The 95% phenomenon
One of the many questions coaches and athletes ask when using Moderate, Medium, Mad as a perception of effort level, is why we also advise that at top speeds to hold no higher than 95% effort. Is this not contradictory?
I want to clarify that I believe this is an essential ingredient of building performance but also maintaining it over long periods of time. Here are three reasons to explain my thinking:
1) Holding a manageable technique: Speed, as well as endurance, comes from holding a manageable technique under pressure of effort. Very early on in my swim career, I heard from a wise old coach that tough is not how much you can hurt or be hurt, but is Technique Under Fatigue - TUF. This has been pivotal in my success.
You may notice I say, 'manageable technique', rather than good technique. If you can't handle the technique and be able to replicate it over the duration of the race distance, then it's not manageable. When technique is not manageable, the performance breaks down with the degrading of the technique as you fatigue. Many a world champion has had questionable techniques in regards mechanics but have been able to control their particular technique for long periods under fatigue - as well as the pressure of competition.
This is manageable technique.
When going all out, and giving it every physical exertion, one tends to tighten up and lose the fluidity and thus control of their natural technique. This applies to each discipline - swim, bike and run. I have found over years of trial and error just taking that perceived 5% off from giving everything allows the athlete to hold their stroke or stride while under high exertion. This impacts performance in a most positive way.
2) Overtraining Speed and all-out effort, and not distance is the main instigator of overtraining. One can with proper training travel prodigious distance with little or no negative impact on performance, however, short efforts done too frequently bring on massive fatigue very quickly. Placing the 95% target in the minds of athletes alleviates that possibility somewhat. Thus, I see it as an important part of the overall picture of controlling the efforts to allow longer seasons of high performances.
3) Injury Being at the very best speed one can achieve heightens the risk of injury by a huge amount. The 95% mantra again puts a small insurance policy of control within the "mad " part of the preparation.
I hear some ask what about the absolute speed training? Here is something to think about for you coaches. We have seen in all disciplines that I emphasise shorter distances, with many repetitions to develop speed. I do this using the principle that it's the acceleration to top speed that is the primary source of improvement in speed. I am absolutely certain of this.
Science may not have yet caught up with it but like most other innovations we have followed before they were accepted, this too will be agreed to in the future by the sports scientists.
Our results are proving it yearly. However, for now, I can only add that the firing of the muscle cells to accelerate, is the most important recruitment for improvement. Not the amount of time spent at that maximum speed.
In conclusion; Max speed or all-out effort, can be self-defeating. Mad is about controlled top effort. To go 95% is certainly very uncomfortable - but it is controlled. It is TUF (Technique under fatigue).