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The Tradeoff Triangle for Athlete Loading

Track far more than training volume with the ''Tradeoff Triangle'', an interplay between Volume, Speed and Skills.

In traditional season plans, we're used to seeing periodization happen based on volume. That is because, for the longest time, volume has been the easiest metric coaches could track. However, during training, not everything is always prescribed as volume. There are different ways coaches get creative, like power towers, strechcordz, jumps, sculling etc.

So we’ve got this trade-off triangle between Volume, Speed and Skills, with all three being components we want to track. In this article, we will explore the Tradeoff Triangle and how to focus on different sides of it based on what's happening in the season. 

Unleash your speed.


What is the Tradeoff Triangle?

The Tradeoff Triangle is a visual representation of the relationships and interactions between Volume, Skills and Speed. You can optimize any two components of the triangle but not all three simultaneously. For example, during training, you could have Volume and Skills but not at Speed, Speed and Skills but not at Volume etc.


The Trade-off Triangle (1)


Volume as an easy-to-track metric has been the golden standard of periodization in swimming. It gives you insights into the planned sets and their total volumes. It doesn't give you their impact on the athletes or any feedback on internal/external factors affecting athlete performance. So what you need to track is Load.

Load = Volume* RPE (a workout rating given by the athlete on how the workout felt).

As a coach, you need to regularly plan your athletes’ training load and tweak the volume, intensity, and frequency. What you torque on depends on the training phase and what you aim to achieve for that cycle. So keep these in mind when planning your season and use tools like Readiness to track what you did vs what you planned.


Skills are often hard to “see” and, therefore, harder to target and track improvement. Moreover, when swimmers go faster times, you have almost no insight if they were faster underwater, overwater, in transitions, or all of the above. Tracking metrics for targeted skills beyond just Time, Stroke Rate (Tempo), Stroke Count, and Distance off the Wall will offer you more clarity and better direction to drive improvement. Not to mention that tracking skill acquisition will get you the athlete buy-in needed for them to stay the course.

This is why guided feedback and visual representation of what you’re already telling your athletes is key. Use tools like Focus to analyze your swimmers’ technique and find out how their skills influence their speed. With each practice, you can explore what skills your group of athletes excel in and which ones they need to improve, and then plan your seasons around them.  

''Efficient, effective swimming is about not wasting movements and not making energy investments without a high rate of return.  So levelling up skills (quality and retention under duress/fatigue) is the key.'' 
Coach Megan Oesting


Speed is easy to plan for, but it is very difficult to ensure the athletes execute sets as you want them to. To help with the energy system adaptations, you must prescribe volume at various intensities. The problem is that your athletes' strokes and skills may fall apart as you challenge them to go farther with shorter rest intervals. This is why throughout the season, there will be times when your athletes will have to slow down or get more rest to do the skills properly again. 

 When writing sets for a workout, you must first consider what type of adaptation you want to target. So you choose the energy system you want your athletes working on for that set. Aside from the energy systems, you determine the duration of the set, the distance, the number of repeats, and the work-to-rest ratio. 

Use tools like Intensity to know how much time your athletes spend in each zone and check to see that training was split well between aerobic and anaerobic work. Remember, how you split work between the training zones will depend on where you are in your season.

Turning Goals Into A Plan

The purpose of having a plan is to build your swimmers' skills in a structured and incremental way. Traditional seasonal plans like USA Swimming's sample annual plan below include volumes, meets, energy systems, stroke development, "start and wall work'', underwater work and dryland training. Unfortunately, traditional plans aren’t all that helpful because they don’t give enough detail on how to structure this all together.



Enhanced seasonal plans build on this foundation by using these elements more efficiently, focusing the variety of your training toward specific goals with data feedback and insights into your regimen so you can peak at just the right time leading up to an event/race. Balancing these factors is the key to overall progressive improvement.




If you see yourself as a coach with a growth mindset or someone ready to take coaching to the next level, grab this playbook; it's step-by-step guidance to help you integrate data into your training.

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Alexandra Petala

Alexandra Petala is the Content Marketing Manager at TritonWear. Before joining TritonWear, Alexandra had created her own company delivering freelance services for lead generation. She also served as the Growth Manager at Just' Geter Done. A former swimming coach and Greek National Champion herself with over 20 years of experience in competitive swimming. Alexandra graduated from the Empire State University with a degree in Business Economics and Marketing.

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