Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Capacity vs. Utlization: Notes from Bob Bowman Lecture

Recently listened to a webinar with Coach Bob Bowman (coached some swimmer named Phelps) on Capacity vs. Utilization.  Coach Bowman does a great job of distilling this issue down to its core: Capacity training makes your cup bigger.  Utilization training is how you put something in the cup.  To listen to the webinar and view the slides visit USA Swimming.  Here are the notes to hopefully whet your appetite to listen to the actual presentation.  John Leonard, executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association called this presentation one of the most important in the history of coaching.  Indeed, the message of this presentation transcends swimming and applies to all sports…


*Doesn’t matter Olympics or young age groupers…concept is important in your coaching

*Bob’s background: Varied interests…parents wanted well rounded experience to handle many different ideas

*Artistic sensibilities….Combination of art and science

*Easy for coaches to get bogged down on short term tasks…not enough time thinking creatively

*What excites Bob…

·         Inspirational things (emotional level, creative level)

·         all involve hard work – puritan roots – most success comes from hard work

*People learn the most when pushed to edge of capabilities, but don’t always know where that edge is.  Sometimes must go beyond it to find it

*Consistent work; disciplined work ---grounds you in your daily life

*One interest: Horse racing – “outside of a horse is good for inside of man”

·         horse gives honest effort every time – if they don’t there’s a reason; the ultimate athlete

·         no concept of work until you’ve worked around horses…4 am thru 9pm: work out horses, clean stalls, medical care; No holidays in horse racing – horses eat every day

*Another interest: Drum corps International

·         inspirational, emotional impact, technical side, hard work (Band on steroids)

·         scientific side to the drill and music, but emotional side as well – Each show is judged for objective standards but also for “general effect”

*Every swimming program has the “general effect” of what it does for its membership

*Art vs science – Need both

·         Science – is the “What” (duration, intensity, etc)

·         Art – “How”; putting something together that’s greater than the sum of the component parts; how do you communicate…when things are good..when things are bad?

*Some programs more science, some art---no right answer; but find the right balance for you

*Every year something new comes out…lactate testing, physiological thresholds, how to teach strokes, etc….all have value, but proponents of the system think it is the whole pie, but it’s really just part; job of coach is to decide how much of pie is allocated

*Most important thing is “why”; if I can’t tell them why, then we don’t do it…but sometimes the best answer is “I think it will work”…use intuition and experience

*Three questions

1.       Do you know what is actually going on in your program – If you don’t have a way to measure things, you don’t know what is going on in your program; Keep notes on each practice; Record what you are doing; If you are a creative coach and like to go with the flow that’s fine, but must record afterward

2.       Decide what you are going to measure – How do you know if it changes if you don’t measure it.  Athletes need to know what is going on.  All swimmers know best practice times and best meet times.  Helps direct practice in meaningful way. 

3.       What is the general effect of your program – NBAC – Disciplined pursuit of excellence (not just any pursuit of excellence however you want, but DISCIPLINED pursuit).   Do something good you get rewarded; do something not good, and you get honest feedback…Parents don’t have a problem because they know exactly what they are getting

*Capacity training….not just “garbage yardage”

*Capacity training = Cup.  Goal of capacity training is to make your cup bigger.  (Another analogy is manufacturing….Bigger warehouse, more trucks to haul…that’s capacity.  Utilization is putting stuff on the trucks.)Carries over to all types of training.  Called “aerobic base”…Some people don’t like that term because it doesn’t seem relevant to racing, but it will be in the long term

*Capacity training – long term; period of years!  Takes longer to develop capacity; ,more subtle, more gradual.  Sacrifice short term gains for long term goals.  Non-specific training in the short term helps get more out of specific training at higher level

*Bob says he was better club coach than college coach because always preparing two years down the road; but college swimmers continued to improve long term

*Takes lot of discipline to invest in capacity training – May need to sell to your athletes, and even yourself

*Methodical and systematic – Easy to plan

*Improving systems (aerobic, muscle endurance, etc); how do you give someone framework to work from

*“Training to train” – don’t necessarily relate to short term race

*Improves your health; improve overall resilience of the organism

*Can do a lot of it all the time

*Get the cup big!  (Capacity) Then fill it (Utilization)

*Utilization training  – what can you do right now.  Sacrifice long term for short term benefit

*One school of thought – “get all we can now and then go it again”

*BUT…when you do utilization training exclusively, you have a big improvement early, then just stay the same.

