Scroll Top

Managing Transition Between Training Phases

Transition Between Season Phases: From Accumulation to Realization

Beliaev S. B., Super Sport Systems LLC

January, 2005

Many of you, especially those who trust and follow 3S’s recommendations, have by now noticed some changes in the training patterns of your athletes during the different phases of their athletic preparation. These changes require us as coaches to refocus our efforts and pay particular attention to our athlete’s progress. To better understand this phenomenon we need to understand the transition peculiarities between accumulation and realization periods.


Every professionally prepared season plan divides the entire season (usually 12-16 weeks) into several shorter time periods, or phases of athletic preparation. Each of these phases has a significant role in the development of an athlete, as each is designed to address specific tasks or issues that must be accomplished or dealt with during the overall season. Although different approaches to season planning exist, we believe that the following 5 phases are critical to proper athletic preparation:


  1. Transitional
  2. Pull In  (depending on time and place in the season)
  3. Accumulation or Preparatory
  4. Realization or Competition
  5. Taper


It should be noted that several variations and combinations of these phases are in use by other training systems, however we will limit this discussion to what could be considered the “classic” approach to collegiate season planning, where phases follow the sequence below.




1. “Pull In” Phase

This phase can be anywhere from two to four weeks long, depending on the previous training history and the total length of an athlete’s upcoming season. It should be noted that transition period should be viewed as a separate and not a part of Pull-in phase. Several tasks may be accomplished during this preparatory phase; however, its main purpose is to ensure the athlete will be ready for the workload he will have to accomplish in the remaining weeks of the season. Proper attention to details and minutiae in this phase cannot be over emphasized.


Many elements need to be considered when planning for this particular phase of the season, including:


  • When did the athlete finish his previous season?
  • How long was the previous season?
  • What type of season was the previous one?
  • What type of season is he starting?
  • What was his level of effort and results for the previous season?
  • How does the current season fit into an overall annual and multi-annual plan of preparation of the athlete?


Often, the transitional phase is planned to supplement the pull-in phase and in that case the following two major goals are targeted:


1.     Unload Training Volume of the athlete from his previous training cycle, stabilize his steady state at an elevated level of preparedness

2.     Prepare the athlete to accept increased training loads.


From a physiological point of view, appropriate transitions are essential. To maximize the performance of his athletes a coach must exhaust their adaptation potential by the main event of the season. Naturally, once the adaptation potential is exhausted, there is no other choice but to make a break, de-train and refill his athletes’ “fuel cells” with new energy sources. That is the reason a break is needed between training cycles before moving forward with more demanding training loads. Neglecting this rule will invariably lead to stagnation, overtraining, unrealized potential, and mediocre (if any) progression, leading to individual and team disappointment.


2.  Accumulation Phase


This phase is designed to enable athletes to reach new levels of work capacity before they enter into the “competition phase”. If you plan more than one training cycle during a year than in essence you repeat their structure (with some possible corrections, depending on type and order of cycle in annual planning). Naturally, the tasks for each training cycle are remaining the same and should be repeated. The main tasks for accumulation phase therefore are the following:


  • Build the progression of training volumes at a steady pace
  • Start with low intensity workouts, introducing sets in different energy zones at the appropriate time
  • Concentrate attention on building an excess capacity in each energy zone with focus on increased efficiency of swimming in each zone


It is a common misconception that you cannot compete (and win races) during the accumulation phase. However, you have to treat meets differently during this phase of preparation, and races need to be considered from the perspective of a special training for future events. Nonetheless, achieving goals on specific distances during each week of the season will be far more important then winning any one particular meet. Given the experience we have with athletes using the 3S system, you may expect that your athletes’ performance level will remain very high already at the end of the accumulation phase of preparation, so meet results will be highly competitive.  However, coaches sometimes are disappointed with their athletes’ performances or have higher expectations during transition periods of the season and we tried to provide an analysis of this situation below.


During the accumulation phase of preparation we are targeting several physiological processes with a goal towards increasing the capacity of the specific energy processes. A “performance base pyramid” may illustrate the required sequence of their development:


Figure 1.  Accumulation Pyramid



In other words, before we start training in Zones II and up, we need to develop a significant aerobic base, which will serve us a platform for achieving greater shifts in other, higher intensity zones. It is important to understand the changes this strategy will make in the bodies of our athletes.





It is a well-known fact that regular physical exercise decreases sub-maximal heart rate in athletes.  According to various data one may expect a decrease of anywhere from 5 to 12 beat per minute after 10-16 weeks of structured and focused training. Western researchers (Zavorsky, G.S., 2000) believe that “the response of maximal HR to training and detraining is unclear”.  As a matter of fact, this topic was, however, very thoroughly researched by Dr. S.M. Gordon at Moscow State Institute of Physical Culture and Sports already in 1968. (With all fairness to Western scholars we have to note that the results of most of his studies were not readily accessible to the Western world). It should be noted that the appearance of Dr. Gordon’s “parametric training” concept was founded on the results of studies in this direction. One of the outcomes of this research was related to finding a clear correlation between specific training strategies and behavior of physiological markers including maximal hear rate among them.


For the purpose of our discussion, let us return to the goals of accumulation phase and changes you expect during this phase.


