USRPT - Opinion/Reflection Post
Over the past couple of seasons Ultra Short Race Pace Training (USRPT) has been a topic discussed a lot by coaches around the world. I have done some reading around the area as well as speaking to Ben Wiffen from The City of Belfast in E14 of Series 1 the podcast. I did this because I wanted to understand the model and form my own opinion on it by reading some literature and speaking with a coach who implements the model in their program. This is not an advisory blog article, but more a reflection and opinions that may be of interest to some coaches.
Despite all the negative press this model might get on social media there are some positives to the model which in my option are summarised below...
The specificity of the programme really is a major selling point, especially for those swimmers who may be focussing particularly on just one event. Being able to solely focus on that event in training seems like a nice idea. With this specificity comes the fact that nothing in the session is wasted, every effort has a distinct purpose towards building the race and it can be easy for swimmers to relate training to racing.
When the end goal of any training plan is to put the swimmer in a position where they are able to race fast when it matters it’s hard to ignore that swimming fast and efficiently in training on a regular basis makes sense as well. Along with this comes the idea that you get to practice race specific skills every day too, executing these skills at race pace which in all honesty, is the only way to ensure that when the skill is executed on race day it is done flawlessly.
For me the main drawing part of the model is the specificity, if you have an athlete who is very clear on the goal they have and has the propensity to work very hard in every session then for sure USRPT could be a model you might consider.
However, for the pros above this model should arrive like any, with all its imperfections and controversial points which I think I have summarised nicely below...
Linked to its major pro of specificity, I find it really hard to understand how a multi event swimmer might use this model, because if as Rushall suggests you are only aiming to develop the race and not confuse the body/neuromuscular system with conflicting stimuli, it wouldn't be wise to train for multiple events as this could do just that?
Rushall advocates the use of this model with swimmers of all ages. For me this was seriously alarming. The model is so 'specific' and when followed to the letter leaves no time for; isolated technical work, functional land work, development of sectional work such as pull/kick that I find it really difficult to see how you could honestly as a coach put together an age group training plan together. The model assumes that the swimmer has great technique and is really an event training tool. It seems like it is also a very power orientated model be it aerobic or anaerobic power. Now a simple principle of physiology is that your power is limited by capacity and vice versa. Therefore, how is the model meant to work in age group swimmers who won't have built up the relevant amount of capacity aerobically or anaerobically to then utilise the power within them?
Once you have done your full cycle of USRPT work with high intensity and low volume as prescribed by Rushall's model, where is the scope for taper? Or is it the case that no taper is needed, this much isn't clear in the training model? Are we seriously suggesting that after a magical number of weeks working the model the athlete will suddenly become race ready?
You can also argue that "actual race pace for some swimmers isn't very fast at all", Rob Greenwood an exponent of Jan Olbrecht's model of training believes that USRPT may not be intense enough to induce a physiological adaptation in some swimmers. Which is understandable given than the body adapts to stress, if a slow racer isn't really stressing the body how can we expect a physiological adaptation?
To add to the above, you cannot ignore that this training model has not been published in a peer reviewed journal nor has it stood the test of time with consistent results at senior international level. Now I can already hear the USRPT supporters claiming that nor have Urbancheck's system or Bob Bowman's system been peer reviewed. However, they have both stood the test of time and in themselves take concepts from other peer reviewed models of training. The inflexibility of the USRPT model in requiring you follow it to the letter, claiming that all other models are useless is very reductionist. By claiming your model is the only model to work you imply that your model will stand up to science and produce consistent results. If the above is true then why hasn't it yet?
Concluding Thoughts -
To conclude, I would be worried about using this model as a principal mode of training. perhaps I need to do some more reading on it to really get my head around it. But I cannot ignore the major red flags, how reductionist the author of it is, how unaccommodating the model is to other methods of training. Let’s not forget most coaches around the world have packed lanes with many swimmers training at the same time, it would require a true stopwatch ninja to apply this model in a typical club environment or you would need multiple assistant coaches for each lane running the set. I also would steer well away from using it in a age group environment despite the authors keenness for it to be used with age group swimmers.
The benefits of the model are great, but do not on their own outweigh the cons. If there is a way to integrate the concept of USRPT into a balanced model then this is something that I could see myself using in the future. I believe this may have already been done as I can't be the only coach thinking this.
One thing is for sure, if you are going to run a pure USRPT model then you need Mohave done your homework on it and be fully aware of the pros and cons like you would need to do with any training model you run. A model is only as good as its application.