*Go back and forth between capacity and utilization – Find a middle road

*No agenda of proprietary training method at one extreme – just get them faster

*Dynamic and volatile – they will be pushed to their max limits in utilization training

*Murray Stephens – “NBAC only tapers once every four years”; not literally, but important to find right balance of capacity and utilization

*Any specific training takes away from capacity (lose ability to do 10 x 400 but improve ability to do 1 x 100)

*Emotion will carry some conditioning in big meets

*Working with limits versus going beyond them – Capacity work just within limits

*Need BOTH working, but there are periods of changed emphasis

*If only do capacity, its like pushing refrigerator in a circle

*Example: Phelps had capacity of Atlantic Ocean before Beijing; Before 2010 Pan Pacs – cup was size of thimble half full

*Age group capacity + college utilization = success

*Age group = Make cup bigger

*College, Post grads = Fill the cup

*Capacity happens both within season and over careers

*Applies to all parts of program (dryland, mental, coaching)

*Dryland progression

·         8 year old dryland – just playing

·         high school – more formal (pushups, pull ups, etc)

·         College – heavier weights

*Just about everything works – less about the WHAT and more about the HOW.   Just change of emphasis between programs

*Mental/emotional capacity.  Phelps – pre race routine has been refined over the years (add headphones, etc).  Great capacity for moving into higher stress levels because he learned how to do it early.

*Coaches – grow your toolbox (young Bowman – only used hammer; got great short term results)….other skills - learn how to communicate better, organize groups better

*Coaching progression

·         First ten years of coaching, two solutions have 50-50 chance of working

·         next ten years, five solutions all with equal chance

·         next ten years no problems because you see them coming

·          next ten years create problems to teach people lessons

*Always try to add tools; watch what others are doing

*Spectrum  - Shoulberg, Simon – build big cups (age group coaches)

*Durden, McKeever – big utilization (but they are college coaches)

*5K-10K for time.  Not for aerobic conditioning.  Real benefit you can’t get anywhere else.  Specific small muscle movements that have to be done repeatedly, and there is no escape.  Targeting the very thing that limits people in races.  Mentally toughening also.  Hard to get that benefit elsewhere.  Why are you doing this?  Look for ways to make your athletes better.  Improves capacity.

*Yardage not as important as time.  10 x 300 = 10 x 3min.  What is the best way to get physiological change through the effort?  Not mileage, it is time. 

*Think about your practices in a way that makes sense to you.

*Mileage – average 7k per practice.  Bump up to 9kSometimes you do things to make your regular program better.  Doing 9k makes 7k better.  Hell Week in December– Real benefit is in Jan/Feb when normal volume seems easier.

*Example – Hell week , regular week, then rest week (shock system, normalcy, then rest) – But all must be done in context of something greater.  How much is enough and how much is too much?

*Practical – don’t reinvent the wheel, aerobic training is important, find what works, work backward from there

*Desire to be different doesn’t change what works

*Musicians don’t throw down xs and os and then decide to make music.  Best musicians start with scales, keys, etc.  Learn the basic language of music, and then progress from there.  Coaching should follow the same pattern.  (Beethoven and Stravinsky are different but share common language).  Become classically trained first (scales), then move onto writing your own music.

*Young athletes (build capacity to do correct technique; teach basic movement patterns that end up in refined technique years down the road; eight year old can’t do same stroke as MP); aerobic training is important but doesn’t have to be 10 x 400.  Need base of skills and menu on dryland to become better athlete in general.  Build menu so as they go up the line all the boxes are checked for how they can be best athlete they can be

*Alison Schmitt – couldn’t do proper pushup; could only two pull ups but now can do sets of eight. 

*Don’t taper too much (hurts capacity), but need to compete in range that is meaningful (don’t want to be too tired either, or racing is a waste of time and confidence is hurt)

*Capacity in young athletes with technique issues?  Need basic framework of technical capacity to do physiological capacity.  Need to do skill in proper way first.  Introduce skill, then introduce harder effort at short distance (lots of rest and lots of feedback).  Capacity doesn’t have to be long slow swimming.  Start with few reps and long rest; then increase reps and decrease rest.  Way to build volume and maintain technique. 

*Athlete doesn’t move up until they have mastered the level they are at.  Move up to the middle of the higher group, not the bottom.   

*What is your attitude?  If this is something you spend time at, get out of it what you can.  Is it an ordeal or an adventure?  Depends how you look at it.  Fun is improving.  Athletes must understand the why of what they are doing. 

*Return to race-type stroke at the end of every practice. 

*Olympic Trials – conserve emotional and mental energy.  Everyone is physically prepared.  Don’t waste time around the hotel.  Stay relaxed.  Many burn themselves out mentally over eight day meet. 

*Those who DID capacity training, GET to be successful with Utilization Training!


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