repeats; Week 3, 25-meter repeats, Week 4, 35-meter repeats; and Week 5, 50-meter repeats.

By Week, 6 you would have the foundation of any speed work you need. With that foundation, a swimmer can now add more endurance work since speed and technique are in place.

3. In general, I would tend to have three periods of this through a typical year. Period 1 would be at the start of the season in September for a duration of around five to six weeks. Period 2 would be after a small Christmas/New Year break for a duration of around two weeks. Period 3 would be after a Trials-type meet and short break—say, April—again for around two weeks.

4. In my opinion, after these small periods of “regeneration,” the body is freshest and most recovered, and should be able to produce its greatest amount of power and force. It is also not broken down yet by larger volumes of training, and so is likely to be able to perform with the best technique, the most repeatable patterns and the greatest willingness to learn new skills—without fatigue holding it back, be that mental or physical.

5. For me, Period 1 is the longest for several reasons. It comes after the longest regeneration period—and is the most important period for setting the foundation for the winter months of training. And for international success, it keeps the athlete’s mind fresher at the END of the season. It essentially “shortens the grind” through the first half of the year, reduces the stress/expectation of any Trials in April, and it allows the athlete to be at the best when it really counts at a major summer meet.

6. For me, Period 2 comes some days after the Christmas/New Year regeneration. I used to have the athletes do training camps over this period as I didn’t want them to “lose anything”…but over the years, I have realized that trusting them to do the right things over this period—swimming occasionally with home program, being as good as possible about nutrition, etc.—and giving them time with friends and family really allows them to be better at the end of the year as well.

We ask young people to give up so much time through the year with training camps, competitions etc., that allowing them to be normal (-ish) for a few days provides a coach with a more engaged athlete when it really counts. It also provides me with a fresher athlete for the couple of weeks of Period 2, to reinforce their foundations of skill/speed/technique…with a more advanced starting point than Period 1.

7. Period 3 is similar to Period 2…except this time, the athlete really is ready to swim fast and make gains, having likely come off a small regeneration period that followed racing fast and followed a two-to-three-week taper. For sure, the body is ready to swim FAST at this point.

* * * * *

With the athlete coming off two to three weeks of inactivity and now swimming five to nine times a week at a lower volume, the aerobic side of training ramps up. During this period, I also have a larger focus on land work—both from a strength and cross-training perspective. The additional strength work aids the speed development. The cross-training activities assist the aerobic development while keeping swimming muscles/patterns and the mental side fresh for later in the season.

For example:

Week 1. 4 swim sessions (split power focus), 1 weight session, 1 run, 1 yoga, 1 circuit

Week 2. 5 swim sessions (15-meter repeat focus), 2 weight sessions (introductory), 1 run, 1 yoga, 1 circuit

Week 3. 6 swim sessions (20-meter focus), 3 weight sessions, 1 run, 1 spin, 1 yoga, 2 circuits

Week 4. 7 swim sessions (25-meter focus), 4 weight sessions, 1 run, 1 spin, 1 yoga, 1 rock climbing, 3 circuits

Week 5. 8 swim sessions (35-meter focus), 4 weight sessions, 1 run, 1 spin, 1 yoga, 1 rock climbing, 3 circuits

Week 6. 9 swim sessions (50-meter focus), 3 weight sessions, 1 spin, 1 yoga, 1 rock climbing, 3 circuits

Week 7. Full “normal” training. but with a speed/production focus that leads into race-pace work.

The foregoing is a guideline only—and this is where coaching and the understanding of the athlete comes in.

* * * * *

Two young athletes come to mind. Summer McIntosh, who turns 16 in August, may be ready (able) to perform 50-meter repeats and her goal times by Week 3 or 4 (younger female athlete), whereas a more sprint-focused muscular male like Josh Liendo, who turns 20 in August, may take a few more weeks of shorter work to get to that same point. But the principle is the same.

The important part is that speed/power work continues throughout the season, almost every session and for every week. The athlete is always never too far away from being able to swim fast. The body is consistently feeling what it is like to move through the water with a specific speed, body position and technique.

NOTE FROM COACH TITLEY: “This is NOT the only way to achieve success. Many coaches with different philosophies have athletes who win gold medals or break world records…but there are elements of all these different philosophies that can complement each other and be built into a winning philosophy.

“I will be forever grateful to Coach Bill Sweetenham for exposing me to these different philosophies and ways of thinking. I have been extremely fortunate, too, that many other coaches have shared their views and experiences with me on my coaching journey.”

Ben Titley is currently head coach of Sant Cugat National Training Centre in Spain.

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach, golf and swimming writer. His critically acclaimed coming-of-age golf novel, “Too Much Loft,” is in its second printing, and is available from store.Bookbaby.com, Amazon, B&N and book distributors worldwide.

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