How much is enough?

The lack of general athleticism in children and youth has become a threat to – not only success in international sports – but also general health. Some recent studies suggest that today’s children may live their late adulthood in worse health than their parents. The first generation ever. The reasons we all know:

1. Not enough unsupervised physical play and games. More and more of children’s free time is spent indoors playing computer games and in other non-physical activity.

2. Too few bikes parked in school yards (and outside swimming halls). Kids ride in their parents’ cars to school and hobbies.

3. Too much sitting. The human body is not designed for sitting. Toddlers don’t sit, they squat. When children go to school, they exchange squatting for sitting – and there’s no end to that road. We sit in school, job, car, by the computer, watching TV and so on. Most of our woken hours are spent sitting.

The consequence of this deteriorating general athleticism is a poor ability to adapt to specific training. In other words swimmers will get injured, if they try to increase their training volume in the pool.

How much physical activity is enough then? WHO (World Health Organization) says that 3 hours of physical activity daily is enough for children. That’s 21 hours weekly. Every day of the week and 52 weeks a year. Is that a lot?

Take a look at a 5 year old child playing. If adults don’t restrict them, they end up having at least 3 hours of physical activity daily. Also in elementary school the children get a lot of physical activity. Recess is used for play outdoors. Add a hobby and some free time outdoors with friends, and kids add up to 21 hours a week easily.

Problems start arising when the kids grow older. No more play in the recess, no more cycling to school, no more play outdoors. The only physical activity is what they get in their sports clubs. In many cases that doesn’t add up to 21 hours a week. In other words: the training, that a club provides, doesn’t add up to a minimum required to secure a healthy growth. WHO is not promoting Olympic performance, just a healthy life style.

How much is enough for success in swimming then? In my opinion the above mentioned 21 hours a week is enough. Not all of it is swimming, of course. Early in a swimmer’s career maybe 3×1 hours a week swimming is enough. The remaining 18 hours should consist of other types of physical activity. Some organized – some play without adult supervision. As the child grows, a bigger share of the total volume should be spent in specific activity – in our case swimming.

How much swimming? An easy rule of thumb is that the grade in school equals the number of training session per week. A fifth grader should train 5 sessions per week and an eighth grader 8. That may sound like much, but that’s what the most successful nations in the world do. That’s what the most successful clubs in Norway do. Maybe minus one session per week, to leave room for non-specific activity, because we want to stick with the 21 hours per week -rule.

If our youth want to pursue international elite in swimming, a few additional hours weekly need to be added later in their careers. A typical elite swimmer trains around 25-27 hours weekly. That includes swimming and non-specific work. Swimming is a time consuming sport, but compared to what a 5 year old discovering the world goes through, its child’s play.