Because the 3S system progressively builds training volumes in Aerobic zones, the physiological markers (maximal HR, Lactate max) will change. The dynamics of these changes are based on Dr. Gordon’s studies (1967-2004), and are provided in Figure № 2 (data obtained from Training Optimization Program™, S.M. Gordon, S.B. Beliaev, 1987-2004):


Figure № 2


It is very important to understand that measured and predictable progression of stated parameters (HR) is possible when our suggested training strategies are applied.





The preceding graph clearly demonstrates how training strategy in the accumulation phase should lead to a decrease of maximal heart rates, culminating at the end of the accumulation phase. Ideally, this happens when we have already reached the peak load of our season training. This time also typically coincides with participation in meets, when we all eagerly watch our athletes swimming a steady but somewhat slow or “flat” pace.  Understanding what is happening at this juncture will help us deal better with the challenges of transition between the accumulation and realization periods.


The whole idea of the accumulation phase is to build the maximum level of work capacity in different energy zones, depending of course upon limitations related to the length of the season and the beginning level of preparedness of our athletes. If we can accomplish this goal (a general increase in work capacity), we will also produce the lowest values for maximum heart rate during the season. That means regardless of how hard we may push our athletes at this time, they will continue to maintain their heart rate efficiency and therefore by definition, cannot be “sharp” and responsive when we want them to perform well in high intensity zones. The athletes may, however, preserve high competition speeds, if they are capable of taking advantage of achieved efficiency of swimming.


The summary of implications resulting from preparation predominantly in aerobic zones were stated in an article by Dr. Zavorsky (G.S., 2000) as follows:


  • Maximal HR can decrease from 5 to 13 bpm with aerobic training and increase from 4 to 10 bpm with tapering or detraining. Furthermore, maximal HR decreases to a greater degree in distance swimmers relative to sprinters with training.
  • Maximal HR may fluctuate in certain individuals with training status and therefore, may alter the prescribed relative work intensity. For example, a coach may have a swimmer maintain an intensity of 85% of maximal HR (170 bpm). With training the swimmer’s maximal HR could possibly decrease from 200 bpm to 188 bpm. By maintaining an absolute HR of 170 bpm, the relative intensity has increased to 90% of maximal HR. This represents a substantial difference from the originally prescribed work intensity of 85%.
  • While there is a need for further research in the area of altered maximal HR with training, coaches and athletes should be aware of maximal heart rate changes with training/tapering and distance orientation. Proper monitoring of changes in maximal heart rate every 3 to 6 weeks may lead to more precise training intensity prescription and enhanced prevention of overtraining.”…

While 3S takes this generic discussion into a much higher, quantitative level with clear definitions of required changes of physiological parameters in time, the findings stated above confirm that the direction of applications and interpretation of facts related to changes of physiological parameters under training are valid.




Considering this, one of the major tasks of the realization phase is to train an athlete’s heart to work and respond faster. In other words, we need to improve the power of the anaerobic processes.  That means we have to approach this phase practically as a new game with all new rules since the training strategies applied during the accumulation phase will not be effective for achieving the goals stated for the realization phase.  It also means the results athletes achieve in meets, while important from an exercise point of view, are not indicative of their true ability since, in all fairness, we just did not prepare them to swim fast and teach them to employ all available energy resources.  This challenge is graphically illustrated below.




The main failing of making transitions from phase to phase is that while building an aerobic component (aerobic capacity), we inadvertently suppress the mechanisms responsible for production of anaerobic power (N.I. Volkov et. all, 2000; J. Olbrecht, 2000).  From a practical point of view we may consider “anaerobic power” as an athlete’s ability to achieve maximum speed with the predominant utilization of a specific energy source (anaerobic in this case).  Interestingly enough, the development of anaerobic power may stimulate the further development of aerobic power, i.e. ability of distance swimmers to achieve higher speed at their main distances (400 yards or meters and all way up to 1500 meters).


With this in mind, goals of the realization phase should be to:


  • Enhance the ability to produce higher speeds at shorter distances (max. speed)
  • Improve absolute maximum speed
  • Teach athletes to swim faster by utilizing a more efficient, quality stroke
  • Maintain higher speeds in repeated sets (speed endurance component)
  • Support general endurance (since failure to do so will negatively influence the ability of swimmers to sustain speed at the latter part of their distances)


The 3S system is built in a way that addresses all of the tasks associated with each of these phases and covers the issue of transition between phases automatically. When followed closely, our system will significantly reduce the usual frustration related to making transition from one phase to another.


3S experts are constantly working to improve their training methodology. We are confident that with your feed back we will be able to achieve a better understanding of the training process, and will therefore be able to assist you even better in your daily coaching tasks.


Sergei Beliaev

Super Sport Systems





  1. Gordon S.M., Numerous articles and dissertations (see list of doctorate dissertations at:
  2. Olbrecht, J., (2000). The Science of Winning. Planning, Periodizing and Optimizing Swim Training. Swimshop, Luton, England 282p.
  3. Volkov N.I., Nesen E.N., Osipenko A.A., Korsun S.N., (2000). Biochemistry of Muscular Activity. Chapters 16-22, pp 326-404. Kiev, Olympic Literature, 2000.
  4. Goodman, J. (2000). The Athlete’s Heart. Endurance in Sport, Volume II of the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine An IOC Medical Commission Publication, Chapter 6, pp. 68-83., Blackwell Science.
  5. Zavorsky, G.S. (2000). Evidence and Possible Mechanisms of Altered Maximum Heart Rate With Endurance Training and Tapering. Sports Medicine. 29(1):13-26.

Leave a comment