The Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model developed in the 1990s by the Canadian sport scientist Istvan Balyi, and was adopted by the British Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) as the framework that UK Swimming Coaches would implement to develop elite swimmers.

The LTAD model imposes a plan, which focuses on developing the correct technique, and emphasizing the importance of training rather than competing. To ensure the optimal physical development of athletes the specific plan for swimmers has been divided into six stages, depending on the chronological age of the swimmers:

  1. Childhood: FUNdamentals
  2. Late Childhood: Learning to Train (a.k.a. “SwimSkills”)
  3. Adolescence: Training to Train
  4. Early Adulthood: Training to Compete
  5. Adulthood: Training to Win
  6. Retirement

The LTAD model emphasizes the necessity of children to learn the fundamental basic physical movements and skills to become successful athletes. The omission of fundamental movement learning will limit the ability for participants to excel in their long-term developmental swimming pathway.

Why Implement the LTAD?

There are two ways in which young swimmers can improve their performance:

  • Training
  • Growth and development

There are five clear reasons for introducing a long term athlete development approach:

  • To establish a clear swimmer development pathway
  • To identify gaps in the current swimmer development pathway
  • To realign and integrate the programmes for developing swimmers and swimming in Britain
  • To provide a planning tool, based on scientific research, for coaches and administrators
  • To guide planning for optimal performance

Right now we have too many clubs in Great Britain offering too little training time and in most cases too much competition. This leaves many athletes in a twilight zone of training less than 14 hours a week, hoping for international results and expecting overseas tours and camps and national level success.

For an athlete training 8 hours a week the benefits are social, fun, participation, team building and health benefits.

For those athletes wishing for an international career and who are serious about optimum performance at the national level then swimming in a programme with a high performance objective of 18-25 hours is approximately what it will take to achieve these objectives. However, in most countries and in most clubs, the vast majority of athletes train between 8 and 14 hours per week.

Learn more about LTAD under each stage below, and use the download as a quick reference.

LTAD Stages

Age – Female: 5 to 8 years

Age – Male: 6 to 9 years

The FUNdamental stage should be structured and fun! The emphasis is on developing basic movement literacy and fundamental movement skills. The skills to develop are the ABCs (Agility, Balance, Coordination, Speed), RJT (Running, Jumping, Throwing), KGBs (Kinesthetics, Gliding, Buoyancy, Striking with the body) and CKs (Catching, Kicking, Striking with an implement).

In order to develop basic movement literacy successfully participation in as many sports as possible should be encouraged. Speed, power and endurance should be developed using FUN and games.

In addition, children should be introduced to the simple rules and ethics of sports. No Periodisation should take place, but there should be well-structure programmes with proper progressions that are monitored regularly.

Age – Female: 8 to 11 years

Age – Male: 9 to 12 years

During this stage young swimmers should learn how to train and develop the skills of a specific sport. There may be participation in complementary sports; those sports which use similar energy systems and movement patterns. They should also learn the basic technical/tactical skills, and ancillary capacities, including:

  • Warm up and cool down
  • Stretching
  • Hydration and nutrition
  • Recovery
  • Relaxation and focusing

This stage coincides with peak motor co-ordination, therefore there should be an emphasis on skill development. Training should also include the use of ‘own body weight’ exercises; medicine ball and Swiss ball exercises as well as developing suppleness.
Although the focus is on training, competition should be used to test and refine skills. The recommended training to competition ratio is 75% to 25%. There should be single periodisation.

One of the main reasons athletes plateau during the later stages of their careers is because of an over emphasis on competition instead of optimising training during this very important stage.

Age – Female: 11 to 16 years

Age – Male: 12 to 15 years

During the training to train stage, there should be an emphasis on aerobic conditioning. This is the stage where there is greater individualisation of fitness and technical training. The focus should still be on training rather than competition and the training should be predominantly of high volume, low intensity workloads. It is important to emphasise that high volume, low intensity training cannot be achieved in a limited time period, and therefore the commitment to training should increase significantly. As the volume of training increases there is likely to be a reduction in the number of competitions undertaken. However, there should now be specific targets for each competition undertaken with a view to learning basic tactics and mental preparation. There should be either single or double periodisation of the training year.

During this stage, training should continue to develop suppleness and to include the use of ‘own body weight’ exercises; medicine ball and Swiss ball exercises.

However, towards the end of this stage, preparations should be made for the development of strength, which for girls occurs at the end of this stage and for boys at the beginning of the next stage. This should include learning correct weight lifting techniques.

The ancillary capacities (the knowledge base of how to warm up and warm down; how to stretch and when to stretch; how to optimise nutrition and hydration; mental preparation; regeneration; how and when to taper and peak; pre-competition; competition (and post competition routines) should be established.

Age – Female: 14 to 16 years

Age – Male: 15 to 18 years

During the training to compete stage there should be a continued emphasis on physical conditioning with the focus on maintaining high volume workloads but with increasing intensity.

The number of competitions should be similar to the end of the previous stage but the emphasis should be on developing individual strengths and weaknesses through modelling and nurturing technical skills based around specific strokes and distances, but not both.

As a result, there should be either double or triple periodisation of the training year. In addition, the ancillary capacities should be refined so they are more specific to the individual’s needs.

During this stage, training should also focus on developing maximum strength gain through the use of weights. This should be coupled with continued work on core body strength and maintaining suppleness.

Age – Female: 16+ years

Age – Male: 18+ years

This is the final stage of athlete preparation. The emphasis should be on specialisation and performance enhancement.

All of the athletes’ physical, technical, tactical, mental, and ancillary capacities should now be fully established with the focus shifting to the optimisation of performance.

Athletes should be trained to peak for specific competitions and major events. Therefore, all aspects of training should be individualised for specific events.

There should be either double, triple or multiple periodisation, depending on the events being trained for.

During this stage, training should continue to develop strength, develop core body strength and maintaining suppleness.