Is Garbage Yardage Actually Really Important?

Courtesy of RITTER Sports Performance, a SwimSwam partner

“Easy training is in fact the most important type of training.” Dr. Jan Olbrecht emphatically stated as he finished up his afternoon presentation at the School of Thought Clinic, hosted by Matt Kredich at the University of Tennessee.

The fourth annual School of Thought Clinic once again had Dr. Jan Olbrecht as the main keynote speaker and as with every year, other great experts lined the schedule to cover various topics on high performance.

Even though some coaches in the audience were coming for the third or fourth time they said, “Every time I come to listen to Jan talk I always pick up something new.”

Sometimes as coach it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of a “new” or “different” type of training. But what can’t get lost, at least if you want to have success, is following the basic principles of physiology.

And one of the biggest cornerstones of training adaptation, that Dr. Jan Olbrecht is probably know best for is – supercompensation.

But as the Q&A time started it was clear that many coaches still had misconceptions on even the basics of supercompensation and how to plan for it in training.

“If you always have a meet following a recovery phase you’re in fact not allowing for supercompensation but you’re just tapering for a competition.” Dr. Jan Olbrecht stated.

Jan went on to explain that, “People are working 10 or 12 weeks in a row and the best thing that can happen at this point is that the swimmer gets sick or injured so they have their supercompensation phase.”

It was a bit of a jarring moment for many coaches in the room. Many coaches have had this experience where a swimmer gets sick or injured and after a week or two out of the water they are swimming near their best times. This is exactly what Jan is talking about when it comes to allowing for supercompensation to occur.

And what’s one of the best ways to “provoke” supercompensation to happen?

You guessed it – easy volume. Or “garbage yardage” as it’s come to be known of late.

It’s not a difficult concept to understand but Jan could tell the room of coaches needed even more examples to bring the concept to life so he took another route in explaining the concept.

“Most athletes don’t like to swim easy, they want to train, they’re here for competition. But can you make soup without water? Water is so stupid but if you don’t put it in with your vegetables and meat you can’t make a soup without water.”

Not only were there a number of incredible presentations by keynote speaker Dr. Jan Olbrecht on training adaptations, power, capacity and supercompensation but a number of other great speakers.

Ernie Maglischo actually “tagged-teamed” with Jan for a few talks and it was incredible to watch the two researchers discuss back and forth as they flushed out training concepts right there as coaches hurriedly wrote down notes.

Two physiotherapists from “down under” were the newest speakers to the School of Thought Clinic this year.

Fiona Mather is one of the most respected physiotherapists in the world and had a number of presentations on assessment, movement and “flow” sessions for coaches to incorporate into their program for more athleticism and better overall performance. She was able help the coaches learn to “see” movement on land in the water from a unique and exciting perspective.

Rachel Vickery brought another interesting concept that most coaches and athletes never give a second thought to: breathing. She helped lay the ground work for understanding the relationship of breathing to neuro-physiology and how this affects an athlete’s mental, emotional, physical and physiological performance. Too often an athlete operates in high states of arousal or “Fright and Flight”, leading to suboptimal performance. Rachel showed simple strategies for helping athletes control their state through breathing.

Are you a coach that wants to be on the “cutting-edge” of the sport and learn from the best in the world!

Get full access to the School of Thought Clinic – “the BEST Swim Coaches Clinic” out there.

In addition to all the videos, when you purchase access to the School of Thought Clinic you’ll also get an invitation to the private Facebook group for only coaches that have attended or have access to the School of Thought Clinic to keep the conversations going about what they’re learning and how they’re implementing it into their programs.


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Courtesy of Ritter Sports Performance, a SwimSwam partner. 

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5 years ago

Garbage yardage is when you go so past the threshold of the individual— or yardage after the individual “hits the wall”

Their definition of garbage being easy swimming is garbage in and of itself… especially if it’s prepping for a meet

5 years ago

Jan Olbrecht hasn’t been relevant in swimming since the 1990s, and for good reason. Old habits die hard.

5 years ago

Is there any evidence that “supercompensation” actually occurs?

I’m pretty sure it’s just regular old homeostasis and adaptation.

Becky D
Reply to  O_O
5 years ago

But it has the word “super” in it. That makes it better.

Reply to  O_O
5 years ago

How is one word better than another trying to describe qualitatively the ability of biological system to maintain stability in response to the situation that disturbs its normal condition. It could be sickness, injuries or overloading exercises. Artificial or natural – doesn’t matter. When disturbing factors disappear but the biological system still expects them then we have over-compensation. The problem is that all these theories don’t even specify what actually is getting compensated to what degree and why it will lead necessarily to improvement of particular athletic abilities. Another set of useless, meaningless words is used again to add even more fog to already unclear processes: energy, relaxation, stimulus, boosting, etc etc. Garbage “science”
Maybe everything that is happening… Read more »

Reply to  Yozhik
5 years ago

I would respond to your comment with something more meaningful, but I honestly can’t understand it.

Nathan Smith
Reply to  O_O
5 years ago

They use the term supercompensation because they use the term compensation to define the period of time where your body is returning to it’s baseline state after being stressed. The body has to compensate and use more energy than normal to rebuild muscle, replenish energy stores, etc. The prefix super means going “above or beyond”. Hence, your body going above or beyond the baseline state through continuing compensation. Remember we’re talking about academic words, so the use of super- isn’t, ahem, superfluous.

Reply to  Nathan Smith
5 years ago

What you are referring to is the stress/recovery/adaptation process. That is a well documented physiological phenomenon. Supercompensation is a word that was made up by philosophers and psychologists and as far as I am aware has very little or no empirical evidence.

5 years ago

“You guessed it – easy volume. Or “garbage yardage” as it’s come to be known of late.“

These are not the same things…

5 years ago

I don’t think what Dr. Olbrecht is describing is garbage yardage. He’s right that easy training and recovery are important, since that’s the period where the swimmer actually gets faster, but it’s not garbage yardage. Supercompensation is the part of recovery where the swimmer adapts to the demands of training, while garbage yardage (as I think most of us would define it) would be having the swimmer do high enough yardage to cause fatigue without doing much intensity (because, let’s be honest: fatigue without intensity is garbage).

Another clickbait title from Ritter Performance.

5 years ago

As a coach I firmly have told my swimmers that the idea of “garbage yardage” is a myth made up by swimmers who don’t want to think while they train. If your brain isn’t turned on when you’re swimming, it’s not garbage yardage, it’s just a waste of your own time. All yards are important and have the perpensity to mean something, but that has to be a conscious decision made by each athlete.

Reply to  NCSwimming
5 years ago

While I agree that the line between garbage yardage and not does have to do with engagement, there’s a question of human limits in play. I don’t know that anybody can actually be fully-engaged on 30k days, and there are definitely clubs that still do 30k days.

Brad Flood
Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

Hear Here, Braden!!!

Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

30k days?!?

Reply to  Swimmer
5 years ago

You’ve never done a 30k ladder? 3k – 4k – 5k – 6k – 5k – 4k – 3k

5 years ago

Gregg troy retires for one day, and it’s suddenly garbage yardage

Becky D
5 years ago

You can supercompensate by swimming easy, or by not swimming at all (if ill or injured). What is written here doesn’t sound like a strong endorsement for the former when the latter can produce good results when used unintentionally.

Reply to  Becky D
5 years ago

Or you can be out of the water for 10 days while sick and have absolutely no feel for the water and swim like crap.

Becky D
Reply to  CraigH
5 years ago

I would advise against putting that into the training plan.