With Michael Andrew’s recent appearance on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, the debate rages on about his unusual training method, USRPT. What is most frustrating about this debate is that it’s become “religious”, with “traditionalists” defending their approach irrationally.
Likewise, many of the purported supporters of USRPT lack a basic understanding of what the training actually is so they can properly explain and defend it. The following are four arguments against USRPT that I see time and time again without being effectively countered.
For the purposes of “traditional” training in this article I will use Jan Olbrecht’s “The Science of Winning”, considered by many to be a top manual on aerobic/anaerobic energy based training.
1. It’s fine for sprinting, sure, but what about longer races? This argument is based on some flawed assumptions about what USRPT is. Many coaches in “traditional” programs use high intensity training, although distance race pace is frequently undertrained in these environments.
Take a look at Dr. Rushall’s suggested volumes (page 24) for different races. Want to train for the 1650/1500? The suggested volume for a single set is 30×100, or 3000m. A well trained swimmer could potentially do two of these sets in a given training. How many swimmers in traditional programs are swimming at their 1650 pace for 3000-6000 meters every practice?
I myself tried a fairly strict interpretation of USRPT and actually found that it was better for improving performance on longer races (200 and up) because those race paces were often chronically undertrained in “traditional” programs. Olbrecht certainly doesn’t suggest training that kind of volume.
2. Aerobic fitness is the building block of swimming performance. USRPT is not aerobic training. This is one of the surest arguments that convinces me that the critic has not made an attempt to understand Rushall whatsoever.
It doesn’t help that Rushall himself has published a confusing article titled “Aerobic Training is Not Enough”. The article itself contends that USRPT is all about maximizing the aerobic system but also the “oxidative” potential of swimmers.
Now call me crazy, but there is a weird mixing of terms here, since aerobic (meaning literally “of air”) and oxidative are listed as a synonyms in some dictonaries. What is clear is that USRPT is not anaerobic training as we think of it in traditional swimming models.
As compared to Olbrecht’s traditional model, it is actually the more aerobic of the two, since Olbrecht recommends both anaerobic power and anaerobic threshold training. The rest intervals and structure of USRPT sets are specifically designed to stop swimmers before they produce significant lactic acid and tap into their anaerobic energy systems.
I think that a lot of the confusion comes from the way traditional programs structure high intensity training, they set them up as “anaerobic sets” so therefore they assume that USRPT is anaerobic training since it is done at race intensity.
3. We already train USRPT, just as a part of some practices not the whole practice. This goes a bit hand in hand with the last point. I think many coaches that assume they are incorporating it into their practices are not, because they are deviating too hard from the sets as they have been designed.
While Rushall himself states in the Outside the Lines interview that individual coaches need to adjust to their own specific situation, many of the sets I see coaches count as USRPT stray too far from the model.
Many are actually anaerobic sets and therefore not USRPT. It is also worth pointing out that volume is actually important in USRPT- and therefore if you only do it in small amounts you are unlikely to see positive results from sprinkling it into training.
4. Technique will suffer from too much high intensity training. This is another criticism that shows the misbelief that USRPT is anaerobic training. Olbrecht in fact suggests long recovery windows (48-72 hours) for training energy systems above basic aerobic capacity because of the propensity for overtraining and poor technique.
However, since USRPT is actually aerobic training, it can be done repeatedly, practice after practice, and if done properly swimmers will not fall into the bad adjustments their body can make inadvertently due to lactic overload.
Reading this you may come away assuming I am another “religious convert” of USRPT. I think it’s important to understand training models, particularly evidence based ones like Rushall’s, so that you can properly evaluate their effectiveness. I think as a community we always need to have a healthy debate about the best ways to optimize performance, but that debate needs to be informed and educated.