Sunday, December 23, 2007

You Said the Main Set was How Long?

I was reading this blog on and it got to me thinking that I really need to write down my views/experiences in swimming training. I have been through a lot and I believe my experiences combined with my education have provided me with a different perspective than others in the swimming world. I think there is a lot left to be explored in training methods. Coaches streamline their programs around a chunk of athletes and do not leave room for change to develop new methods, they stick with only what the past has proven to work for a few. While the blog I mentioned discusses the need to fluctuate yardage I believe entire program structures could use more new advancements/more individual alterations.

So far in my lifetime I have trained with some of the most renowned swimming coaches in the United States. I have been apart of two NCAA programs that have achieved admirable greatness in the pool. The swim teams belonged to the schools of Kenyon College and the University of Southern California and, while I was in attendance, were under the guidance of coaches Jim Steen and Mark Schubert respectively. They were both coaches with their own outlooks on training. They each had tightly structured programs based on proven advances in swimming performance. While different in some ways, for the most part, the format of the two programs was extremely similar. Training involved short stretching sessions before practice with two practices a day most days, specific sets allocated for particular days ranging from fast quality work to slower recovery sets, weight lifting program tailored for swimming needs and the use of equipment to supplement sets in the pool.

I was in the "sprint" group at Kenyon. That meant it involved slightly less yardage than other groups and slightly more weight lifting. It also meant little to no stroke work, just freestyle freestyle freestyle. Morning workouts occurred three times a week during the weekdays. It involved a short warm up swim, then a session in the weight room. The weight room program involved some Olympic style weight lifting, some isometric exercises with machines and a variety of abdominal crunches. Personally, I kicked ass in the weight room. I was always the strongest female and put a lot of effort into my work. Most girls slacked off in the weight room and that really did not seem to matter when it came to swimming. The real pool workouts happened every weekday evening and Saturday morning. One day a week in the pool was dedicated to quality work, that meant race distances practiced at race pace. Some other workouts were cardio base training, that meant more yardage with less rest. Every fifth workout or so was a recovery day meaning a bit of a slower pace with more rest. There was not much time dedicated to stroke work, when it did happen it was taper time, which was way too late a point to begin making any stroke changes.

I was also in the "sprint" group when I transfered to USC. However, when swimming for a known distance coach such as Mark Schubert, that still meant a lot of yardage. Morning workouts occurred four times during weekdays. They involved more equipment related sets and stroke work. Kicking, pulling, stretch cord swimming, weight belt kicking and parachute swimming was the norm. We also had workouts every weekday afternoon and Saturday morning. Two days a week were dedicated to quality work. That meant race distances swam at race pace, sometimes including the use of Speedo Fastskin swim suits. Dryland training also happened after every evening and Saturday morning workout. Three days a week were dedicated to the weight room, two days a week we did yoga and one day was pool deck exercises. Once again the weight room involved Olympic lifting mixed in with isometric exercises using some free weights and machines along with abdominal exercises. I still kicked ass in the weight room. The football team respected me and the golf team was scared of me. Yoga also helped me gain some flexibility, but not a huge amount. At USC our time in the pool involved a lot of underwater work. That was a key element really missing from the Kenyon program. I greatly improved my underwater swimming and it really showed in my training times. Also despite a little more time dedicated to out of water work, most people still half-assed it and the body was usually to tired to give it an all anyway.

These are two programs that have produced great swimmers. Both have taken good talent and put them on the top of their game. However, I am not convinced all the time in the pool is necessary. I don't think it the best approach to break someone down constantly with lengthy practices, to only give them rest before the biggest meet in expectations of the fastest performance. I believe it just leads to injuries and bad technique. I feel that cross training out of the water can be just as beneficial, if not more than length pool sets. It has been about 3.5 years since I finished college swimming. Through my current schedule, involving only swimming three time a week, I believe myself to be in better shape now. I swim a mere fraction of what I used to, but I can finish my races stronger than ever. I even often train at slower intervals. It is all owed to the work I do outside of the water. Everything I do has a purpose, a goal in mind, I won't stand for garbage yardage. I won't swim a 1,000 yard cruise just to swim in circles where my body gets acquainted with a situation not pertinent to a race. If I want pure cardio work, I go for a run.

My solution is a mix of swimming, gymnastics, running, yoga and weight lifting. Working on basic tumbling skills and gymnastics conditioning is the perfect compliment to swimming. Perfecting my balance, muscle control and flexibility have given me a better body awareness in the water. I am tuned into a balanced body position and it is very apparent if my hips or back get out of alignment. Practicing handstands, press to handstand, balance beam, handsprings and flips have enlightened me on keeping my body tense in the right places to efficiently transfer power. Intense yoga also helps with this. The direct effect of efficiently producing power is not as apparent with yoga, but it does help with muscle control for balancing and flexibility. Also gymnastics conditioning such as numerous straight leg lifts to the bar, pull ups and dips build an extremely solid core. I believe in strengthening through actively engaging muscle groups rather than total isometric weight lifting. Power in swimming is never generated by one muscle at a time, it is the whole package working together. I think it should be trained that way. That is why I love Olympic style lifting, dead lifts, squat thrusts, etc. It involves generating power through efficient technique and works all sorts of areas of the body at the same time.

My ideal training facility would feature a 50 meter pool, a spring floor, a set of uneven bars, a balance beam, a tumble track, a treadmill, a weight bar and plates. Swimming would never involve much more than 5,000 yards (or meters) at a time. A lot of time would be spent on flexibility, active and static, and muscle control. Maybe someday I will put together a training program and get some people to try it out. It would be intense, but in a different way. I think Dara Torres would dig it.

1 comment:

Sean Morris said...

Is this about swimming or something ?